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Industrial Network Architectures: Structure, Types & Examples

Instructor: Euan Russano

Euan has a Phd degree in Engineering and offers private training and tutoring in Programming and Engineering.

In this lesson, you'll learn about different types of industrial network architectures and how they are structured. You'll also take a look at a few examples of industrial network architectures.

Structure of Industrial Networks

The first industrial networks were referred to as serial buses. These earlier protocols were simple and could be easily executed by 8-bit microprocessors.

Significant changes occurred from the first conceptions to current structures. New industrial systems use commercial off-the-shelf components (COTS) with high-level languages of programming. Such structures can be adapted to industrial automation applications.

When Ethernet became the most common protocol in IT, it became the basis for high-end industrial networks. The low-level networks mostly use downscale versions of the higher performance industrial networks, while some use low-cost silicon, which is developed for other markets. All network architectures, including industrial ones, are described by the International Standards Organization and Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) basic reference models.

Types of Industrial Network Structures

Sensor Networks

Sensor networks are the lowest level of network functionality. Designed to be inexpensive, they are usually required for typical applications like providing basic data to the control system. One of the simplest sensors is the electromechanical limit switch, which is used to indicate the presence of an object. Limit sensors are used to detect boxes or products in a conveyor belt once they pass a reading station and are also used on control valves to indicate when the valves are closed or open.

Sensor networks are used to connect the limit switch, proximity sensor, and other technologies. They reduce the point to point wiring needed to connect these parts.

Fieldbus Networks

In the early 2000s, the Fieldbus Foundation (now known as Field Comm Group) submitted a process control version to The IEC to get international standards. This led to the adoption of seven more architecture options. Jointly, these network architectures were given the name 'Fieldbus'. Fieldbus networks include all industrial networks designed for installation and manufacturing where there is distributed and shared intelligence at each point in the network.

This means that a programmed device or microprocessor is located at the network node. Its capacity varies and some programs can be stored permanently in the ROM (Read-Only memory). These programs can also be downloaded and stored for execution. Data for signal processing and control is also downloaded from the host computer.

This classification includes all networks previously classified as device buses. Fieldbus networks are required to transmit digital discrete sensor data.

Control Networks

Control networks are intended to allow control systems to communicate with each other. They allow large amounts of data to pass through. So data transmission rates in control networks tend to be faster than they are in Fieldbus networks. Since they can be used to pass time critical data between controllers, control networks must meet the real-time needs of their intended applications.

Safety Buses

The need to develop safety buses came about when devices connected via a sensor network are no longer guaranteed that a change in switch status could activate the condition in case of a network interrupt or delay. Safety buses are required to be fast and reliable, and must also provide affirmative action indicating a failure to the safety bus node. Safety buses need only to cause the desired fail-safe function rapidly.

Open Platform Communications (OPC) and Information Access

Most industrial applications are highly generic and are intended to operate a wide range of automation systems. At first, authors of this type of application software created drivers for the automation systems to which they would connect.

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