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 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.
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).
External Network (Level 5)
Enterprise Active Directory (AD)
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems
Human Resources (HR) systems
Document Management systems
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.
Level 4 Networks also connect enterprise hardware such as:
Local file and print servers
Local phone systems
Enterprise AD replicas
Site-Wide Supervisory Network (Level 3):
Supervisory networks connect various computers to supervise other computers and systems. They are mainly used in manufacturing industries to monitor, supervise, and support operations for a site or region. These connect:
Human-machine interfaces (HMIs)
Historians (if scoped for an entire site or region)
Local Supervisory Network (Level 2):
Level 2 Networks are built for monitoring and supervisory control of a single process, cell, line, or distributed control system (DCS) solution. These are isolated processes from one another, grouped by function, type, or risk. Similarly to Level 3 Networks, Level 2 Networks connect:
Control rooms (if scoped for a single process and not the site/region)
Process Control Network (Level 1):
A process control network transfers data between various control and measurement units. They are robust, determinate and compatible to connect devices and systems to provide automated control of a process, cell, line, or DCS solution. Modern ICS solutions often combine Levels 1 and 0. Level 1 Networks connect:
Remote terminal units (RTUs)
Field Devices Network (Level 0):
This network connects machinery, sensors and actuators for the cell, line, process, or DCS solution. It's often combined with the Level 1 Network. Devices plugged within this network are:
In the past, IT and OT networks were entirely separate, resulting in only IT equipment being connected to external systems and networks. Nevertheless, as businesses embrace I4.0 and IIoT technological solutions, they are integrating industrial assets and systems with IT networks, resulting in a new trend of convergence between IT and OT.
Networks in the Manufacturing, Warehousing, Oil & Gas, Utilities and Healthcare sectors connect Operational Technologies (OT) and are exposed to rugged conditions such as radical changes in temperature, excess motion and vibration coming from heavy machinery and personnel coming and going, exposure to liquids and chemical agents, wide coverage areas, and a vast informational exchange, among others. These networks require specialised systems and architectures to ensure business resiliency. With the rise of IIoT, these OT Networks are being connected to IT or Enterprise Networks, which requires specialised IT/OT convergence consulting and planning.
Services related to the design, planning, implementation, integration, maintenance and support of these OT Networks are usually called Industrial IT Services, which consider the specific communication needs of each industry vertical and their applications. So, what is actually needed from the network for each industrial application? Below you'll find use-specific network requirements for:
Manufacturing supply chains are designed using algebraic models and evaluated using statistical analysis. These models concentrate on maximising output and minimising waste while making the most efficient use of assets. If we view a supply chain as a system composed of smaller links, each link can be thought of as a function, such as transportation from A to B, optimal warehouse utilisation, inventory control, and the product manufacturing lifecycle. At least one link in each of these areas can be enhanced with the correct implementation of industrial networking and wireless technologies.
For instance, granular item tracking can be improved through scanning, positioning and identification, as well as typically coordinated with camera data from high-level surveillance and security to high-precision quality check levels. All this information runs through a robust industrial network with wireless technology.
Availability: High availability inside the production/warehousing hub, lower when external (inbound and outbound logistics)
Traffic Types: Critical telemetry from production logistics, non-critical telemetry and high-definition video for external logistics.
Determinism: None needed.
Reliability: High reliability inside the production/warehousing hub, lower when external (inbound and outbound logistics).
Synchronicity: None needed, except for real-time tracking systems which need maximum sync.
Production Robots and AGVs are designed to perform various tasks with predetermined results, such as managing specific equipment or materials. Advanced AI techniques enable dynamic behaviours, including real-time decision-making for CNC program changes, collision avoidance, or route planning.
The communication process for these devices is influenced by the degree of edge computing employed within the system. Some devices possess all of the intelligence and decision-making capabilities on board, while others rely on a centralised control system. This is due to the location of the functional building blocks in the edge architecture, which can range along a spectrum of possibilities.
