While not everyone on our panel of experts is sold on what IIoT can do for connectors today, the possibility to virtually eliminate the cost of wiring makes it as enticing as any other upgrade. As the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) continues to gain mindshare and acceptance, the roles of the cables, connectors and wires that move the data become more important.
How do connector upgrades fit into an IIoT retrofit for existing equipment?
Dean Smith, product marketing specialist, industrial field connectivity (IFC) at Phoenix Contact USA: Adding connector solutions makes current and future retrofits significantly easier by eliminating the need to manually terminate many of the individual wires, virtually eliminating the cost of the labor associated with wiring in new components. Using modular insert systems with heavy-duty industrial connectors not only allows for the quick disconnect of various networking lines, but those lines can also be combined into a single connection point on a panel. Combine this with conduit leading up to the connector, and you have a fully sealed and protected solution. You can also use ruggedized M12 connectors for carrying only the networking signals to a sealed connection point on the panel.
Jack Zurick, senior control systems engineer at Thermo Systems, a Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) member: Although I personally have not yet been involved in connector upgrades for this purpose, companies such as Belden and TE Connectivity are prime examples of companies that are perfectly willing to assist in this regard.
Jennifer Grace, product technical manager—connectivity at Balluff: As I/O architectures move from hardwired centralized I/O to distributed modular I/O with IO-Link, connectivity products take advantage of simplified system architectures. While hardwired centralized I/O requires a large number of extremely long, shielded cables running back to the controls cabinet, IO-Link masters in a distributed modular setup allow for shorter—typically standard, four-wire unshielded—cables and lower maintenance cost. Only two cables, power and fieldbus, need to run back to the controls cabinet, and the fieldbus carries valuable diagnostic information from each IO-Link module, making troubleshooting a breeze.
Craig Fox, connectivity product manager at Murrelektronik: IIoT is still very much in its infancy, and it’s difficult at this point to anticipate, much less define, the requirements to support it in terms of connectivity. One aspect we can count on is that the amount and speed of informing making its way to the factory floor is going to continue increasing and rapidly. The best practice for connectivity upgrades now is to future-proof the infrastructure by making sure it will be able to handle the increasing demand for bandwidth as IIoT components come online. Jacket materials such as thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) offer UL-listed cable styles for installation in NEC and NFPA 79 areas, while also meeting the extreme physical demands of an industrial installation with resistances to oil, sunlight, continuous flexing and robotic torsion.
Alex Dzatko, proposals specialist at Pepperl+Fuchs: IIoT devices must be rugged, so using robust connectors with IP or type ratings is recommended. Also, using connectors that allow quick-disconnect is convenient for commissioning new equipment, for maintenance, for troubleshooting and for equipment that is mobile. Also, as digital technology has evolved, so have the connector types. New IIoT equipment may no longer be using the legacy serial connectors, such as RS-232, RS-485 and other legacy and D-shell type connectors. IIoT equipment may use newer connectors such as USB, Cat. 5/6/7, HDMI, DisplayPort and many others.
Scott Byrne, senior manager, power, instrumentation & controls, at Matrix Technologies, a Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) member: One of the main benefits of utilizing pre-terminated connectors on cables is the speed of deployment. If the existing equipment is not already fitted with plugs, you lose this benefit as time and cost will be required to install them. The existing raceway system must also be considered. Is the existing installation utilizing conduit? If so, it must all be replaced with open raceway as it is difficult to pull connectors through conduit. Can the project support such a cost? Other costs to consider include the time to engineer cable lengths, additional procurement needs to order specified cable lengths and the strain on your spare parts inventory to handle specific cable lengths.