12 questions to ask before selecting a network

12 questions to ask before selecting an Ethernet network
Ethernet’s simple and effective design has made it a popular industrial networking solution at the physical and data link levels. With high-speed and high-bandwidth options and a variety of media types to choose from, Ethernet is efficient and flexible.

Most major control system manufacturers now incorporate versions of Ethernet networks and higher-level Ethernet-related protocols into their product offerings, such as EtherCAT, Modbus-TCP, Ethernet/IP, Foundation Fieldbus and PROFINET. Often, several manufacturers and/or industry stakeholders have entered into cooperative efforts to develop Ethernet standards and products.

Also Read: What to ask before selecting an industrial Ethernet switch for your next project

To choose the right Ethernet network for your application, you should first take inventory and ask the following questions:

1. What is the distance requirement?

2. What cabling arrangement makes sense for this application?

3. What is the speed requirement for the most time-critical devices? Do all devices require that speed or should some have a higher priority than others?

4. Does the network allow you to prioritize messages?

5. Does the network require the security, segmentation and redundancy capabilities in the architecture?

6. If you are developing a network-capable product, what is the hardware bill of materials and cost of software development for that network?

7. How much electrical noise is present in the application and how susceptible is the cabling to such interference?

8. What is the maximum required packet size for the data that will be sent? If the data can be fragmented over several packets, how fast does a completed message have to arrive?

9. What type(s) of device relationships are desired: master/slave, peer-peer or broadcast?

10. Does the network need to distribute electrical power? If so, how much current?

11. What kind of fault tolerance needs to be built into the network architecture?

12. What is the total estimated installed cost?

Once you answer these questions, you’ll have a better idea of the qualifications your Ethernet network must meet. Don’t commit to anything until you’ve done your homework. Many of the necessary tools and techniques are already in play in the industry, such as Ethernet switches, media converters and protocol converters.

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