IT and Controls – Working Together for Better Industrial Networking

Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by Mark Wylie, a Belden manager with many years of experience working in both the controls and IT domains. He is responsible for our Industrial Ethernet Infrastructure and Certified Industrial Network programs.

If you are a controls or process engineer you will have noticed the direct involvement of IT while designing and deploying industrial Ethernet. While the networks and technologies come together easily, the language, culture and standard practices used by IT are very different. Indeed, they often pose a significant problem in a production environment.

If you are an IT professional working in a production environment you’ve probably run into a ton of resistance and anxiety from others based on perceived differences. Take heart, your skills are still valuable and may just require a few new twists and tweaks.

In today’s article, I hope to bring some understanding to both sides so that you can work together to better meet your company’s common goals.


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4 Big Trends that Impact Industrial Automation and What To Do About Them, Part 2 of 2

In Part 1 of this series I described 4 big trends affecting manufacturing and pointed out the challenges and opportunities with each of them, at a high level. The 4 big trends are the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, Cloud Computing and Industry 4.0.

The technologies related to these trends are available today. Like the Good Witch tells Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz , “You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas”…or, in our case, take full advantage of the opportunities these trends support. Instead of clicking your heels together though, there are a number of steps to take to realize business benefits.

In this article I am going to describe these steps and also present some ideas of how the 4 big trends might be used by forward thinking organizations.

Step 1 – Move from Ad Hoc to Industrial Ethernet Infrastructure

The first thing to do is make sure your network is well-designed and that it lets you scale-up dramatically, easily and reliably. If you’re like most, you’ve been moving to industrial Ethernet and away from fieldbuses. You’ve found Ethernet to be big, fast, and pretty forgiving.

Chances are, however, that your network has grown ad-hoc but just keeps working. As your network grows, you’ll need to evolve to a design that includes segmentation, security and redundancy in the right places, along with easy network management and expansion.

For more information on this, see my Automationworld article “Here’s Your Sign … That It May be Time to Turn Your Ad Hoc Network Into a Real Infrastructure”. Also, Belden resources for helping with this are listed at the bottom of this article.


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4 Big Trends that Impact Industrial Automation and What To Do About Them, Part 1 of 2

Every decade has its big manufacturing trends and hyped-up IT issue(s). Remember Y2K? Nowadays there are several topics that have been the subject of numerous articles in manufacturing trade publications. These include:

The Internet of Things (IoT)

  • Big Data
  • Cloud Computing
  • Industry 4.0.

All of these trends involve a lot of devices networked together and a lot of data available to do things. They also include deciding whether data is stored and applications accessed from the computer next to you or from a server located somewhere else.

The good news is: The supporting technologies behind all the buzzwords are already available. Are they empty hype, a valid threat, or an opportunity? (the answer is yes). In this article, I’ll tackle each of these topics one by one, focusing on what you need to know to sort out reality and react to each.

1. Connected Industrial Devices aka the Internet of Things (IoT)

The IoT is about a lot of industrial devices networked together. For example, I’ve encountered automotive plants with 8,000 devices on a single network and consumer products plants with 12,000.

The benefits of networking these devices include:

  • Managing everything from anywhere.
  • Reducing complexity and hardware costs with one network technology.
  • Moving control and information at will.
  • Expanding it all easily.


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Manufacturing IT: Separate the Industrial Network from the IT Network

One of the indicators that it’s time to update your network design is when troubleshooting issues take too long and having a significant impact on production. That was one of the issues Johnson Controls’ Automotive Experience Group was facing when it decided its “one size fits all” flat network infrastructure had to change.

The flat network design had been controlled by the IT department which initially did not understand how the good practices it used to manage the enterprise network were disrupting the plant floor network.

As the demand for real-time information has increased, more and more IT professionals are becoming involved with manufacturing networks. If you are one of those people, or if you are an engineer who wishes IT understood your operational network requirements, then the Johnson Controls story that follows may be helpful. Read more »

6 Steps for Future-Proofing Your Substation Using Industrial Ethernet

Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by Tim Wallaert, our director responsible for the Energy sector.

