By Michael Jermann, Assistant Editor
As the de facto network, manufacturers continue to offer new and needed features to make Ethernet based networks more useful.
The environment for an industrial network can be a rough one; both in terms of operating conditions, network security and in handling the vast amounts of data generated within the network.
Industries must deal with not only making sure that network connections can survive rough work environments, but can connect quickly, reliably, and in some cases, over vast distances. On top of that, they must make sure the connection is secure and protected from digital intrusion or interception while easily adapting to new technologies. Here’s a look at five features trending in today’s network equipment offerings.
A major trend is for manufactures to integrate enhanced network security features into their products. The Stratix 5900 services router from Rockwell, for example, comes with both VPN and firewall capabilities built into the router. The router restricts and regulates communication to help ensure a security perimeter is maintained and information exchange across the security boundary is not tampered with or interrupted.
VPN’s also allow a machine to be isolated from the rest of the facility, thus protecting it in the event a problem occurs elsewhere in the plant. The VPN does this by creating a secure tunnel for server-machine communications, which can then be monitored by firewall to prevent any unwanted inputs or outputs.
The Stratix router runs on Cisco IOS, and includes a wide area network (WAN) port and four Fast Ethernet-ports. The hardware includes embedded features such as: Network Address Translation (NAT), NBAR protocol filtering, Access Control Lists (ACL) and Quality of Service (QoS) for prioritization. For industries where equipment may be remotely located, the router allows that remotely located equipment to connect with plant-based equipment.
2. Data Flow
It really doesn’t matter much if a network’s data are secure if the network itself can’t handle the volume of data moving through it. Data intensive, real-time applications require a system that doesn’t load all incoming data into one processor.
To address this issue, Acromag developed two XMC modules, the XMC-6260 and XMC-6280, that provide a 10-gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) interface for data-intensive, real-time embedded computing systems.
Without proper data management, even the strongest processors would be unable to prevent performance bottlenecks. To solve this, Acromag’s network interface modules pair a purpose-built, multi-protocol Chelsio T4 processor with up to four channels of 10 GbE connectivity. In doing so, maximum computing speeds can be preserved by offloading TCP, UDP, iSCSI and other overhead tasks from the CPU, thus allowing very low Ethernet latency and high-level determinism.
The TOE ASIC has hundreds of programmable registers for protocol configuration and off-load control. As a result, these modules can off load TCP processing per connection, per server, per interface.
3. Condition Monitoring
An effective industrial network does more than just facilitate rapid communications from one source to another; it also helps monitor the physical condition of the equipment involved. A large number of machines and other sensitive pieces of equipment must deal with constant vibrational forces, which left unchecked, could cause problems down the road.
Beckhoff’s EP1816-3008 EtherCAT Box is one way to help ensure that continuous vibrations do not cause any problems. The EP1816-3008 has built-in tilt monitoring in longitudinal and transverse directions. It also features two integrated 3-axis, 16-bit acceleration sensors with resolution options of ± 2g, ± 4g, ± 8g and ± 16g with a sampling frequency of 1 Hz to 5 kHz.
The EP1816-3008 can be used to monitor the vibrations in a robotic arm or the angle of a saw-blade in a wood cutting machine. To help ensure the reliability of the measurements of the two sensors, which are arranged at 90° angles, the EP1816-3008 is a redundant measuring system, which can be reliably verified by the controller.
Technology, by nature, is an ever-changing landscape and so a solid industrial network must be adaptable enough to keep up with those changes. Sometimes it is the hardware that makes up the network that changes, but other times it is the method in which these pieces of hardware communicate.
Lantronix’s XPort Pro Lx6 embedded Linux networking server not only conforms to the latest IP networking standards, but is also compatible with the most recent internet protocol, IPv6. The Lx6 has a 32-bit processor and, in keeping with the trend of greater network security, is FIPS 197 compliant with 256-bit AES encryption.
The thumb-sized Lx6 is tough enough to operate in temperatures ranging from –40°C to 85°C, but simple as well.
A network that cannot handle the environment in which it operates is nothing but a drain on time and money. So components within an industrial network must have a greater tolerance for extremes of temperature and vibrations than office-based networks.
Red Lion’s ET-8MG-OEM board-level, all-Gigabit switch demonstrates this with the ability to operate in temperatures ranging from –40°C to 75°C. But the ET-8MG-OEM doesn’t just protect against physical stresses, it also protects against excessive data traffic with broadcast and multicast storm protection. The ET-8MG-OEM is easy to configure via Web, Telnet or CLI and supports 100/1000 SFP or SFF fiber ports.
These features are only a few of the additions manufacturers are incorporating to make Ethernet based systems more useful for your customers. For more specific feature requests, be sure to contact the manufacturer and let them know of your needs.