What about physical connections?
Ethernet hardware isn't normally designed for tough conditions. For example, when installed in difficult environments, the popular RJ45 connector needs to be strengthened and protected by an over-connector.
The standard switches, hubs, bridges, wireless transmitters, and other physical devices that help make up a network suffer from similar weaknesses. They won't stand up to the conditions they'll encounter as networking continues to expand into new applications and new territory. Designers will need to specify equipment built for the job, and it won't be found at the local office supply store. Look for industry-hardened devices built by technology companies that specialize in ruggedized equipment.
Ground loops and power surges
Ethernet connections help sensors communicate, but they can also leave sensors vulnerable to damage from power surges and spikes. The greater the distance between two connected devices, the more likely it is that they will have different ground potentials and the associated risk of damaging ground loops. Lightning strikes and other power surges can also travel on copper Ethernet cable to burn out integrated circuits and connections. Sensors can be protected by Ethernet isolators, which allow data to pass unimpeded but control electrical flows.
Sensors may be out on the network edge, and they may have to function in some pretty rough environments, but they'll still be expected to communicate with reliability, accuracy, and durability. And a sensor with poor Ethernet connections isn't much of a sensor at all, no matter how well designed and how capable it is.
Mike Fahrion is director of product management at B&B Electronics.