There are other communication flows necessary to interact with third-party devices, including other moving objects such as cranes, forklifts, and trucks, as well as stationary objects like gates, doors, ramps, rails, and manufacturing machines. Additionally, there may be onboard safety processes that interact with external systems. All of these flows are time-sensitive and predictable, requiring control and telemetry messages to be received within a specific time frame for real-time processing. The AGV's actions may be a component of wider industrial processes throughout the facility.
Due to the criticality of all the flows to achieve successful real-time physical operation in a dynamic environment, CNC Machinery, Robots and AGV have extremely strict and sensitive network service requirements.
Availability: Between five and several 9s.
Traffic Types: Mixture of critical traffic, non-critical telemetry, and high-definition video.
Determinism: Depending on autonomous independence from applications ‘over the air’, possibly down to microsecond measurements at the most demanding.
Reliability: Continued operation regardless of node and/or path failure.
Synchronicity: Clocking systems must be accurately synchronised to the sub-microsecond level.
Industrial processes in factories, plants, and facilities, like electric power plants, chemical plants, and oil refineries, are automated through control applications. These applications use continuous measurements to regulate the process. Wireless networking is utilized in two primary areas of process automation: closed-loop process control for real-time control, and process and asset monitoring for non-real-time control.
Closed-loop Process Control (Real-time)
Systems that use closed-loop feedback, like PID (proportional integral derivative) controllers, usually rely on sensors for immediate data input into the process. These sensors are specifically engineered for high reliability (availability of Six 9s or more) and precision since they guide adjustments in the process output. Traffic flows usually occur cyclically with very narrow cycles of approximately 100 milliseconds.
Availability: A minimum of Six 9s.
Traffic Types: Critical control-loop traffic.
Determinism: Strict timing variables to suit cyclic patterns, highly determinate.
Reliability: Maximum reliability, all measures must be taken for resilience.
Synchronicity: The highest possible synchronicity must be achieved both to the industrial automation components and the communications infrastructure.
Process and Asset Monitoring (Non Real-time)
Process and asset monitoring covers additional monitoring tasks that are beyond the confines of strict control loops. This involves monitoring environmental process variables like temperature, flow, pressure, and vibration. Consistent and continual monitoring of these variables yields information that is utilized for forecasting, preventing downtime or equipment failures, and ensuring overall plant safety and security. Certain sensors in this field are built to operate on batteries with an extended lifecycle and may incorporate energy-efficient methods to save power within the sensor.
Combining sensor data from multiple sources is typically more useful, which means that the network must be capable of supporting a high density of sensors. In addition, the technology must be cost-effective to facilitate the widespread use of low-cost sensors throughout the plant. Non-real-time solutions are often governed by various 'industrial wireless' standards that are implemented on a domain-by-domain basis, resulting in a segregated access network.
Traffic flows for sensors are typically unidirectional, with data transmitted from the sensor to the collector, gateway, or controller. On the other hand, actuators function in the opposite direction, with the controller sending commands to effect change across the network. Ultimately, this traffic will return to the controller, which, if performing a real-time control loop, has very strict network requirements.
Availability: Variable, may not require a strict service level objective.
Traffic Types: Regular or triggered notification messages.
Determinism: None required for basic monitoring.
Reliability: No mandatory redundancy. Back-ups are recommended.
Synchronicity: None, albeit with time-stamping at collector or endpoint.
Industrial communications require industrial-grade systems that use reliable standards to create integrated data networks that can withstand present and future changes under high performance and endurance conditions. This includes connecting sensors and transmitting plant-wide data on quality and production.
For instance, any basic Industrial Network requires specific Industrial Ethernet Networking Cables to withstand the mechanical, chemical and thermal loads and simultaneously has to maintain the defined data transfer properties (permanent installation, highly flexible, trailing cables with up to 10 million bending cycles, ideal for flexing applications, finely stranded conductors and PUR sheath, sunlight resistant, oil resistant, cold resistant, chemical resistant, with flame retardant, weld splatter resistant, halogen-free, silicon free, CAT 5E data rates and RoHS compliant).
