As manufacturing facilities aim to further automate their manufacturing processes, improving flexibility and reliability of their plants by employing smart manufacturing and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) concepts, the number of connected devices on the plant floor is increasing dramatically. As a result, it is important to monitor and control the entire plant floor because the large number of connection points means it is more likely for a failure to occur. This is especially true for companies that have more established manufacturing processes as many of these plants are being retrofitted with new equipment as permitted by time and budget availability.
While it is clear that plant managers and automation and controls engineers understand the importance of and attempt to maintain up-to-date documentation of their network as things change, this can be quite difficult because not all components are added to the factory floor at the same time or by the same technicians. Oftentimes, efforts are made to manually track information, such as the IP addresses for devices on the plant floor, or to update industrial network drawings, but these types of tasks usually require a substantial amount of effort, which is quite difficult in an industry that has shrunk by nearly 15 percent in the past decade and has dealt with many other challenges around workforce availability, training, and aging. Thus, there are typically substantial knowledge gaps within companies regarding how systems are interconnected and what components rely on each other to function.
Additionally, because of the harsh nature of the plant floor, automation networks are highly susceptible to interruptions. However, when it comes to the design and deployment of industrial systems, the physical layer of the system usually gets the least attention and less than 10 percent of the budget; yet nearly 80 percent of all network issues on the plant floor originate from problems with physical layer connectivity. This often results in downtime and lost production, especially since closed-loop process control often relies on an Ethernet link. Frequent breakdowns can be costly for manufacturers or even potentially dangerous for factory floor workers.
Executives in the manufacturing industry anticipate that 95 percent of companies will take advantage of IIoT technology within three years. This will dramatically increase the number of connected industrial devices on the plant floor in the future, making the possibility of disruptions even more likely, and the need to rapidly detect those disruptions even more critical. This is exactly why it is becoming increasingly necessary to have a single tool that can monitor all aspects of the connected plant floor from a central point.
Ideally, plant operators need to assure network uptime by enabling access to real-time visualization and monitoring of the entire network, in addition to network diagnostic capabilities. With awareness into all levels of devices and connectivity, operational field technicians can efficiently communicate with IT and automation teams about issues, allowing individuals who are not the network or machinery experts the ability to respond to issues as if they were. This approach could help manufacturers proactively improve the uptime of their Industrial Ethernet infrastructure, rather than reactively responding to issues that arise.
IntraVUE industrial network and visualization software by Panduit offers plant managers the ability to use this approach to address the challenges unique to these industrial environments. With this software, plant operations teams can have visibility into the plant’s entire Ethernet connectivity landscape to narrow the scope of where connectivity issues are occurring and technicians can get to the root of the problem faster, improving uptime and decreasing network support costs and response times by more than 50 percent.
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