The development of the network edge

By Dave Perkon, technical editor

Oct 26, 2018

In machine automation, the network edge isn't flat or sharp. It's round and a bit ragged. While it may appear the focus is on ever-increasing usable data, the cloud and analytics, the edge is where the real work is getting done. Edge devices are being configured, controlled, monitored and modified by edge controllers, and even the cloud has a say. It's all networked together.

The edge networks are making the physical connections to the devices through Ethernet switches, gateways, EtherNet/IP and other protocols with a close eye on cybersecurity. It's physically at the cell/area zone levels 0-2 where it connects the lines, machines, skids and equipment through various industrial Ethernet switches using ring and star topologies.

It can link thousands of EtherNet/IP-connected products through a built-in network interface or an optional communication module. Rockwell Automation has continued to expand its EtherNet/IP offerings with new and innovative products, as well as developing the proper infrastructure along with methods to implement it.

These edge networks and the related infrastructure continues to develop within the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The latest release of Converged Plantwide Ethernet (CPwE) reference architecture, co-developed and tested by Rockwell Automation, Cisco and Panduit, focuses on EtherNet/IP connectivity.

It uses the ODVA common industrial protocol (CIP), and it is ready for the Industrial Internet of Things and the future.

Rockwell and its partners continue to define and build the architecture of the IIoT. This partnership brings together the experts with a focus on business practices, corporate standards, industry standards and policies, so you don't have to. They know the key factors in determining the degree of resiliency and application availability required within an industrial automation and control system (IACS) plant-wide architecture, and they can tell you how to do it.

Modern IACS needs an underlying architecture to provide standard network services for control and information disciplines, devices and equipment; and CPwE provides it.

It's all part of a plant-wide network architecture, and there are many parts. At the edge, the cell/area zone needs to be reliable and possibly redundant, and industrial Ethernet switches are needed for a robust physical infrastructure.

A central theme of the Automation Fair event for the past several years has been The Connected Enterprise, and it is well connected to the edge network. There is no doubt that it will still be a big part of the Rockwell Automation’s organized forums, hands-on labs and technical sessions at this year’s Automation Fair at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, November 14–15. The Process Solutions Users Group is held earlier that same week.

The hands-on labs and technical sessions related to networking and EtherNet/IP are popular and fill up fast, so plan accordingly and register for sessions. Then get to Philly.