Similarly, any Industrial Network requires Rugged Networking Hardware able to provide reliable and error-free operations in harsh industrial environments, delivering error-free communications under high levels of electromagnetic interference in extreme temperatures and over long distances (compact design, water/liquid resistant/proof IP66/lP67 switches and routers, with immunity to electromagnetic interference (EMI) required by IEC 61850-3 and IEEE 1613 class 2 error-free devices).
The following are the key components of an Industrial Network and some of their characteristics:
Industrial Ethernet is a comprehensive solution for creating efficient industrial networks and bus systems. It includes robust networking components that are designed for use in rugged industrial settings and are future-proofed to withstand changes. The system also includes a cabling system that allows for quick assembly on-site and rapid redundancy for added reliability. Some sub-components are:
Sensors Portfolio (temperature, movement & occupancy, liquid leaks, humidity, door traffic, vibration monitoring, etc)
Industrial Wireless & External Networks
An industrial-grade wireless communication infrastructure includes components that are suitable for a wide range of applications, such as CNC machinery, Robots, Cranes, Conveyor Belts, Environmental Sensors, Driverless Transport Systems (AGVs), and Telecontrol / teleservicing. These sub-components can be used both indoors and outdoors and are known for their reliability, durability, and safety, even in harsh conditions. Some of these field asset can be monitored, control and analysed remotely through secure connections to ICS, PLCs, and Cloud Apps. They often include:
Remote Networks and Remote Access Systems
Industry 4.0 and IIoT use cases rely on the successful implementation of Industrial Networks (OT networks). These are the main applications and use cases that can be leveraged with industrial networks:
OEE Management Apps
Process Stability Apps
Tooling Performance Apps
Instrument Measuring Apps
With the increasing threat of cyber-attacks, it is essential that all systems and plant assets are secure. With the use of Firewalls, Virtual LAN (VLAN) Segregation, Proxy Servers, Domain Controllers, Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and Demilitarised Zones (DMZ), Systems Engineers ensure networks are designed to meet industry specifications whilst remaining secure. The use of a combination of different network topologies also helps to create resilient network designs.
Another measure to become cyber secure includes the understanding of what physical assets are needed to be protected. Using non-disruptive light touch discovery tools and combining this with some manual on-site discovery work can provide a comprehensive asset list to know exactly what needs to be protected across the different network levels, what communications relationships exist, and what policies need to be implemented.
Corporate and factory networks should also be physically separated in line with ISA 99 / IEC 62443 standards. Correctly designing, implementing and migrating to a new dedicated factory network that aligns with industrial security standards and avoids unplanned downtime requires a solid understanding of factory processes in addition to the usual networking knowledge that IT teams possess.
Network segmentation also becomes increasingly important as more applications deliver from the cloud and connect to every network level.
Zero-trust design is another method to implement security-first networks and an in-depth defence approach, providing for resilient systems across the entire architecture. This includes identity management, USB storage device controls, backup and disaster recovery, security policies, and secure remote access systems.
Finally, end-point protection and response systems need to be in place as well, in case an attack becomes successful.
What can you do in the Factory Floor with our Industrial Networks & IIoT Systems?
Transform your business by extending intent-based networking to the IoT edge. Embrace the outdoor or industrial part of your business with security and simplicity. Watch the following video to learn about some of the things you can achieve in your industrial settings with our Cisco and Siemens Industrial IT Portfolio.
OT networks are a component of automation and require constant availability and reliability due to the potentially high costs of failures. These networks must maintain reliable data transmission, even in challenging circumstances. The main emphasis of IT teams and systems is on the speed of data transmission and usage for end-users. Unlike data flow in the field, IT networks have a vertical orientation where client communication is routed through a server. So, how smooth collaboration between OT and IT teams can be achieved? First, it’s important to understand the requirements of OT networks, and how IT teams can collaborate.
