Interconnects to Enable Industry 4.0

By Contributed Article | November 07, 2016

How to take a full-system approach to designing your industrial application that will speed time to market, reduce overall development costs, and future-proof your design from an interoperability standpoint—interconnects to enable Industry 4.0 sooner.



Molex M12 Cordsets

M12 Cordsets (Photo: Molex)

Industry 4.0 offers the potential for incredible gains in productivity and efficiency within the factory environment. To realize this potential, networks must be optimized for sharing data collected from various sensor types throughout the system to automate control, calibration, and requirements for planning functions. These connections – between nodes on a factory line, factory lines with other factory lines, and the plant with the rest of the enterprise – must support high speed and signal integrity along with the ability to withstand harsh environments over long life spans. Here we look at the technology drivers associated with Industry 4.0 (or smart factories), the associated interconnect technologies developed in support of the environment, and the industrial protocols deployed to enable interoperability across the network.

Moving Sensor Data through the Factory

The term Industry 4.0 – or more appropriately Industrie 4.0 – was coined as a high-tech strategy by the German government and is the current focus of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. It includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, and cloud computing (Kagermann, 2013). The result is the development of smart factories able to leverage a wide range of sensor data to automate control functions, such as calibrating motor speeds, and decision-making in areas such as quality and safety. These sensors include high-definition image sensors, which enable embedded vision systems, and environmental sensors that detect conditions such as temperature or the buildup of toxic gases and motion sensors.

One of the performance enhancements related to sensors in smart factories is called sensor fusion. Sensor fusion is the use of advanced processing and software to integrate the different types of sensor data (e.g. image, temperature, and rate of speed) for improved decision-making and performance monitoring. In order to fully optimize the potential of sensor fusion, disparate data types must be delivered to the processor concurrently and at high rates of speed. There are several industrial protocols competing to meet these requirements; among the front-runners are industrial Ethernet/IP and EtherCAT, although other traditional standards such as PROFIBUS, MODBUS, and DeviceNet are still frequently deployed. There are trade-offs in terms of speed and connectivity to a large installed base to consider.

One other important issue, moving forward, is support for IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) for data transmission between factory nodes. The most obvious improvement in IPv6 over its predecessor IPv4 is that IP addresses are lengthened from 32 bits to 128 bits. This extension anticipates considerable future growth of the Internet and provides relief for what was perceived as an impending shortage of network addresses (TechTarget, 2016). Additionally, interconnect systems designed for smart factories are able to support data transport speeds up to 1Gb/s (CAT5e) and 10Gb/s (CAT6A), albeit at shorter distances than the full potential of the Ethernet specification. This is especially important when there is high-definition video being transported or when fast response is essential for automatically adjusting the system based on near real-time analytics processed in the Cloud or in an intelligent gateway within the factory.

Adapting to the Environment

Factories are the epitome of harsh environments. The combination of the constant vibration of heavy machinery, corrosive elements, and extreme temperatures at points along the production line are not accommodating to sensitive electronics such as cameras and advanced processors. Additionally, space and power efficiency are critical design concerns, especially in the selection of the interconnect system that delivers the data from node to processor and then sends instructions back to an actuator or the node. In the harshest environments, a wired connection is most reliable when interfacing with the production node or a robotic system in the manufacturing process. Connector systems used in these environments must meet IP67 or IP68 ratings. Specifically, this means the connector or cable assembly must have complete isolation from dust and also the ability to withstand immersion in up to one meter or more of water.

Molex M12 receptacle and cable.

M12 receptacle and cable (Photo: Molex)

To meet this requirement, connector manufacturers offer M8 and M12 standard interface connectors, cable assemblies, and integrated modules with a variety of mounting, mating, and shielding options. These offerings also include a combination of data and power connections within the housing to save space without compromising any aspect of performance. The M8 and M12 interfaces support direct connections to the factory equipment for both the sensor and for the actuator. On the other end of the connection is either another M8/M12 connector or other standard interface such as a DIN for connecting to a switch or sensor. Manufacturers offer IP67- and IP68-compliant cable assemblies in lengths ranging from one meter all the way up to 30 meters.

Selecting the Right Connector

As the various protocols continue to vie for dominance in emerging Industry 4.0 and smart factory applications, selecting the right connector is not always easy. The entire system from sensor types to the processing hosted in the Cloud – as well as overall performance – must be taken into account. As a result, it is advisable to work with a technical expert with design experience across the various protocols, knowledge of the other system functions such as sensors and processing, and a wide offering of interconnect products to choose from. Choose a distributor that offers engineers and technical account managers who are able to fulfill these requirements in an unbiased manner. Their practical design experience and deep manufacturer relationships are beneficial to the system developer or packaging engineer trying to navigate through the standards and options available in support of Industry 4.0. Additionally, such experts are able to collaborate with their peers who design-in sensor technology, advanced processing, connectivity, software development, and cloud computing to promote a full system solution. In the long run, taking a full-system approach to designing your industrial application will speed time to market, reduce overall development costs, and future-proof your design from an interoperability standpoint.

Contributed by Dave Jakubowski, Avnet Electronics Marketing, Vice President, Supplier Business Development IP&E. Visit Avnet online.

Kagermann, H. W. (2013, April 8). NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING Publications. Retrieved from acatech – the NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING
TechTarget. (2016). IPv6 (Internet Protocol Version 6). Retrieved from SearchEnterpriseWan

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