When automobiles first were introduced at the beginning of the last century, they gave unprecedented freedom to regular folks, multiplied exponentially, and pretty soon it seemed like everyone had one. Sound familiar?
However, they also got stuck in the mud all the time because most U.S. roads were pretty much dirt, and it took decades for the nation's street-building and paving capacity to even begin to catch up. So what started as breathtaking technical innovation and momentary freedom was punctuated by a persistently clunky infrastructure. There's that echo again.
Early efforts to extract car travel from those mud ruts included local sponsorships of "seed miles" along roads such as the Lincoln Highway, which local developers, car dealers and other boosters would pay for, so drivers could get a taste of some smooth driving. Very seductive.
The tide really only began to turn in the 1950s with the gradual construction of the U.S. Interstate highway system, but even then, many major and arterial roads only got evened out in more recent decades. Of course, the legacy of paving everything is endless maintenance, forever sitting in traffic and wasting fuel, and the old joke in most temperate zone states that there are only two seasons — winter and road construction.
Nevertheless, as any teenager waiting for his or her 16th birthday and driver's license will tell you, driving is vastly faster, better and more hip than walking, biking or mass transit. Again, this is just like the Internet and all the smartphones and tablet PCs we use to reach it. I mean, no one would prefer to go to a brick-and-mortar library and go back to doing painstaking research in books, right?
However, despite all the streamlined wonder-fulness of the Internet and our sleek interfaces, I still get the feeling that there's a chronic clunkiness to it. Don't get me wrong. It's excellent to FaceTime and see my daughter's face when she's half a world away in India or Turkey, and I'm extremely grateful for it. However, at the same time, the frequent seize-ups and snags in audio and video transmissions can be pretty frustrating. I'm sorry for seeming ungrateful and, no, I wouldn't rather go back to putting dimes in a payphone or walking. Over time, all these network hiccups become so common that they're almost invisible, but it's easy to understand why engineers are reluctant to trust critical operations to such a communications infrastructure.
The good news is that many industrial networking tools, much like the nation's roads, continually are being straightened, graded and smoothed. While reporting this issue's "Vital Signs" cover article and researching several others, I've once again been reminded of how many industrial-networking components have point-and-click configuration, or that many different kinds of network management software show all of an application's participating devices, whether they're experiencing any problems, and precisely where they're located and what to do if they drop out. Likewise, when they need to be replaced, some basic transmitters and other process control instruments can be switched out manually, but then they'll alert the network and automatically configure themselves. This definitely can smooth out some bumps in anyone's network, but only if users are aware of the capabilities and ease of use available to them.
For instance, the Czech Republic's largest producer of brown coal, Severočeské doly a.s., reports its open-pit Bílina mine removes 53 million square meters of topsoil to extract 10 million tons of coal per year, but it recently needed to upgrade the old, bulky, increasingly unsupported, SHDSL modem-based network that monitored its productionprocesses. As a result, Bílina worked with FCC PS, a system integrator in Praha, Czech Republic, to replace the mine's old networking components with Westermo's Wolverine Manager Ethernet Extender modules and its WeOS operating system, but still retain the mine's existing communication cabling.
FCC PS reports that Bílina's network is mainly used to provide communication between its central office and substation PLCs throughout the mine. However, because the Wolverine devices run at data rates up to 15.3 Mbps, the integrator says that the mine also was able to install a stable, reliable, surprisingly high-resolution video surveillance system on its existing network infrastructure.
Ah, yes! After endless miles of teeth-rattling bumps and mud-holes on roads or hang-ups and outages on industrial networks, a little smooth driving or flawness network performance can be very refreshing.