In order to process operational technology (OT) data, including environmental, automation, and measured values, for production customers, it is necessary to have high-performing connectivity to central platforms for efficient processing and analysis in a timely manner. It is required the implementation of a converged network capable to capture data from field devices and environmental sensors, and of systems with the ability to organise and show it in a legible format for plant managers for quality control and operational decision-making. Also, the system should allow for the selection of data to flow to external systems for remote commissioning or management.
The integration of IT and OT networks brings forth new challenges and obstacles that must be dealt with. One of the main issues is the complexity of differentiating between the IT and OT infrastructure. To address this concern, the Purdue Enterprise Reference Architecture offers a structured framework that categorizes the different levels of crucial infrastructure utilized in IT and OT networks. When creating a security plan for the OT environment, the Purdue Model can provide secure communication by segregating layers and outlining the function and interaction of network devices and systems.
At Polestar we remove barriers between IT and Engineering Departments. By merging control engineering and ICT disciplines, we are capable of delivering complete projects that include data analytics, remote monitoring, and mobility. This may entail connecting factory floor systems to manufacturing intelligence systems and enterprise-level networks via secure networks.
Industrial IT and Networks for high availability on the Factory Floor
Industrial IT and Industrial Networks provide a flexible, resilient and future-ready communications environment in industrial settings, namely Manufacturing Plants, Warehouses, Oil Rigs, Energy Stations and sub-stations, or Water Plants, helping to accelerate digital transformation. These networks, if installed properly, contribute to real-time communications among operators and managers, and help to get data out of production machines, robots, measuring tools, conveyor belts, environment-controlled rooms, cranes, vehicles and other industrial assets for optimising operations and product quality.
With a cybersecurity engineering background and years of experience working for UK and global manufacturers, the background of Polestar Industrial IT is steeped in the processing and manufacturing industries. Polestar Industrial IT services aim to prevent downtime, reduce waste and quality losses, and reduce Operational Expenditure. With our IT Service in the UK & EMEA, and our industrial communication systems and designs, you can track OEE, add real-time insights to your operations, improve your operations cost centres, and improve productivity under an infrastructure CapEx model.
The Polestar team of Network Engineers designs, installs and offers support for both wired and wireless IT networks and systems for industrial and manufacturing companies of any size. Our IT Services provide tailor-made solutions to meet industry-specific requirements.
We provide from workstations and basic industrial communications hardware to asset inventory management, design of large-scale virtual environments, and cybersecurity design & implementations. We also advise on hybrid solutions that leverage on-premise (LAN, WAN and SD-WAN infrastructure), edge and cloud technologies to provide on-site and off-site data redundancy.
Polestar Industrial IT designs and implements secure industrial IT and OT infrastructures for both brownfield and greenfield sites, and identifies cybersecurity risks, proposing and delivering security improvements. All our implementations comply to ISA 99 / IEC 62443 manufacturing cybersecurity standards. We are specialised in performance-driven, secure, customised industrial network solutions in the operational technology (OT) space, facilitating the migration and seamless integration of legacy systems into the information technology (IT) space.
At Polestar we use case-specific solutions and reference architectures that enable specific business outcomes for our customers. We will focus on your business requirements, bringing a toolbox of options to suit your application, including: indoor, outdoor, and ruggedised WiFi, Ultra-Reliable Wireless, Private 5G, and LoRaWAN networks.
Over the years, and frequently in harsh industrial environments, we have established a robust portfolio of industrial networking projects in companies belonging to the Food and Beverage, FMCG, Pharmaceutical, Healthcare and Automotive manufacturing vertcials. Our services encompass an array of industrial networking technologies, including cabling solutions, data network configurations, wireless technology, signal transmission and conversion, client systems, and professional network services.
We’ll work with you to meet your networking objectives relating to demands such as:
Our IT Services are diverse and adaptable, tailored to suit the scale and scope of your project, which may include: