These networks are also being used in new and innovative ways. Customers are integrating commercial technology such as iPads into the industrial space very quickly. With an OEM machine, an end user can scan a bar code or XR code, or even use wireless location-based services, to view controller and machine status. The electrical and mechanical drawings for the machine, SCADA reports, the bill of materials, and the parts list for spare parts can be readily available. With one touch, the user can contact technical support at the machine builder, and they can work together online to view the status of the machine and even use the iPad camera to review mechanical issues.
The final theme in the expansion of industrial networking has been the need to manage risk. Oulton said that engineers have heard about the risk and security issues while working with customers implementing industrial Ethernet. But with these networks, if security is applied correctly, the installations are inherently much more secure than the fieldbuses they often replace.
An Ethernet network is often connected to the Internet, and information can be pushed back and forth. But over the past 20 years, companies have been working on technology solutions to secure these networks, and have developed detailed functionality for routers and Layer 2/3 switches. Great attention has been paid to software solutions and firewall technology, none of which exists for older fieldbuses and controllers.
To manage risk effectively, any company needs to implement a solid, well-designed infrastructure. That makes it is much easier to secure the network than an ad hoc setup. And companies can use the same network infrastructure to mitigate risks, deal more effectively with incidents, and monitor what is happening on the network to take action quicker.
"We see the same people securing their networks also taking steps with cybersecurity to protect information assets," Oulton said. "They are using the same network to power their physical security systems, cameras, and keypads, because all of those devices are on Ethernet, as well."
The market is growing fast, and there is a takeaway for machinery builders and the engineering teams designing machines. With a good infrastructure in place, the machinery builder won't need two, three, or four networks in the machine. Historically, OEMs have had a PLC network, a connection to the end user's network, and another network for remote I/O. But more and more machine builders, especially in Europe, are moving to a single network technology, which is possible today using industrial Ethernet.