The need for rugged industrial networks

Paul Taylor, Business Manager for Industrial Communications at Siemens Automation and Drives, discusses how important it is for IT professionals to make informed choices when selecting wireless networks and communication systems for their companies.

When businesses need to specify wireless communication systems in order to monitor and control and for various other tasks, it is often easy for IT teams to adopt a stick with what we know attitude, particularly when a current IT system is working effectively within an office.  However, the differing requirements of an IT system for an office and one designed for use in an industrial or manufacturing environment, mean that sticking with what we know can often lead to constant downtime, inefficiency, loss of productivity and the knock on effect on revenue levels.

For many businesses, specifying wireless communication systems can be a case of if it isnt broken, why fix it?  Sticking with a tried and tested IT system to install in the warehouse or production line either as part of a new build or as a retrofit system, can seem like a sensible, cost-effective idea.  The system has proven its reliability and effectiveness over a period of time, so why try something new?

This is reasonable logic and the reasons behind this decision are sensible enough however, there is one major factor that needs to be investigated further.  The environment in the average office is not open to the interference of many factors found in industrial areas including heat, dirt, smoke and vibration all of these can have a negative effect on the efficiency and reliability of a standard IT wireless communication system.

In order to overcome the problems caused by unsuitable IT systems installed in industrial or manufacturing environments, it is vital that systems known as rugged networks are specified.  The term, rugged network reflects the ability of a communication system to cope with harsh surroundings. 

Rugged networks offer companies the opportunity to install highly sophisticated communication systems without compromising on the strength and reliability of the product when its endurance is tested. 

Inadequate IT systems can fail for various reasons whether it be overheating, dirt getting in to the components of the panel through the fan grate or vibrations causing the panels connections to work loose. The downtime and loss of productivity caused by these failures can cost companies vast amounts of money and, ultimately, affect the organisations profitability.

In fact, one major car manufacturer estimates losses of 20,000 per minute of downtime a cost which far outweighs the price of installing a reliable industrial network.    It has also been estimated that the average hourly cost of downtime for a manufacturer is $1.6m.  Companies should recognise the opportunity costs, impact of idle workers, lost orders due to product unavailability and other non-quantifiable costs which are often difficult to quantify.

As well as the monetary value of downtime, it is also possible for machine failures to cause dangerous conditions which can lead to workers becoming injured, damaged products and more losses.

For businesses looking to ensure the success of their companys engineering, production or manufacturing plants, a rugged network is an essential requirement.  It will protect against one of the potential causes of downtime and loss of productivity.  In fact, the industrial IT equipment used in rugged networks typically has a mean time between failures (MTBF) of five to 10 times that of an office grade component, mainly due to the absence of a fan. 

Organisations can ensure they specify the right product for the job by utilising the technical expertise in the Siemens Automation and Drives team, who will make selecting the correct network for their specific requirements much easier.  Siemens can support customers by providing either a complete turnkey solution or can work with a customers preferred system integrator to install, commission and support a new system.  Siemens will provide customers with as much training as they require and it boasts a wealth of experience in providing state-of-the-art networks for a huge range of customers, including major public sector organisations.


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