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NETWORK CONNECTIVITY PROBLEMS Addressing network connectivity problems in industrial systems

Nov 1, 2021

The rising prevalence of Ethernet on the plant floor has been obvious for a long time now. What’s more, industrial environments expose Ethernet connections and cabling to mechanical shock, contaminants, electromagnetic noise, etc. In this context, Publish Industry India, in association with Fluke Networks, organised a webinar on ‘Addressing network connectivity problems in industrial automation systems – Reduce downtime by enhancing the infrastructure’. The webinar highlighted how to guarantee industrial Ethernet cables meet standards, the procedures to find cable faults, how cables are adapting & continuing to make the way forward for the manufacturing industry and more.

The increase in remote working because of the pandemic has only led to emphasising the significance of Ethernet in the industry. However, it may come as a surprise that the cause of most industrial Ethernet downtime is cabling and this is especially true in industrial and manufacturing environments. Therefore, operational technology experts need to simultaneously troubleshoot and enhance infrastructure, plan for future boosts and endeavour to grow the network in the direction of higher Analysing cable testing: A one shot way to eliminate connectivity downtime speeds. Cable testing must be done so that one can decide the power system’s condition, spot cable failures and recover system reliability. In this context, Publish Industry India, in association with Fluke Networks, organised a webinar on ‘Addressing network connectivity problems in industrial automation systems – Reduce downtime by enhancing the infrastructure’. The webinar threw light on how the problem of downtime due to cables can be solved, the most common methods for cable testing and more. Roger Koo, Fluke Networks APAC Technical Support, talked on this topic, sharing valuable information to increase productivity.

Koo started by discussing the trends in industrial automation installations. He mentioned that the backbone where Ethernet runs on is the cabling infrastructure. “Understanding how to maintain & care for the physical layer is of vital importance to the overall productivity of the operation network,” he informed and continued, “According to different data sources, over 50% of industrial Ethernet problems come from the physical layer. Cables & connectors form this layer and can be pre or field terminated.”

OT is a lot like IT

Koo went on to assert that from an architectural perspective, Operational Technology (OT) is a lot like Information Technology (IT); both have end devices that communicate to a fabric of switches and gateways. “In the IT world, Ethernet has grown to become the world’s most common networking system. In OT, vendors & standards organisations have adopted underlying physical layer of Ethernet to create a variety of technologies, such as Profinet. All these protocols are optimised for industrial automation, sharing that same physical layer,” he mentioned.

What’s more, like IT network, testing the install for industrial network is necessary. When we are planning out new industrial Ethernet network, we tend to ignore the cabling, assuming that everything will work out fine. We forget that unless our cabling infrastructure is good, the technologies & applications will not work correctly. The data cabling is the foundation of our network; if one does not get it right or test it correctly, one could be headed for serious issues that can be hard to correct once network is in service. All stakeholders involved need to ensure that the operations are not disrupted and the project running costs are maintained at an acceptable level.

Tests & devices

Giving an example of a utility vehicle manufacturer based out of the US, Koo told the viewers that every hour six trucks can roll off their production line; that is equivalent to about $240,000 an hour. Now when they face an issue, what is typically done is that they install a bypass cable, which itself takes an hour. The installation of this bypass cable is to save them time so that they can verify that it is not the physical layer that is causing the issue.

“But it’s $240,000 down the drain,” Koo further said and continued, “What if they have a tester? A tester only takes them 10 minutes to verify if the physical link is good. If it is good, then they can move on to tests & devices that actually save them 50 minutes, which is about $200,000.”

When should the cables be tested?

So, now the question is when do you test the cables? The network tools can be used to validate & verify industrial Ethernet cables to avoid the start-up delays. During assembly, cables can be checked if they are terminated properly. During installations, one should verify that the cables are not strained or broken. The next question will be where should the validation & verification take place – at the machine builder or the OEM? The purpose is to catch the problem before the machine will be disassembled and shipped to the customer. One should validate again at the plant. And one should always remember to document test results for every cable, with complete details on all measurements.

What if cables fail?

But what can one do if the cables fail? Koo said, “It is important to be able to minimise the downtime, identify the cost in the shortest possible way and rectify it. A complete cable test, end-to-end, takes less than a minute.” Koo also went on to talk about insertion loss, return loss, near end cross talk and DC loop resistance, resistance unbalance.

Fibre optic connection

Koo went on to discuss fibre optic (FO) connection. The number one issue of fibre is dust. 80% of the fibre optics problems are contamination. So, inspection & cleaning become very important.

Cabling – The foundation of one’s control network

The webinar was an enlightening one, which gave the viewers a full view of how the cabling in the industrial plant is the foundation of one’s control network, why it’s important to test the cabling correctly and how it makes good sense to remove cabling from the equation when commissioning a new plant.

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