The Infrastructure Conference

The Infrastructure Conference?  No, it was The Automation Conference, but the Industrial Ethernet panel I was on spent a lot of time talking about infrastructure.  I was there representing PROFINET (and Industrial Ethernet protocols in general to some extent), but most of the other panelists were from vendors.

We spent some time discussing wire, connectors, and switches.  And that’s a good thing.  As we’ve learned from decades of PROFIBUS experience, the majority of startup issues and intermittent problems are related to the infrastructure, not the protocol.  There were a couple companies on the panel that really know cable (TURCK and Belden).  Number one recommendation for cable: consider the environment.  Oily atmosphere?  Lots of flexing?  Rodents feasting on insulation?  Ask your cable provider for selection help.  For PROFINET we recommend shielded cable.  The plant floor has lots of electromagnetic interference generators compared to none in the office.

Ethernet switches.  My well-known comment is “You will either use a managed switch or wish you had.”  I base that on the diagnostic information available from a managed switch versus blinking LEDs on an unmanaged switch.  You can use Simple Network management Protocol (SNMP) to get information from the database in the managed switch.  Use an SNMP-OPC Server to bring the information into an HMI.  This information can be used to prevent downtime or reduce it.  If downtime in your plant is cheap maybe an unmanaged switch is sufficient.  I can’t imagine many plants where that is true.

Security.  The security Ask the Expert session was next door, but our panel was asked the question also.  I’ve expressed my opinion on the topic before: Industrial Ethernet Security in X Steps.  In the panel discussion I again recommended the Belden/Automation World webinar “Industrial Security in the Real World: Practical Steps”).  I added that you should work with your IT department.  The conference provided many good examples of Engineers and IT working together.  If you have not made progress in working with your IT department, start now.  Listen to each other.  Recognize your different goals.  Understand theirs; explain yours.  (We have a white paper that may help: PROFINET and IT.)  You will both have to escape your comfort zones: IT – the comfort of carpet; Engineering – the comfort of concrete.  (Stolen form the first session of the conference.)

Networking (the people kind).  There was a lot more networking this year compared to last year.  I was pleased to run into co-workers from my Wonder years, PI North America members, and potential members.  There were some excellent presentations and breakout sessions as well.  I hope to attend next year.

–Carl Henning