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What factors need to be considered when using industrial switches?

With businesses dabbling into humongous amounts of data which helps in analysis and strategic decision making, they need to have robust networks to transfer this data across locations. There are various network devices such as cables, connectors, switches, media converters, and so on which help build a robust and safe network and facilitate data transfer over a long distance. They also enable the connection of two or more types of dissimilar networks. Switches are an integral part of modern networks, for projects in power, transportation, construction, and other industries, industrial Ethernet switches are needed because of their capability to build a reliable and secure network while withstanding harsh working environments.
However, these are Ethernet switches are used in industrial applications. Industrial Ethernet switches are different and more advanced than regular switches. They are robust and are designed to resist harsh weather conditions, industrial environments, and so on. These are manufactured under special industrial grade standards and have a wide operating temperature range. When selecting Ethernet switches, it is essential to choose the right industrial switch for your needs. Here are several factors you need to consider when using industrial switches.
 

Types of Industrial Ethernet Switches

Industrial switches are different from commercial Ethernet switches used in offices. They are resistant to extreme temperatures, vibrations, dust, moisture, and most other environmental parameters. They come with an enclosure or casing that protects the inner components. All of these switches come with ports ranging from 2 to 40 or more. These ports are mostly of two types- SFP and for RJ45 connectors. SFP module ports enable connecting fiber optic cables while RJ45 connector ports are meant for copper cables. You can choose the number and type of port slots in a cable depending on your requirement. Broadly speaking, there are two types of industrial switches - managed and unmanaged.
Managed switches: These switches largely operate on auto mode. They have advanced functionalities and can be pre-programmed according to your network requirements. A managed switch offers better control, monitoring, and configuring abilities than unmanaged switches. With managed switches, you can arrange or prioritize the type of traffic. They have advanced troubleshooting features which helps identify issues in the network and take the required steps.
 
Unmanaged switches: These switches, on the other hand, are simple to use and operate with a plug and play design, but have only basic features. They need to be operated manually and do not offer troubleshooting and configuration abilities. These industrial grade unmanaged switches serve as an interconnect among network devices. They need to conform to IP 67 or IP 30 standards in terms of their design and ruggedness. They are absolutely cost effective and can be used in large and crucial networks such as railways, road infrastructure, and so on where automated operation is not a key requirement.
 

Aside from these two categories, here are specific types of industrial switches

PoE/PoE+ switches: These industrial grade switches are capable of transferring power along with data over two different strands of the same cable. These are key for long distance networks where the cables pass through remote areas without any power and connectivity. These switches can determine the compatible or PoE-enabled devices on the network and connect with them. These also have an industrial grade ruggedized design with resistance to environmental parameters. Also, these PoE/PoE+ switches help speed up the traffic flow and transmission rate.
 
Rack mountable switches: These are hardened industrial grade switches which can be mounted on racks in the server room or a data center. These are typically 10/100/1000 Base Gigabit Ethernet switches. Since these come with hard enclosures, they can be mounted on wall or DIN rail as well. These are typically suitable for blended networks, self-healing fast Ethernet backbone networks, or in a network with multiple Ethernet devices such as IP phones, CCTV cameras, and so on.
 

Some Pointers to Ensure When Selecting Ethernet Switches

Selecting the right switch is crucial for the proper functioning of the network. Here are some pointers to consider which may help you in the selection process.

Ease of Installation

Industrial switches work in very complex environments, including traffic control cabinets, factory floors, mines, etc. In these harsh application environments, the switches' appearance design and installation methods need to meet special conditions to save costs and improve efficiency in network layout. For example, traffic control cabinets are placed next to roads and need to save as much space as possible, which requires industrial switches to be compact in design and easy to install. Therefore, to simplify installation and improve space utilization, industrial switches should provide flexible mounting options of DIN-rail, wall mount, and rack mount, so that you can choose suitable switches for different application environments.

Real-time Data Transmission

Network data transmission generates an inevitable delay, but industrial networks emphasize deterministic delivery of transmitted data to ensure the proper operation of important and wide-scale management such as traffic control. So when you purchase new switches, some advanced features are needed to consider to build the desired network.
 
