For a long time now, machine and system networks have ceased to be units that are isolated from the outside. Ethernet-based communication protocols, enabling a continuous network from sensor to cloud, are increasingly used in industrial automation. This has resulted in IT networks growing successively with networks of machines and systems (Operational Technology/OT). In addition, more and more networked devices are exchanging information, which also means an increase in total data volume.
Two main procedures have emerged as a reaction to this:
- Two separate parallel networks are set up – one for the cyclical data traffic of the automation process, and one for the rest of the acyclical data traffic, caused by applications such as printers, monitoring cameras, energy management, ERP programs, or quality assurance systems. However, this leads to higher material costs because several parallel networks must be set up. Care and maintenance of these networks is also expensive.
- One network continues to be used, with the data transfer of the bandwidths available in the OT networks being increased by the use of high-performance infrastructure components (switches). This is accompanied by high material costs, however, and only helps for a limited time: The more frequent use of sensors, the increased networking between machines, system, and office level, and many other factors, mean that the data volume in industrial networks increases continuously even when no further devices are added.
Picture on the right:
Industrial network structure Configuration example (click to enlarge)
A possible structural solution is the introduction of an intermediate level at the point where IT networks meet the networks of automation (Operational Technology/OT) – i.e. Industrial IT (IIT).
The allocation of tasks for this is as follows:
- Information Technology (IT): IT encompasses the control, processing, saving, and backup of data, including the hardware and software used for this purpose. It is therefore the umbrella term for all processes in a company that are connected with data processing. IT management looks at the control of IT processes in a broader sense in order to guarantee the processes in the company and to achieve objectives.
- Operational Technology (OT): Operational Technology (OT) refers to hardware and software required for the control, regulation, monitoring and control of machines, systems and processes. In the past, operative technologies were only seen as industrial control systems, which communicate in closed systems with proprietary protocols. With the entry of Ethernet-based communication (real-time) into the OT area, an IT / OT convergence is developing which represents a new challenge.
- Industrial Information Technology (IIT): This functions as a link between the IT and OT areas. It helps with the acquisition of data from the OT area, and its transport to IT. This data is not directly related to machine and system control, but is vital for process control and optimisation, e.g., quality monitoring/evaluation, logistics, and material flow.
The structural concept provides for the transfer to IIT level of acyclical data traffic from applications such as printers, monitoring cameras, energy management, ERP programs, or quality assurance systems. Only the cyclical data traffic necessary for the automation processes then takes place in the OT network.
The switches of the PROmesh series are a new generation of infrastructure components that were specifically developed for the different requirements of the individual levels. The PROmesh P9, for example, has integrated earth current monitoring in addition to the data distribution and network diagnostics. Through its certification according to the highest Netload Class III, stable functioning is also ensured in the case of high data volume.
On top of all these functions, the PROmesh P20 also has an integrated router functionality, and can therefore be used in the OT and IIT environment. Regardless of which switches are used, the central network management software PROmanage® NT brings the diagnostics data of all manageable switches together on one server and displays the total network state. The individual diagnostics data remains available for up to one year. If needs be, an in-depth analysis up to the individual device is possible.
Picture on the right:
PROmesh Switches P9 and P20 with EMC-Monitoring (click to enlarge)
How does a switch work? How does it help the network operator to achieve optimal performance, and if necessary, quick and precise diagnostics? You can find out in the video The SWITCH - The Network Expert | Technology made easy: Watch now on YouTube or in the right column.
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