Robust Connections Evolve the Factory Floor
In harsh environments, the typical mated connection may corrode, wear, clog with debris, and eventually fail, and customers face high maintenance costs due to troubleshooting and component replacement. An evolution in manufacturing is driving the need for robust connections on the factory floor.
Traditional connectivity products provide customers years of reliable service in the typical office environment. However, expose the same copper or fiber connectors to extreme conditions such as dust, temperature, moisture, electromagnetic interference, or vibration, and performance and reliability will suffer. In harsh environments where exposure to some or all of these elements is a daily occurrence, the typical mated connection (i.e., RJ-45 outlet and plug) may corrode, wear, clog with debris, and eventually fail. In the end, customers are faced with high maintenance costs due to troubleshooting and component replacement.
Enter a new breed of connector designed to deliver a robust Ethernet connection in even the harshest environments – tougher, stronger, and more resistant than any previous Ethernet connector. This new interface is referred to as the “industrial connector,” although applications are not limited to manufacturing. While the connector is designed to withstand the most punishing industrial conditions, applications exist in any normal factory floor environment.
Increasingly, cabling system consultants, designers, and installers are faced with challenging environments. There may be a portion of an installation or an entire site that requires connectivity in problematic areas – wash-down rooms, areas prone to dust, and locations subject to temperature extremes, for example.
When some designers or installers are faced with this problem, some opt to install traditional connectivity and hope for the best. Another solution is to create custom protective enclosures to house connections. An example would be a sub-floor box designed specifically to protect connections from water and debris. Unfortunately, this type of solution must be custom built, is often costly, and provides limited protection. This restricts the wide-scale use of custom solutions.
Both situations are more common than most would expect, and each is frustrating and costly for end users. Unprotected components and jury-rigged enclosures can be seen in nearly every field from medical buildings to food processing plants, marine sites, dusty order fulfillment warehouses, or refinement facilities. In each case, the troubleshooting, maintenance, and corrective actions associated with these installations drive end users, installers, and consultants to seek a more robust solution. Fortunately, industrial cabling systems provide an ideal, cost-effective answer.
An evolution is taking place in the manufacturing market that is driving the need for robust connections on the factory floor. Most manufacturers implement enterprise resource planning (ERP) initiatives, which streamline operations, improve product availability, and reduce production costs. The key to implementing an effective ERP solution is access to accurate, real-time data. Unfortunately, much of the manufacturing equipment in use today does not have the capability of collecting and communicating data seamlessly from the plant floor to an enterprise’s network. However, many manufacturers of automation production equipment are offering solutions such as Ethernet/IP for control on the plant floor, system configuration, and data collection for ERP applications. The factory floor has now become a seamless extension of an organization’s network.
Specific examples of applications that could benefit from industrial Ethernet include mining, refineries, automotive facilities, and manufacturing plants. For these customers, corrosive gases and liquids, extreme sources of EMI from robotic equipment, vibration, high temperatures, and humidity are common. A robust industrial connector can be the essential link between the factory floor and ERP applications – keeping data flowing and providing a competitive edge.
Manufacturers are responding by developing products that are aligned with industrial standards initiatives. The industrial solution most used employs a specific mating style of the plug and outlet. The plug’s body has a unique bayonet-style collar that mates with the outer shell of the outlet. The plug is inserted into the outlet and with a simple quarter turn of the collar, the plug and outlet are engaged. It is fast and provides a superior sealed connection.
This industrial solution provides superior protection against moisture and vibration. The mating style prohibits ingress of moisture from either airborne humidity or by direct contact with liquid. Additionally, the mating style resists vibration by maintaining the plug’s relative position to the outlet. It does not allow the plug to shift with vibration, which would otherwise cause damage to outlet contacts.
Some manufacturers’ designs also incorporate materials that are more resistant to chemicals and have wider operating temperature ranges than traditional connectors. The connectors can have expanded temperature range from -25°C (-13°F) to +85°C (+185°F). Compared to the operational temperature range for standard connectivity, this industrial connector expands the overall operational temperature range by more than 50%.
For factory automation and networking environments, high-speed Ethernet networks now match the costs of older, proprietary technology. They can deliver the reliability and interactive internet-related technologies to enable universal sharing of information, continuous process needs, and management of remote devices throughout the corporate network.