Barry-Wehmiller Network

Operational Technology (OT) Network is Crucial for a Connected Factory of the Future

 February 28, 2019

The Operational Technology (OT) network is becoming more of an important piece of industrial manufacturing every day. Having a solid, well designed Ethernet network infrastructure is one of the primary prerequisites in moving an organization into a more interconnected, robust, and operationally effective state.

The increase in intercommunication will provide a means to integrate higher level processing such as MES, ERP integration, SPC, and performance monitoring – key components of the modern digital factory.

Connectivity Design Group has worked with clients across varied industries over the years.  From consumer-packaged goods to heavy industrial processes, we have seen several different needs and requirements that have allowed Design Group to gain a deep level of experience and breadth of knowledge in industrial network design.

By understanding the intricacies of how these businesses operate, Design Group is able to adapt the commonly accepted network models and practices (CPwE, ISA62443) specifically to each client's needs in the most effective way possible.

The initial step in many cases is to do a network audit of the client site.  While, in some cases, the client can produce a detailed RFP and the audit phase can be omitted, it is often the case that the client has old, unmaintained, and sometimes obsolete networks in place already.

It is not uncommon that an audit/discovery phase is required to determine the actual need and to baseline the conversation before designing the network. Several pieces of information will be gathered and compiled into a report.

Some items captured, but not limited to: 

  • Industrial software and usage
  • Quantities and locations of PLCs/HMIs/RIO/other network endpoints
  • Existing switches and IDFs, associated cabling - fiber and copper, physical conditions and ratings
  • Usage of non-ethernet industrial communication protocols (DH+, DeviceNet, etc.)
  • Existing issues with the network such as any performance bottlenecks and/or non-ideal outage constraints
  • Enterprise communication pathways and interconnections

Connected_ManufacturingFollowing the initial Audit/Discovery phase, it will be required to transform the existing infrastructure into a custom tailored plan.  This plan will incorporate customer feedback based on the initial audit phase and will set defined requirements for the network.

Items such as logical and physical topology diagrams, cabling specifications/endpoints, IDF locations, switch specifications and port densities, VLAN specifications, and firewall/DMZ specifications would be developed as a part of this phase. Considerations of the existing infrastructure will be factored in to a phased migration plan, if applicable.  The target result of this phase is to have a detailed network design that can be bid out and commissioned.

It is imperative that the OT network infrastructure is well designed and robust to the individual needs of the client's business.  Although the above process takes time and effort to complete, it is worthwhile to have a well thought out and robust network for the many years to come.  The amount of networked devices will only become larger as equipment is modernized and brought online.

The better prepared the organization is to communicate to those devices in an intelligent way, the easier it will be to extract and process useful data to optimize the operations – paving the client’s way towards an agile and connected digital factory.

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About the author

Adam Welles


Adam Welles is a Project Manager at Design Group.  He received his Bachelors of Engineering Technology at Purdue University.  He began working with automation and controls for a leading Consumer Electronics manufacturer, writing  MES, material handling, and data collection applications as a software engineer.

Since joining Design Group in 2013, Adam has been primarily focused on Control System Integration projects involving industry standard SCADA systems, MES and OEE implementations, and industrial network/computing infrastructure modernization.  He is a leader within the Information Solutions group at Design Group and is directly involved in the constantly evolving technology and practices of factory digitalization.