An industrial network typically has four stages to its life cycle—installation, operation, maintenance and diagnostics. But any of these stages is not only vulnerable to human error, each is also susceptible to time-consuming inefficiencies. For continuous operation, many tasks must be performed manually or use software to run and manage the network at each stage. For example, one utility will address troubleshooting, but another piece of software monitors the status of field devices.
One option is to leverage the power of a centralized network management software suite that manages the network throughout its entire life cycle.
Before every network device has been installed, system integrators need to configure and test each network node. Initially, network devices are generally configured manually, one at a time, using the devices’ web console. Depending on the number of nodes to be configured, configuring devices manually typically requires the assistance of several engineers, and can take days, if not weeks, to complete. Besides, configuring devices manually can also give rise to human errors, and then take more time to find and fix the errors.
Mass-configuration software, however, lets system integrators deploy a large number of network devices easily and efficiently. One example is the MXconfig network configuration tool from Moxa, which allows users to configure all network settings, including IP address, password protection, redundancy protocols and wireless settings at one time, reducing the initial deployment time, and essentially eliminating the possibility of human error. According to Moxa’s field testing, this tool successfully configured 100 switches in 12 minutes, which can represent a 90% reduction in configuration time.
Network management software helps you monitor, identify and react to network issues immediately, which can reduce production losses and safety concerns. In general, IT network management software uses complex features and sophisticated user interfaces, which not only comes with a high learning curve, but can be unsuitable for use in industrial applications. However, industrial network management software can be integrated with an existing enterprise network system.
Automation-friendly software allows network operators to monitor network status accurately and in real time. Moreover, it should be easy to configure the software for use with third-party network management software, to give industrial operators better control of the entire networking system.
The MXview industrial network management software, for example, is a GUI platform for monitoring and managing industrial networks of up to 2,000 nodes in real time. With its smart visualization feature, the software auto-detects and displays the network topology, shows color-coded VLAN/IGMP settings, and supports a virtual device panel that displays port status, PoE power consumption and port-level link traffic, accurate to four decimal places.
Maintenance requires various tasks, including configuration updates, backups and firmware upgrades. Changes to device settings can sometimes cause unexpected network issues. When this happens, backup files will need to be restored to a previously known working state until network issues can be resolved. However, every update and configuration rollback for a large-scale network can be time consuming, which can translate into extended system downtimes and substantial production losses.
An industrial network management system should also serve as a central platform for configuration and firmware management. The MXview configuration center, for example, lets you select a group of devices and export their configuration files simultaneously for backup, saving time during maintenance. You can also use the job scheduler to perform regular configuration backups. What’s more, MXview supports comprehensive report functions, including event log history, inventory/availability reports, and device property reports, increasing the productivity of maintenance staff.
When a problem occurs on a network, service needs to be restored as quickly as possible. However, without knowing where to look and what to actually look for, engineers can spend hours troubleshooting the network and still fail to find a solution.
Network event details are important for engineers to quickly analyze where the problem originated, which network segments/nodes are affected, how to resolve the problem, and whether or not to send an engineer to the affected remote site. MXview supports an intuitive event playback feature that can record network events and replay past network incidents in the order they occurred. By selecting a specific event or a particular time frame, network status can be played back for event review, topology changes and sequence analysis.
As networks continue to grow, network operators face challenges to keep their systems up and running. Industrial network management suites can help engineers monitor and manage their automation network. In some cases, engineers can perform all key network management tasks for the life of the network, including installation, operation, maintenance and diagnostics.
Material for this article came from a paper by Yiwei Chen, Product Manager, Industrial Ethernet Infrastructure Div., Moxa America.
Filed Under: TECHNOLOGIES + PRODUCTS, ALL INDUSTRIES, Networks • connectivity • fieldbuses