By Jessica Forguites, Technical Platform Lead, Rockwell Automation
When designing your industrial network infrastructure, careful planning is required to get the performance needed for today, and in the future, as more devices are integrated into your control system architecture.
When choosing the appropriate industrial switch for your network, there’s a lot to consider and it can be overwhelming with all the options now available — from unmanaged, to lightly managed, and even fully managed switching solutions. So how do you know which is the best choice for your industrial application? Let us help you decide.
How to Select the Right Switch for Your Application
First, you will have to examine your network closely to determine your performance needs. You want to make sure you get the right balance of functionality and ease-of-use at the right price-point for your application.
Unmanaged and managed network switches appear to have common performance characteristics at a port level, but our experience shows this is not the whole story. You’ll validate this the first time you are challenged with adding capacity or migrating legacy equipment to a common network protocol.
Managed switches offer key functionality that’s critical for optimal performance of your network. Port speeds on individual switches are only part of this story as more devices and ports get added over time to connect the unconnected.
This is where scenarios resulting in network bottlenecks occur. Connectivity provides the data needed to optimize processes and increase production. As these applications are brought together, distinctions between performance optimization features emerge.
Now, it’s time to ask yourself whether you are considering the network performance you need to deal with the unexpected?
Imagine you are a production manager, and you receive a call that two production lines are down because of communications errors.
Your maintenance staff clears the faults and restarts the equipment. Ten minutes later, one of the lines shuts down again. Now you call in the experts to look at drawings of your network infrastructure.
You determined that a production line that’s currently shut down for maintenance is connected through the same control cabinet, and the team working on that line has plugged in an Ethernet camera locally to provide a remote expert with a view of a machine fault.
Could this be the source of the communication errors?
Unmanaged switches don’t have any segmentation features and provide no ability to segment devices into their own domain to reduce performance impact risk associated with the unknown.
Because of this, the camera affected existing network loading — resulting in deployment risk and potential unplanned downtime.
Using VLAN features available in lightly and fully managed switches help provide this segmentation. Additionally, quality of service (QoS) features within a lightly managed or managed switch allow prioritization of critical traffic on that switch shared by those two systems.