Industry 3.0 vs. Industry 4.0: Selecting connectors for the new industrial age
It pays to take a look back every now and again, to understand just how far we have come and gain a clearer picture on what has and hasn’t changed. The third industrial revolution – still in full-swing in many industries – uses electronics and IT systems to automate production, breaking the link between labour and manufactured goods. Industry 4.0 production leverages manufacturing and embedded software expertise to create what is often termed the ‘Industrial Internet of Things’ (IIoT). Whilst the third industrial revolution was marked by the arrival of programmable logic controllers (PLCs) on factory floors; connected sensors, linked to powerful computing capabilities, herald the fourth industrial r/evolution.
Discreet is an apt description for the IIoT, as most of the new embedded sensor networks put to work to achieve IIoT end goals are barely noticeable. These goals range from increased automation to autonomous operation, improved communication between the factory and IT systems, remote monitoring for predictive maintenance or Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) calculations up to full-scale distributed intelligence; and can be summarised by two words – business optimisation.
Whether Industry 3.0 or Industry 4.0, when it comes to networking in an industrial environment, certain aspects don’t change. On the factory floor or other industrial markets such as energy, mining or civil engineering, reliable operation in harsh environments and a requirement for deterministic behaviour means that many connections continue to be hard-wired. The movement embodied by the ‘Industrial Internet of Things’ (IIoT) has certainly led to plenty of new developments in connector and cabling technology, but many of the field bus and Ethernet-based technologies that cater to these new sensing and control networks remain the same, for now.
When specifying connectors for IIoT applications, making the right choice is vital to ensuring the integrity of the transmission. Vibration, humidity and environmental stress are regular concerns when specifying any system component for a factory or other industrial setting, but with new requirements come new – mostly physical – constraints. For a full whitepaper that explains the impact of the IIoT on connector development, please click here, but the primary developments can be summarised as follows:
Smaller footprints: Pervasive sensors networks generally denote small, lightweight but more intelligence devices. TE Connectivity’s Industrial Mini I/O connectors illustrate the trend to smaller connector footprints, providing a space-saving alternative to standard RJ45 connectors in this case. With many IIoT applications built into compact housings, small size and performance equivalents can increasingly be found.
Convergence: Saving space and cabling overhead are just some of the drivers behind the move to deliver low-voltage power and data over a single cable and connection, as per the IEEE’s Power over Ethernet (PoE) standard.
The electromagnetic environment: As industrial applications move to Ethernet 100 Base-T and beyond, electromagnetic interference (EMI) is of growing concern. Thermal and signal integrity issues are the by-products of putting connectors closer together. However, solutions exist that outperform RJ45 solutions up to 125 MHz, the frequency range of interest for gigabit Ethernet, and offer sufficient shielding for close placement to an EMI generating source.
Ease of installation: Connector specification must take into account predicted mating cycles and mating conditions, such as whether the technician has sight of the mating process, or indeed whether it is a trained technician who is handling the installation process. Notably, increasing connectivity within industrial environments has led to considerable demand for highly trained technicians, resulting in a scarcity of expertise. But whether you rely on high or low-experience technicians, ‘out-of-the-box’/’easy install’ options are in demand for their simplicity and speed. Examples include TE Connectivity’s latest generation of RJ45 plugs, which provide a clean and sturdy Ethernet connector, with no tools required. Once the cable jacket has been removed, the wires can be guided into place and the two metal flanges closed to automatically cut off excess wire. Latched connectors also provide a solution for wires that are prone to accidental detachment in any environment.
Customisation: Occasionally, industrial engineers are confronted with connectivity challenges that don’t conform to a given standard. In these cases, products such as TE Connectivity’s Heavy Duty Connector (HDC) range provides a robust but modular solution that can be tailored to specific robotics and automation applications e.g. an industry standard interface technology can be combined with power in a single connector with up to 216 pins.
Reliable connectors underpin connected factory environments, and, in turn, network specifiers and installers need trustworthy partners that can help them implement reliable solutions. For a better understanding of the connector options available for IIoT applications, download this report from Avnet Abacus. Our team of technical specialists is always on hand to provide support and advice in the selection of TE Connectivity solutions, including the specification of modular connectors. If you have a question, get in touch in your local language here.
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