QoS (Quality of Service) allows industrial switches to improve the performance of critical network traffic by prioritizing traffic or data flow according to its importance. With IGMP snooping, industrial switches can automatically forward multicast traffic to the links that have solicited them, which optimizes multimedia traffic delivery and ensure a netter network experience. VLANs allow a switch to logically group devices and isolate traffic between these groups, which can increase security measures and decrease network latency.
 

Compatibility

Connectivity is very important for projects in harsh conditions, like transportation, oil and gas, and city surveillance, hence the compatibility between industrial Ethernet switches and various devices is required. For example, in metro rail compartments, there are various devices, such as surveillance cameras, VoIP phones, and other IP devices, on-board vehicle control, and monitoring systems, all of which need to connect with industrial switches. Therefore, managed industrial switches that are compliant with IEEE 802.3af/at PoE standards are demanded in these industries because they are compatible with various devices and can match the power required by all the devices.

Easy Management and Maintenance

This factor has much to do with your application requirement. While industrial switches are a bit expensive than normal switches, managed ones add a lot to the cost. So, this decision needs to be thoughtfully made. If you need to control and monitor as well as configure your network remotely, and once programmed let the network function on auto mode, definitely opt for managed switches. However, if the network is personally monitored, no matter how large it is, you can use unmanaged switches. Both the types of networks offer LED display based outputs. Managed switches would be especially useful in remote areas.

Managed vs. Unmanaged

Used for electricity networks in remote areas that are vulnerable to attack, industrial switches are expensive to manage and maintain. Although more expensive than unmanaged switches, managed industrial switches are optimal choices, offering advanced features that enhance your control of the network. With unmanaged switches, you can manage the network only based on feedback regarding links and activity from status LEDs. However, when you choose managed industrial switches, you will not only have the same status LEDs but also adjust your communication parameters to any setting you desire and let you monitor the network behavior in many different ways.

Management Modes

In addition, management modes, especially secure remote management, are very important when industrial Ethernet switches are used in outdoor environments, which can save significant management and maintenance costs. For example, through SNMP, you can view a multitude of network statistics including the number of bytes transmitted and received; the number of frames transmitted and received; the number of errors and port status.

Durability

Many factories have high-temperature furnaces which generate a lot of dust and raise the temperature on factory floors. Traffic control cabinets would face rain, sleet, snow, dripping water, and corrosion. And sometimes, the data is generated within moving vehicles and trains. Such circumstances put high demands on the design and functions of industrial Ethernet switches. Therefore, the industrial Ethernet switches in the market are often equipped with IP30/IP40 aluminum industrial case protection, which allows them to work under the temperature range from -40° to 75°C, and provide a high level of immunity against electromagnetic interference and heavy electrical surges. High-level lightning protection is also needed to prolong the service life of industrial switches and ensure the normal transmission of data. Besides, industrial switches are often designed with dual redundant power inputs to avoid equipment failure caused by power failures.

Reliability

Since critical process control in industrial networks may rely on an Ethernet link, the economic cost of interruptions may be high, and high reliability is, therefore, an essential criterion for industrial Ethernet switches. Redundant ring technology and rapid self-recovery capability are needed features and necessary to prevent interruptions and external intrusions, which indicates the level of reliability with the industrial switches. In certain simple Ring networks, the recovery time of data links can be as fast as 10ms. To be more specific, the right switch can incorporate advanced ERPS (Ethernet Ring Protection Switching) technology and Spanning Tree Protocol (802.1s MSTP) into your industrial automation network to enhance system reliability and uptime in harsh environments.

Conclusion

If as a business, you are expanding, moving to newer places, scaling up operations, and so on, you must have a robust and high speed network which must be scalable and leave scope for future expansions. Along with high speed data transfer, security, distance, and accuracy are of paramount importance, so fiber optics by and large would be the best choice for network type. If not, blending fiber optics with your existing legacy network is also recommended to accomplish all your requirements. Whether industrial switches or other network devices, ensure to make the right selection from a trusted manufacturer. Also, ensure there are no compatibility issues with other devices and the switches have the right number and types of ports. All these factors will help you optimize the business and always enjoy seamless communication over long distances.

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