A grandfather and grandson were enjoying a quiet moment sitting under a shade tree. “Grandpa, when is the best time to plant a tree?” “Why 30 years ago is the best time to plant a tree — that way you can enjoy the tree now”. Confused, the boy replied “but I can’t go back in time to plant a tree!”. To which the grandfather smiled and replied, “Exactly…so the second best time is NOW!”

So you’ve just inherited 30+ years of substation communication design or lack thereof. You probably wish you could go back in time and design it from scratch so you would be all set to go now. But like the story of the best time to plant a tree, you can’t. However, the second best time to address your current and future substation communication needs is NOW.

Here are 6 things to keep in mind as you go about your planning.

Industrial Ethernet is the Substation Technology of the Future

The convergence of industrial Ethernet, smart grid practices and the increased need for security offers power utilities an important opportunity to rethink operating strategies throughout their utility, particularly in the substation.

Industrial Ethernet provides a standards-based path to future-proofing your utility in order to seamlessly accommodate rapidly changing data collection and operations monitoring strategies. Implementing an industrial Ethernet infrastructure (IEI) in your substation is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

Your substation probably operates with a mix of serial and Ethernet protocols. After all, some of that equipment was purchased decades ago when serial communications ruled.

Smart grids will continue to drive new initiatives that provide flexibility, choice and savings for end users and power plants. Industrial Ethernet is virtually a requirement for a smart grid system. Luckily, advances in Ethernet technology make it possible to more fully use and integrate serial data and even include serial devices under Ethernet security protocols to extend their useful life.

Here are some steps to help you take advantage of the power of industrial Ethernet to help future-proof your substation infrastructure.


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Industrial Security Solutions Designed for Controls Engineers

Recently there was a thread on SCADASEC news, a restricted access critical infrastructure mailing list, about the challenges of firewalling BACnet networks. If you only work in the industrial automation space, you may not have heard of this protocol, but it is big in building automation. Regardless, the discussion around BACnet applies to many industrial protocols.

The question raised was whether or not BACnet traffic can be managed by a firewall. The problem is that BACnet, like many other automation protocols, doesn’t play by the usual IT rules. In BACnet’s case, it does not use TCP/IP at all, so trying to secure it with a typical IT firewall that looks for TCP port numbers is a lost cause.


BACnet is a non-TCP /IP protocol used in building automation systems that cannot be secured by typical IT firewalls. Image courtesy of Schneider Electric.

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Oil Refinery uses Industrial Wireless for Remote Monitoring

Looking back in time it might be fair to say that smoke signals used during America’s Wild West days were one of the original wireless communications. For their era, they were pretty effective.

Sending information quickly across distances is still important. Traditionally, landlines and wired connectivity have provided the best communications solutions. If it is not possible to link systems by wires, communication has been very difficult, particularly for industrial applications.

Into this wired world came wireless technology, for example, the personal mobile phone. While clunky and unreliable at first, now it is the preferred telecommunication method for millions of people.

Similarly, concern about wireless security and reliability in industrial settings has limited deployment in the past. However, current technology now supports robust and reliable industrial Ethernet-based wireless systems. We are at a tipping point for the adoption of wireless, as shown in the following example of how one refinery is using it in areas where cable is not available or is too expensive to install. Read more »

Industrial Ethernet Helps Justify Equipment Upgrade

When you have equipment old enough to remember the Eisenhower administration (or even the Carter administration) it is important to have a plan before you have a problem.

In a manufacturing plant, equipment is expected to operate reliably for decades. As equipment approaches end-of-life, maintaining reliable uptime becomes more of a problem. Parts are harder to find. Vendors are winding down or discontinuing support. Maintenance people who understand the machinery have retired or moved on to other jobs. And, often, you have not been able to integrate the equipment into your plant communications system because of its age, which adds to maintenance and management costs. Read more »

6 Tips for Securing Industrial Networks

Improving the cyber security of industrial networks is a challenge you may be facing.

On the one hand your manufacturing processes probably use devices such as PLCs (programmable logic controllers) and DCS (distributed control systems) that were designed with a focus on reliability and safety rather than security.

On the other hand your industrial networks are already, or soon will be, connected to your company’s enterprise networks and migrated to Ethernet.

In considering how to decrease cyber risk and protect assets, it is important to look for technology solutions that are designed for the plant floor. Read more »

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