Cybersecurity pitfalls!

09/03/2017

Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director of obsolete industrial parts supplier, EU Automation discusses three cyber security pitfalls that industry should prepare for – the weaponisation of everyday devices, older attacks, such as Heartbleed and Shellshock and vulnerabilities in industrial control systems.

IBM X-Force® Research
2016 Cyber Security Intelligence Index

In 2016, IBM reported that manufacturing was the second most cyber-attacked industry. With new strains of ransomware and other vulnerabilities created every week, what should manufacturers look out for in new year?

‘Weaponisation’ of everyday devices
The advantages of accessing data from smart devices include condition monitoring, predictive analytics and predictive maintenance, all of which can save manufacturers money.

However, recent attacks proved that these connected devices can quickly become weapons, programmed to attack the heart of any business and shut down facilities. In a recent distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack, everyday devices were used to bring down some of the most visited websites in the world, including Twitter, Reddit and AirBNB.

Such incidents raise a clear alarm signal that manufacturers should run their production line on a separate, highly secure network. For manufacturers that use connected devices, cyber security is even more important, so they should conduct regular cyber security audits and ensure security protocols are in place and up-to-date.

Don’t forget the oldies
According to the 2016 Manufacturing Report, manufacturers are more susceptible to older attacks, such as Heartbleed and Shellshock. These are serious vulnerabilities found in the OpenSSL cryptographic that allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications and steal data directly from users.

Industrial computer systems generally aren’t updated or replaced as often as consumer technology, which means that some still have the original OpenSSL software installed. A fixed version of the programme has since been released, meaning that manufacturers can avoid this type of attack by simply updating their system.

Keeping industrial control
Manufacturers understand the need to protect their networks and corporate systems from attacks, but their industrial control systems also pose a risk. If an attacker deploys ransomware to lock down manufacturing computers, it could cause long periods of downtime, loss of production and scrap of products that are being made when the attack happens.

This is particularly true in the era of Industry 4.0, where devices are connected and processes are automated. One of the most effective means of safeguarding automated production systems is cell protection. This form of defence is especially effective against man-in-the-middle attacks, whereby the attacker has the ability to monitor, alter and inject messages in a communications system.

In its report, IBM also stated that cyber security awareness in the manufacturing industry is lower than other sectors. The truth is that any company can be the target of a cyber attack. The only way to avoid a cyber security breach is by planning ahead and preparing for the unexpected.

#PAuto @StoneJunctionPR @IBMSecurity

Communication analysis: Industrial Ethernet & Wireless v Fieldbus.

06/03/2017

Industrial Ethernet and Wireless growth is accelerated by the increasing need for industrial devices to get connected and the Industrial Internet of Things. This is the main finding of HMS Industrial Networks’ annual study of the industrial network market. Industrial Ethernet now accounts for 46% of the market (38 last year). Wireless technologies are also coming on strong, now at 6% (4) market share. Combined, industrial Ethernet and Wireless now account for 52% of the market, while fieldbuses are at 48%.

Fieldbus vs. industrial Ethernet and wireless
HMS’s estimation for 2017 based on number of new installed nodes in 2016 within Factory Automation. The estimation is based on several market studies and HMS’s own sales statistics

HMS Industrial Networks now presents their annual analysis of the industrial network market, which focuses on new installed nodes within factory automation globally. As an independent supplier of products and services for industrial communication and the Internet of Things, HMS has a substantial insight into the industrial network market. Here are some of the trends they see within industrial communication in 2017.

network-shares-according-to-hms-2017-jpg_ico500
Industrial Internet of Things is boosting Industrial Ethernet growth
According to HMS, industrial Ethernet is growing faster than previous years, with a growth rate of 22%. Industrial Ethernet now makes up for 46% of the global market compared to 38% last year. EtherNet/IP and PROFINET are tied at first place, with PROFINET dominating in Central Europe, and EtherNet/IP leading in North America. Runners-up globally are EtherCAT, Modbus-TCP and Ethernet POWERLINK.

Anders Hanson

Anders Hanson

“We definitely see an accelerated transition towards various industrial Ethernet networks when it comes to new installed nodes,” says Anders Hansson, Marketing Director at HMS. “The transition to industrial Ethernet is driven by the need for high performance, integration between factory installations and IT-systems, as well as the Industrial Internet of Things in general.”

Wireless is redefining the networking picture
Wireless technologies are growing quickly by 32% and now accounts for 6% of the total market. Within Wireless, WLAN is the most popular technology, followed by Bluetooth. “Wireless is increasingly being used by machine builders to realize innovative automation architectures and new solutions for connectivity and control, including Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) solutions via tablets or smartphones,” says Anders Hansson.

Fieldbus is still growing, but the growth is slowing down
Fieldbuses are still the most widely used type of networks with 48% of the market. Fieldbuses are still growing as many users ask for the traditional simplicity and reliability offered by fieldbuses, but the growth rate is slowing down, currently at around 4% compared to 7% last year. The dominant fieldbus is PROFIBUS with 14% of the total world market, followed by Modbus-RTU and CC-Link, both at 6%.

Regional facts
In Europe and the Middle East, PROFIBUS is still the leading network while PROFINET has the fastest growth rate. Runners up are EtherCAT, Modbus-TCP and Ethernet POWERLINK.
The US market is dominated by the CIP networks where EtherNet/IP has overtaken DeviceNet in terms of market shares.
In Asia, a fragmented network market is very visible. No network stands out as truly market-leading, but PROFIBUS, PROFINET, EtherNet/IP, Modbus and CC-Link are widely used. EtherCAT continues to establish itself as a significant network, and CC-Link IE Field is also gaining traction.

