This article was originally published in Current Connections Winter 2020 issue.
The connected enterprise is a term that comes up frequently in regard to plant automation. The general concept is that all the components in a facility should be able to provide expanded information to users on what they are doing. In order to get this information, we replace things that traditionally used standard 14-gauge wire for IO with a communications protocol, typically ethernet, to transmit additional data. The push for more information has led to advanced communications controls on devices that have never had them in the past, including motor starters and MCCs.
The shift towards advanced devices and intelligent MCCs means more pre-planning is needed to go into the design, and earlier in the process, than ever before. Our communications one-lines used to be relatively simple; our design could be completed early in a project with few changes made along the way. Now, we are working with our customers throughout the process to determine exactly what information will be gathered from the connected devices and the best network design to reliably transport data to the end user.
A functional requirement specification (FRS) should be completed early in the process of building a plant or retrofitting an existing facility to determine the best architecture for each connected device or motor in the plant. This document allows engineers and systems analysts to align on a solution that offers a flexible but standardized and scalable path forward, even if components are changed or added during the project. The FRS documents media preferences (copper vs. fiber, single mode vs. multimode, CAT 5e vs. CAT6), network topology (linear, star, ring, DLR, PRP, or a hybrid system), and information preferences (control only vs. advanced diagnostics) so that we can apply these specifications to the system through the design phases. This information is especially important if communications cables will be run underground and will be difficult to change later in the project.
Interstates has a Network Standards committee that meets frequently to evaluate new technologies and create standards and best practices that we can recommend to our customer partners.
If you are considering implementing connected enterprise technologies in an upcoming project, or if you have questions about standards and best practices for communications in the connected enterprise, give us a call
at 712-722-1662 and ask to speak to a member of our OT Infrastructure & Security team.
Erik Hall, Lead Project Engineer