For Industry 4.0, Reliability Builds on Robust Connections
Looking to relieve increasing product complexity and cost pressures, manufacturers are moving toward the next phase of industrial automation envisioned in Industry 4.0. In this concept, smart factories respond instantly to changing workloads to more quickly deliver products of greater variety and complexity at lower cost. Underlying Industry 4.0, reliable connectivity is essential for ensuring seamless integration between manufacturing systems, driving a need for comprehensive connector solutions capable of unfailing operation in harsh industrial environments. Today's M8/M12 connector systems meet this need, offering a unique combination of reliability and performance essential for next-generation industrial automation applications.
Reliable industrial communications continues to rise as an increasingly critical requirement in every segment of manufacturing. Manufacturers have long relied on sensor systems to monitor operating conditions in a wide variety of sensitive production processes. As industrial automation systems has grown into a greater role in the factory, manufacturers have similarly expected control systems to operate flawlessly to ensure safe, non-stop operation of highly optimized manufacturing flows.
Industry 4.0 pushes manufacturers' reliance on flawless monitoring and control to a new level. Smart factories depend on tighter integration between a growing list of electronic devices and systems including sensors, actuators, machinery, controllers, management systems -- all critically involved in sending, receiving and processing data needed to coordinate production and optimize resource utilization.
Underlying this tightly integrated flow of manufacturing data, industrial data communications plays the pivotal role -- and faces a unique set of challenges in next-generation manufacturing. Pervasive, fine-grain monitoring of every phase of the production process means more data must move more quickly throughout the factory. In turn, more responsive control translates to the need for reduced latency and higher bandwidth communications. Any loss in data integrity at any juncture in expanding industrial networks has profound effects not only on overall manufacturing efficiency but also on individual unit quality.
Reliable communications depends fundamentally on robust connectivity and on the ability to meet more challenging requirements at the separable interface between sensors, actuators, machines, and higher-level control systems. Yet, even without Industry 4.0's added communications requirements, the manufacturing environment presents a uniquely challenging environment for interconnect solutions expected to maintain reliable connectivity.
Any factory presents a harsh environment for electronic components in general and electrical interconnects in particular. As the final separable interface between an individual electronic system and the rest of the factory automation system, interconnects are directly exposed to a constant assault from electrical noise sources and physical stress. Electromagnetic interference (EMI) from electrically noisy sources such as motors and fast-switching loads in manufacturing continually challenges the ability of interconnects to maintain signal integrity. As technology pushes industrial data communications to higher data rates, the ability to ensure reliable, uncompromised connectivity becomes increasingly difficult -- and more critical.
Beyond reliability of the signals themselves, the factory floor challenges the physical integrity of interconnects. Combined with constant vibration from fixed-place machinery, mobile platforms and transportation, high temperature and humidity wear at connectors. In addition to the long term effects from these environmental factors, interconnects are subjected to sudden impact, pulling and twisting as plant operators move cables and machinery -- making and breaking connections in the course of normal plant operations. Exposure to dust and dirt, lubricants, and washdowns can cause shorts, mechanically interfere with contacts and ultimately damage any interconnect component that is not specifically designed to withstand the harsh conditions of industrial environments.
Despite constant electrical and physical stress, interconnects must ensure continued reliability for seamless manufacturing operations. Plant operators need to be able to remain confident in its performance despite multiple stress factors. On the factory floor, equipment operators need to be able to plug in a connector and not be concerned that it might stop working or physically break. Shutting down a manufacturing line or workcell because an interconnect component has failed is not an option.
For years, industrial automation system integrators and installers have relied on M12 and smaller M8 sealed connectors able to survive harsh industrial environments. Built with a protective shell, these simple circular screw-type connectors were originally developed to provide rugged interconnects for sensor systems in harsh industrial environments.
M8/M12 systems have evolved to support more demanding bandwidth and signal-integrity requirements associated with Industry 4.0. In fact, engineers can now find M8/M12 solutions that support data rates up to 1 Gbps without compromising the rugged characteristics of this class of interconnects.
Modern M8/M12 connector systems enhance the original design of these components, using alloys optimized for strength and conductivity (Figure 1). Today's M8/M12 components leverage decades of materials research and mechanical design to offer comprehensive, end-to-end interconnect solutions optimized to ensure integrity throughout their extended operational lifetime. Despite exposure to electrical and physical stress, these connectors maintain reliability and performance through the full industrial temperature range from -40 to 85°C.
Figure 1. Today's M8/M12 interconnect solutions combine high performance and robust construction, while enabling easy installation in the field or during manufacturing. Simple soldered to a printed-circuit board, this M12 X-code shielded component mates tightly with a complementary M12 cable assembly in the factory to provide a dustproof, water-resistant connection able to support reliable 1Gbps operation in harsh industrial environments. (Source: TE Connectivity)
Thanks to their robust performance, M8 and M12 connector systems are employed today wherever a compact, reliable connection system is required in applications exposed to harsh environments and extreme temperatures. Equipment manufacturers, system integrators and network installers continue to employ these connectors in traditional industrial sensor and actuator applications. Engineers now also rely on high-speed M8/M12 solutions on the factory floor in industrial control boxes, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), and ruggedized Ethernet installations.
