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Wired and Wireless Ethernet Communications Options - Advantages and Disadvantages

Step Into the Future with Doran’s Ethernet Communication Options!

Virtually every company today has an Ethernet network to distribute email, provide Internet access, share printers, and run enterprise wide software. Your customers both large and small can leverage their existing Ethernet and PC hardware infrastructure and extend it to the factory floor. The merging of the administrative, control level, and device level networks makes for a less expensive and more connected data network. The result is an efficient end-to-end flow of data from the plant floor to the front office network, where it can be used to better manage operations.

Adding scales to an existing Ethernet network will not adversely affect the network speeds for existing devices. The speed of 10/100Base-T Ethernet networks that provide up to 100 Mbps communication bandwidth clearly eclipses the requirements for scale communications. A typical scale data string only requires about 200 bits, a tiny fraction of the available bandwidth for Ethernet.

As an example of the speed of Doran’s Ethernet option; The Excelerator Data collection software can monitor up to 20 scales with continuous print into one spreadsheet workbook in real time, while only utilizing 0.004% of the total network’s Ethernet bandwidth. Compare this to loading Google on Internet Explorer, which requires quite a bit more network bandwidth! Utilizing the existing Ethernet network without affecting existing devices makes Doran’s Ethernet communications option extremely cost effective. It is obvious that RS-232, with all of its networking and configuration drawbacks, is quickly becoming a communications method of the past for data collection.


Is Ethernet Expected to see Continued Strong Growth and Acceptance?

The ARC Advisory Group Study of Industrial Ethernet Devices predicts a compound annual growth rate of 50%+ for the next five years! In 2004, 840,000 Ethernet enabled industrial devices were shipped, with 6,700,000 devices predicted to ship in 2009!

Ethernet enjoys this wide acceptance because it is easy to understand, deploy, manage, and maintain. Since Ethernet is vendor independent, it provides economies of scale and vast technological innovations. Implementation of a system is very cost effective considering that the infrastructure can be shared with an existing network as well.

The cost effectiveness of Ethernet is expanding the data collection market. Ethernet is an accessible option for customers who previously did not have the expertise or the budget to implement an industrial data collection or PLC system. Proprietary PLC systems are losing market share to Ethernet not only because of implementation costs but also because of Ethernet’s increased functionality. PLC architectures are being replaced in many applications by Ethernet. And due to Ethernet’s wide acceptance, the number of devices and software that can interface with Ethernet devices is several magnitudes larger that PLC-based systems.


Why Consider Doran Ethernet for Scale Communications?

When data is collected from a scale or from multiple scales, it fundamentally increases the value of the weighing system. It is no longer “just a scale,” it is now an efficiency meter, providing accuracy verification and serving as a productivity aid. Real-time data from the scale is valuable, and Doran’s Ethernet and data collection systems make it easy to take advantage of this data. The Doran Ethernet open-standard networking solution securely connects the factory to the corporate office, enabling organizations to make strategic business decisions backed by real-time data from the production floor. Doran has been working with Ethernet applications for over five years. During this time we have amassed a significant wealth of experience.


What are Potential Problems?

Developing and facilitating a working relationship through open lines of communication with IT personal and plant or control engineers is not always an easy task. Many companies with politically strong IT departments may derail an Ethernet application because they don’t understand the need and benefit, or because they are just too busy to be bothered with it. The key to acceptance and successful implementation of scale Ethernet systems is to provide outstanding support to the plant engineers.

Many plants are already online with Ethernet and are ready to take on the implementation task from a plant manager–level without involving IT. But due to security concerns and sometimes complex configuration, Wireless Ethernet is still mainly handled by IT departments.

There are many different networking hardware providers and each uses their own security terminology and operates slightly differently. As a result of this diversity and complexity (e.g., Cisco routers have a 200+ page manual vs. a Linksys 10 page manual), we have found that Wireless routers are difficult for Doran to troubleshoot remotely. It is especially difficult if the IT personnel don’t spend time configuring the access point security settings to complete the scale installation. When the customer has not been able to get the IT department involved, we have suggested alternate routers that we have successfully worked with in the past. While no one may be interested in stealing weight data from a scale, a breach of the wireless access point security would give an unauthorized user complete access to a customer’s server and Internet. In many cases, this risk is too great to just hand over to a non-IT professional.

The reliability of Ethernet networks is very high, but if this network goes down it may hamper production, particularly if control systems are implemented through the company-wide network. Networks and servers are constructed with redundancies even at the device level to prevent outages, but outages do need to be taken into account when designing an Ethernet-based control system.


Which is Better, Wired or Wireless?

A basic rule to consider: If there is a potential safety issue involved, or if the data absolutely critical and every effort must be made to safe guard it, use Wired Ethernet. If that is not the case, consider these advantages and disadvantages for wired and wireless Ethernet:


Wired Ethernet Advantages

  • Easy to implement: plug in and you are ready to go!
  • Many non-IT professionals can implement the installation.
  • Easy to troubleshoot the network connection and cabling.
  • Status lights on the Ethernet option and Ethernet Switch indicate the status of the network connection and cable integrity.
  • Cable connection to the scale is IP65-rated.

Wired Ethernet Disadvantages

  • Requires cables to be run, which can represent up to 50% of the device’s installation.
  • Harsh environments require hardened cabling with polyurethane jackets that resist oil, caustic cleaners, and harsh environments.
  • If equipment leaves the room for the washdown, the connector on the Ethernet cable will need to be protected when not connected to the scale.



Wireless Ethernet Advantages

  • No cables to run, reducing initial device installation time.
  • Scales can be easily moved from one location to another in the plant while maintaining communications.
  • The plant can be reconfigured without concern for Ethernet cables.
  • Antenna is IP65-rated.

Wireless Ethernet Disadvantages

  • Usually requires the IT department to get involved in order to ensure proper security configuration.
  • Many companies have chosen not to implement wireless Ethernet.
  • Security settings on the wireless router and the scale must be properly configured initially. This process is made easier with two wireless routers and previous implementation experience.
  • Security settings need to be reconfigured on a regular basis to ensure network security, which raises long-term network maintenance costs.
  • Difficult to remotely implement; difficult for non-IT professionals to properly configure and to understand the settings for highly sophisticated WAPs.
  • Equipment, walls, or other RF based devices can interfere with wireless signals.