The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has become a reality and could very well be the biggest driver of productivity and growth over the next few decades. The smart grid, the most mature of the IIoT sectors, although still in its infancy, will drive the development of many new and improved connector technologies for years to come.
IIoT promises to bring greater visibility and control to manufacturing processes. To achieve its potential, however, industrial data networks need robust interconnect solutions that would be able to maintain robust connectivity, despite the harsh conditions found in manufacturing facilities. With the availability of comprehensive M8/M12 interconnect systems, manufacturers can confidently deploy next-generation industrial applications built on fully reliable, highly flexible connectivity.
The Internet of Things (IoT) looks to quantify significant factors that affect humans and their machines. Analysts forecast that before the end of this decade, tens of billions of IoT devices will be performing measurements of basic physical quantities, such as temperature, pressure and acceleration, as well as tracking more complex human physiological quantities, such as heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose levels and more.
Following the first, second and third industrial revolutions – mechanisation, mass production and automation – the fourth revolution has arrived at our doorsteps and has dubbed IoT. When it comes to IoT, there is no lack of media coverage these days. To some, the hype around it is exaggerated, but there is no doubt that we are at the dawn of a digital transformation that will profoundly change our lives, including the way we do things, manufacture things and control all other aspects of our lives, spanning medical care to mobility and communication.
Role of sensor technology and communication
Sensor technology and communication are central to the implementation and rollout of IoT. There are many different communication technologies and protocols developed and available that claim to be the best solution for any given application. The best known and most widespread communication protocols include (Industrial) Ethernet, AS-i bus, CAN bus, RFID, Bluetooth, WiFi, LoRaWAN, ZigBee, BACnet, DALI, KNX, Z-Wave, NFC and Cellular (3G/4G/5G).
In an attempt to differentiate between all of these IoT applications, we prefer to talk about IIoT. Consider applications of IoT principles to the industrial manufacturing sector, process industry and other industrial sectors, including energy, mining and civil engineering. To get a better grip on this market sector, Bishop & Associates divided the IIoT market into three different segments that are closely aligned with our current market sector breakdown for connectors:
This market includes products that are used in a connected factory, i.e. a factory that is making the transition from a conventional standalone factory to a factory that is part of the IIoT ecosystem.
This market refers to the current transformation in the energy market as electrical networks and grids are upgraded and automated. Using Big Data and control algorithms, energy supply and demand are linked together and used more efficiently in smart grids than in conventional grids.
This market includes IoT-enabled equipment used in modern buildings and homes to control temperature, HVAC, air quality, doors & windows, lighting and security devices, among others. When connected to the Internet, users can control such equipment remotely, often via smartphones and tablets. To a certain extent, this market also covers smart lighting, smart parking and smart traffic.
Why M12 connectors are the right fit for IIoT
A comprehensive view of the manufacturing process or assembly line is accomplished by placing networked sensors on physical equipment to collect data. These sensors perform condition monitoring, analysing constant inputs, like temperature, vibration or sound frequencies. This data is transmitted back to a central location or cloud where decision-makers can access it. This process requires reliable high speed connections, often in environments that include dust, noise, temperature changes and vibration. In the food and beverage industry, it also includes the challenge of frequent washdowns.
IIoT devices must be rugged, so using robust connectors with IP or type ratings is recommended. Also, using connectors that allow a quick disconnect is convenient for commissioning new equipment, for maintenance, troubleshooting and for equipment that is mobile. Plus, as digital technologies have evolved, so have the connector types. New IIoT equipment may no longer be using the legacy serial connectors, such as RS-232, RS-485 and other legacy and D-shell type connectors. IIoT equipment may use newer connectors, such as USB, CAT 5/6/7, HDMI, DisplayPort and many others.
Connectors act as the vital link between the cables carrying data and the devices that record and communicate information. The demand for faster data transmissions that can accommodate visuals has driven the development of connectors able to support the gigabit data requirements for the latest sensors. To add to the complexity, machines are getting smaller, putting pressure on component makers to deliver greater speed, power and capacity in an ever-shrinking footprint.
Three reasons M12 connectors are the smart choice for Industry 4.0
Though M12 connectors were available decades before IIoT was even a concept, they have become the preferred connector for industrial Ethernet. For data transmission, they are used on the device side — pulling data from devices and transmitting it to the application where data is aggregated to provide useful information to the user.
Compared to the RJ45, the other most commonly used industrial connector, M12 connectors, offer superior performance in harsh conditions due to:
Circular design that shields contacts from contaminants, such as dust, moisture and foreign objects, while also protecting against impact, vibration, UV exposure and temperature changes
Minimum IP67-rated ingress protection against dust & water
Additional options with IP68 and IP69K ratings for demanding washdown environments
Hard-wired connections offer some intrinsic advantages over wireless connections, primarily the security of physical connections and the avoidance of wireless interference. This is especially important because the new IIoT-enabled factory is often filled with Electromagnetic Interference (EMI), also called Radio Frequency Interference (RFI). Unseen and unheard by people, this electronic noise pollution frequently interferes with high-precision sensors already taxed by physical noise and vibrations of a busy factory floor.
The increasing pervasiveness of EMI places an additional burden on manufacturers to design equipment that both generates as little EMI as possible and ensures that their equipment has reasonable resistance against EMI so that operation is not affected when it is a factor.
The Industry 4.0 trend towards miniaturisation requires more compact components and connectivity solutions, even as power and data transmission need growth. Increasingly smaller devices and sensors are transmitting more data, which requires more connection points, which means that connectors must deliver the same (or more) power density with a smaller footprint.
M12 technology continues to evolve
Machine designers and OEMs are incorporating M12 connectors into new machines, as well as updating existing infrastructure. With backwards compatibility, replacing older and less robust technology, like RJ45 connectors, is relatively simple and cost-effective. Manufacturers of M12 connectors continue to innovate, adding new features to meet the quickly changing needs of the robotics, automation, food & beverage, alternative energy and cellular communication industries. Positionable, lockable, field wireable connectors, capable of transmitting impressive amounts of data and power, ensure that the M12 will continue to be an essential component of Industry 4.0 and beyond.