M8/M12 connectors such as those from TE Connectivity are built to endure twisting, pulling and the generally rough handling common in a fast-paced manufacturing environment. Where a familiar RJ45 Ethernet connector would eventually break from typical handling in a factory, M8/M12 connectors are designed to work in harsh environments that cannot tolerate downtime. These connector systems are designed to survive prolonged exposure to dust or other solids and water or other liquids found on even the tidiest factory floor.
M8/M12 connector systems such as TE's characterize their level of contaminant ingress protection (IP) according to industry-standard IP codes specified in IEC 60529. Two-digit IP codes used for connectors indicate the level of protection against dust or water. The first digit in the IP code specifies the level of protection against ingress of solid foreign objects such as dust and dirt. For example, a rating of 6 means the connector is dust tight while a rating of 5 means that some dust might enter the connector but not enough to interfere with operation. The second digit similarly specifies the level of protection against harmful ingress of water. For example, a rating of 7 means the connector is protected against temporary immersion. Connectors in the TE Connectivity M8/M12 connector system are rated at IP67, indicating maximum protection against dust and water ingress.
At the same time, interconnect requirements for industrial applications vary widely and no single connector can optimally serve every application. The emerging demands of Industry 4.0 drive a need for even greater flexibility in matching specific industrial data requirements to an specific, optimized interconnect solution. Today, engineers can find comprehensive M8/M12 systems such as TE Connectivity's that span a wide range of standard offerings including receptacles, cable assemblies and I/O modules (Figure 2). Furthermore, engineers facing unique requirements can take advantage of custom-engineered M8/M12 interconnect solutions available from TE Connectivity.
Figure 2. M8/M12 interconnects extend well beyond its origins as a sensor connector with comprehensive connectivity systems comprising connectors, cable assemblies and I/O distribution boxes. (Source: TE Connectivity)
TE M8/M12 connectors include straight or right-angle connectors variants as well as shielded or unshielded cable assemblies in single-ended or double-ended straight or angled versions. Furthermore, comprehensive M8/M12 connector solutions such as TE's go beyond connectors and cable assemblies, offering M8/M12 I/O distribution boxes designed to reduce cabling and increase ease of installation and maintenance.
M8/M12 connector systems support voltage ranges up to 620V and current up to 12A depending on connector configuration. Along with 3- and 4-pin configurations in the physically smaller M8 format, M12 interconnects feature 4-, 5-, 8-, and 12-pin configurations -- all conforming to industry-standard keying, or "coding" (see Figure 3).
Figure 3. Standard codings help ensure proper mating of M8/M12 interconnect systems -- an important advantage for avoiding mistakes on the factory floor. (Source: TE Connectivity)
Specified in international standard IEC 61076-2-104 (M8) and IEC 61076-2-101 (M12), connector codings are specific pin configurations designed to ensure mating between like connectors. This safeguard becomes particularly important in industrial environments where plant workers could easily misconnect cables in the noise and rush found on the factory floor.
The various M8/M12 codings have evolved to serve specific industrial communications applications: A-coding interconnects are found in actuator-sensor plug connections for DeviceNet, IO-Link and Profibus; B-coding is used in Fieldbus connections for Profibus and Interbus; and D-coding is used for industrial Ethernet installations including Profinet, Ethernet/IP and EtherCat. S- and T-codings support high-voltage/high-current applications such as power supplies.
A more recent coding, X-code, addresses the growing need for an industrial connector compatible with CAT6A speeds. X-code connectors support high-bandwidth communication up to 10 Gbps using four twisted pairs compatible with conventional RJ45 connectors (Figure 4). With the availability of X-code, industrial data communications engineers can deploy advanced, high-speed Ethernet-compatible networks in even the most demanding manufacturing facility.
Figure 4. The X-coding standard offers an RJ45-compatible option, extending the reliability advantages of M8/M12 interconnects to industrial Gigabit-Ethernet-compatible networks. (Source: TE Connectivity)
For manufacturers, worldwide standardization of industrial connectors helps ensure continued availability of compatible connector components from multiple sources. Nevertheless, for manufacturers facing increasingly complex requirements for industrial connectivity, TE's comprehensive M8/M12 system remains unique in the breadth and depth of its solutions for reliable industrial data communications connectivity.
Industry 4.0 promises a new level of productivity and efficiency in manufacturing -- all enabled by tighter integration and seamless connectivity among production systems and processes. From its earliest roots in industrial automation, M8/M12 interconnects have evolved to provide a ready solution for advanced manufacturing. With the availability of the comprehensive M8/M12 system from TE Connectivity, manufacturers can find a high reliability, high performance interconnect solution optimized to match a growing array of specialized requirements for industrial data communications.
Written By: Mark Brubaker