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Industrial Networks

Updated: 5 days ago

To enable digital industrial processes to run over a wireless communications infrastructure, network technology needs to meet specific performance and reliability standards demanded by industrial applications.

Industrial Information Networks are a medium to transfer data from one device or application to another, namely business areas or business assets such as computers, machines, vehicles, databases, software, or other IoT Devices. Networks, however, vary based on the volume of data being transferred and the use they are destined to. Many professionals in the IT Industry define the naming of IT networks according to the business level at which they are implemented.

In general, Industrial Networks refer to networks that deal with data transferring on a large scale for business needs. This means they allow us to connect various devices across large or dispersed spaces and enable communication between them and their assets by allowing us to transfer large chunks of data.

Traditional networks are limited to a reduced number of systems with low data transferring volumes and security breaches. Contemporary IIoT & Industrial Networks are designed to cater to real-time needs and the demands of a larger number of systems and IoT-connected devices, with high standards of cybersecurity in mind.

IT vs OT Networks

IT Networks usually support enterprise operations from administrative offices or carpeted spaces, and are designed with flat architectures and simple networking systems.

Contrarily, industrial environments are supported by agile and resilient network infrastructures that provide a high degree of stability, scalability and security. The mobility of users, new workplaces, flexibility and the evolving nature of production processes require complex IT systems and architectures developed specifically for operational and harsh environments. Some enterprise IT can be extended into these industrial environments, but many processes can be optimised only through specialised OT systems.

Industrial networks are commonly called “Operational Technology” (OT) Networks and support the connection between industrial assets. They also enable control and monitoring of every field device and system within an industrial environment.

Industry 4.0, also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the age of Smart Manufacturing, or the digital era, is about making business smarter and increasingly automated. With adequate industrial networking systems, it is possible to attain better control of batch or large-scale continuous processes for the production of any type of products and materials.

Polestar Industrial IT Services are thought to help industrial companies design and build industrial communication infrastructures for enabling real-time remote access, monitoring and control, linking SCADA, MES and ERP systems to automatically transfer plant production data. This facilitates decision-making for plant managers, staff and OT teams.

It is important to consider the distinctions between OT and IT Networks when investing in the enhancement of industrial asset connectivity. To achieve this, it is crucial to comprehend the primary features of OT networks and how they vary from the IT environment.

OT Networks Characteristics
OT Networks Characteristics - Source: Deloitte, 2021

Levels of Industrial Networks

Companies are usually composed of many departments managing different aspects of the business, sometimes spread out over various locations or sites. For instance, a company can have manufacturing plants with specialised hardware (field devices) spread through different countries, as well as departments such as operations, sales, marketing etc. All these departments have specific needs but at the same time need to communicate with each other through a communication network for achieving lean operations.

Nowadays, ethernet-based networks are standard in the industry, with variants including:

However, as seen in the section above, Industrial Wireless and Remote Access are being widely implemented for enhanced communications over different dispersed areas. Effective communication is possible using various network levels, allowing for the use of optimal technologies, protocols and processes. The following are some of the levels described in the Purdue Reference Architecture Model (PERA).

Purdue Enterprise Reference Architecture by Polestar Industrial IT
Purdue Enterprise Reference Architecture by Polestar Industrial IT

External Network (Level 5)

Cloud services and remote access connected to enterprise systems to support corporate-level services and individual business units and users. These usually support servers providing:

  • Enterprise Active Directory (AD)

  • Internal email

  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems

  • Human Resources (HR) systems

  • Document Management systems

  • Backup solutions

  • Enterprise Security Operations Centre (SOC)

Enterprise Network (Level 4)

Enterprise networks help connect various computers across different departments to transfer data, reduce communication protocols, and increase data accessibility efficiently. They are also known as IT Networks or Corporate Networks.

The key purpose of industrial networks here is to provide effective communication between various computers and prevent access by unauthorised computers. Generally, enterprise networks include local area networks (LAN) and wide-area networks (WAN). An enterprise network is able to connect all the systems regardless of their operating systems.

Enterprise networks are limited to a single building. The term Enterprise Network is frequently used to refer to networks that connect computers to the Intranet and to Cloud Services supporting Enterprise Systems of the likes of ERPs, CRMs, HR systems, and Enterprise Databases, among others. They are also known as Business Networks. Business networks are used to connect many devices present in different locations.