What to ask before selecting an Ethernet switch

What to ask before selecting an industrial Ethernet switch for your next project
An industrial Ethernet network can have more than 1,000 nodes, hundreds of cables and infinite combinations of switches, bridges, routers, network interface cards and servers. When starting a new project, it’s not always easy to know which Ethernet switch is right.

There are several requirements to consider before narrowing your search for a switch that best suits your application. The following are some helpful questions to ask at the beginning of the project:

Does the application require a managed or unmanaged Ethernet switch? You need to decide what level of network management capability is required for your application. Unmanaged Ethernet switches are for simple plug-and-play connectivity. They help reduce overall traffic on a LAN, improving connection speed and reducing errors.

Managed switches are for advanced control of your LAN and are for applications requiring network traffic monitoring or segmentation and a high bandwidth. They usually include software to configure your network and diagnostic ports to monitor LAN traffic.

Also Read: Explore eWorx SE200 Series of Ethernet switches

What data speeds are required? Effective and consistent transmission of data is just as critical as acquiring it. Based on the amount and type of data you’ll be transmitting, you need to know what speed will accommodate the project. Options include the following: 10/100Mbps, Gigabit or 10G, or a mix between 10/100Mbps and Gigabit.

Does the application require Power of Ethernet (PoE) functionality? In industrial applications, PoE is best where large data transfers and flexible distribution of power are needed. Some common applications include security, RFID/infrared, wireless access points, interconnectivity and accessibility and power backups.

Is there a need for fiber ports, either for distance or noise immunity purposes? Firstly, you need to choose between multi-mode or single-mode fiber types and then choose fiber connectors. Some common fiber connectors include SC, ST and LC.

How many Ethernet ports does the application require? When deciding how many Ethernet ports you need, it’s important to also think of the future of your project. Does it make sense to select a switch with a few additional ports for future expansion? Does it make sense to select a switch that supports Gigabit speeds for future bandwidth increase requirements?

Does the application require a compact switch or a particular mounting format? Consider the future location of the equipment – what amount of space are you working with, and will components need to be protected from industrial debris, vibrations and/or other hazards? Will you be machine mounting components (placing equipment on the factory or plant floor) or using a cabinet? Machine-mount has quickly been expanding because the environments in which machine-mount devices can function are growing, but realizing the full benefits of machine-mount components takes planning.

What are the temperature requirements for this application? Ethernet switches for industrial situations don’t get the same pampering office equipment might. You must consider the range of temperatures your equipment will be up against on a daily basis.    

What power sources are available to power not only the switch, but all other devices? You need to know the total power budget required to supply the Ethernet switch and any connected devices. What’s the field power input voltage available for the switch?

Are there other specification considerations? For example, and oil and gas application may require Class 1/Division 2 certification.

Once you have selected an Ethernet switch based on your project needs, there are a few more questions you’ll need to ask yourself. For example, do you have all the accessories needed to make all the connections? Patch cords, power supplies, cabinets, surge protection, optional mounting hardware and wiring are plausible accessories that may be needed. You should also ask yourself when you think you’ll need product samples for proof of concept and full production.

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