Choosing the Right Industrial Ethernet Cables
The internet is seeing an increasing presence in the world of industry. There are more and more industrial applications emerging that rely on an internet connection, and there are advantages to having an entire facility wired together into a wider network. This can help things like productivity, communication, and efficiency. However, the “industrial internet of things” can be a bit more complicated than just hooking everything up.
One of the catches is that not every industry is connected yet. This means that many businesses and facilities are only just starting to grasp the challenges. They are only now starting to look into acquiring ethernet patch cables in bulk and figuring out how to best use them and all other related hardware. There’s a learning curve to this, and we’re here to help you overcome the first hurdle: getting the right cables.
The first thing to consider is just how much data will the network be handling. In all likelihood, you are either starting an upgrade from an older T1 copper-based network or you’re going in blind and have no existing infrastructure. Either way, you still need to stop and figure out the amount of data that will be flying around at any given time, and how fast you need that data to move from device to device.
Your networking might require 100M ethernet from top to bottom, or it might go into the 1G or 100G range. It might need more. You need to determine that because that helps you figure out what kind of cable you’re going to need. Just getting the most powerful (Cat-7) might seem like a good idea, but if you don’t actually need that much capacity or speed, you’re overpaying and underutilizing.
The Working Environment
In most IT networks, you’re using cables based on the needs of the applications you use. In an industrial context, however, there is one other detail you need to consider. What impact would the physical environment have on your cables and needs?
How much vibration is there in your facility? The cables will need to withstand these. Are you able to keep them physically protected in a control room specifically for them? If you can, then you won’t need flexible cable, as the vibration is minimized. If not, then you’ll need to acquire ones that can handle the damage all that rumbling will cause.
Exposure to things like oil, chemicals, and other things that show up on a factory floor is also a consideration. If the cables are protected, that’s fine. If they’re not, you will want a durable option, with high flexibility to decrease the problems caused by vibration and corrosion.
Do you want your cables shielded or not shielded? This doesn’t refer to the protection of the physical cable, but instead any included features that protect the integrity of network signals transmitted.
If you aren’t sure which is the right call, unshielded is a safer bet. These work in most environments, so you have fewer problems. However, if you think you’ll be seeing electromagnetic interference in the facility or encounter unusually high noise ratios, you’ll want something with foil or braid shielding. This protects the signals.
Check the jackets and pick one based on the situation. There are four types, each with their own properties.
PVC is useful and affordable, making it easy to slip into just about any situation. Polyurethane is the most durable and can tackle high-abrasion situations or environments, so use them if you expect cables exposed to chemicals, oils, and any solvents. Thermoplastic elastomer protects from low temperatures, while flame-retardant non-corrosive jackets toss in fire protection.
In general, you want to be aware of the environment that the cables will be in. Will there be a lot of solvents? Is there a risk of anything being spilled on the ground and damage any jacks or ports? How big is the chance of physical damage on the cables themselves? For that matter, how do you expect them to be laid out to connect everything?
Knowing these considerations helps you plan for a few details. First, it tells you how much cable you’ll need. It also helps you figure out what type to buy and how to weave them into your facility with minimal disruption.
There are some performance considerations, as well. Different environmental factors will affect performance. Electronics and cables generally don’t do so well in extremely high or extremely low temperatures. The design of the cables also means that damage to their integrity will degrade signal strength. Exposure to UV rays is also something that you should be aware of, again due to possible signal degradation.
Upgrading or installing an ethernet setup in your industrial facility is a great way to improve a number of things. However, if you get the wrong patch cables, you’re sabotaging the work before it even begins. Get the right cables for your factory and the conditions in it, and you’ll be impressed at how well it performs.