More and more devices are getting connected
“The presented figures represent our consolidated view, taking into account insights from colleagues in the industry, our own sales statistics and overall perception of the market,” says Anders Hansson. “It is interesting to see that industrial Ethernet and Wireless combined now account for more than half of the market at 52%, compared to fieldbuses at 48%. The success of a series of industrial Ethernet networks and the addition of growing Wireless technologies confirms that the network market remains fragmented, as users continue to ask for connectivity to a variety of fieldbus, industrial Ethernet and wireless networks. All in all, industrial devices are getting increasingly connected, boosted by trends such as Industrial Internet of Things and Industry 4.0. From our point of view, we are well-suited to grow with these trends, since HMS is all about ‘Connecting Devices.’”

 @HMSAnybus #PAuto #IoT

Systems integration for Industrie 4.0.

22/11/2016
The latest trends and challenges in systems integration.

Our world is getting smaller every day. Never before have remote locations been more accessible thanks to communications technology, smartphones and the internet. Connected devices have infiltrated every aspect of our lives, including the most traditional industry sectors. Here, Nick Boughton, sales manager of Boulting Technology, discusses the challenges connectivity poses for industry, particularly with regard to systems integration and the water industry.

boulting_industrie_4-0One question industry has been unsuccessful in answering refers to the number of connected devices that exist in the world at the moment. Gartner says that by 2020, the Internet of Things will have grown to more than 26 billion units. According to Cisco, there will be 10 billion mobile-ready devices by 2018, including machine to machine – thus exceeding the world population.

The Industrial Internet of Things

Only fifteen years ago, an industrial plant operated on three separate levels. You had the plant processes or operational technology (OT), the IT layer and in between stood the grey area of middleware – connecting management systems to the shop floor. The problem in most enterprises was that the commercial and production systems were entirely separate, often as a deliberate policy. Trying to connect them was difficult not only because of the divergence in the technology, but also the limited collaboration between different parts of the organisation. For these reasons successful implementation of middleware was rare.

Fast forward to today’s smart factory floor that uses the almost ubiquitous Ethernet to make communications as smooth as possible. Supporting the new generation of networking technologies is an increased flow of data, collected and analysed in real-time. However, data is only useful when you can decipher and display it. The next step to industry nirvana is using relevant data for better decisions and predictive analysis, in which the system itself can detect issues and recommend solutions.

Smart manufacturing is based on a common, secure network infrastructure that allows a dialogue – or even better, convergence – between operational and information technology.

The trend goes beyond the factory floor and expands to big processes like national utilities, water treatment and distribution, energy and smart grids, everything in an effort to drive better decision making, improve asset utilisation and increase process performance and productivity.

In fact, some water and energy companies are using the same approach to perform self-analysis on energy efficiency, potential weak points and the integration of legacy systems with new technologies. In a highly regulated and driven sector like utilities, maximising assets and being able to make predictions are worth a king’s ransom.

System integration challenges
System integration in this connected industry landscape comes with its challenges, so companies need to keep up to speed and get creative with technology. Keeping existing systems up to date and working properly is one of the main challenges of industry and big processes alike.

Finally, ensuring your system is secure from cyber threats and attacks is a new challenge fit for Industry 4.0. Connecting a system or equipment to a network is all fine and dandy, but it also brings vulnerabilities that weren’t there before.

Systems integrators relish a challenge and they’re very good at adapting to new technologies. For this reason, some systems integrators have started working closely with industrial automation, IT and security experts to help overcome the challenges posed by Industrie 4.0.

Regardless of whether we’re talking about companies in utilities, manufacturing or transportation, the signs are showing that companies want to get more from their existing assets and are retrofitting systems more than ever.

Of course, retrofitting isn’t always easy. In many cases, upgrading a system without shutting it down is like trying to change the brakes on a speeding bus – impossible. However, unlike the bus scenario, there is usually a solution. All you have to do is find it.

Flexibility is essential for good systems integrators. Being familiar with a wide range of systems and working with different manufacturers is the best way to maximise industry knowledge and expertise, while also keeping up to date with the latest technologies. At Boulting Technology, we partner up with market leaders like Rockwell Automation, Siemens, Mitsubishi, Schneider, ABB and others, to design and supply tailor-made systems integration solutions for a diverse range of industries, processes and platforms.

The world might be getting smaller and we might be more connected than ever before, but some things never change. Relevant experience, partnerships and the desire to innovate are as valuable as they have ever been in this connected new world of Industrie 4.0.

@BoultingTech #PAuto #IoT #Industrie4 @StoneJunctionPR

Automation industry veterans are IoT pioneers and didn’t know it!

28/12/2015
Keith Blodorn, Director of Program Management at ProSoft Technology advises what to consider when starting your industrial internet of things journey

Do you consider yourself an Internet of Things Engineer? You should! Think about what the Internet of Things really means. According to Wikipedia, the Internet of Things “is the network of physical objects or ‘things’ embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and connectivity to enable objects to exchange data with the manufacturer, operator and/or other connected devices…” As an automation industry veteran, that sounds really familiar. We have been connecting intelligent devices to control networks for decades. We’re pioneers!

Acoustic coupler!

Acoustic coupler!

So, then, what’s all the fuss about? Looking through automation-oriented magazines and websites, the Internet of Things seems to be all anyone talks about. In the industrial world people call it the “Industrial Internet of Things” or “Industry 4.0” or any number of other names. But fundamentally, what is so different between this new-fangled buzzword and connecting a motor overload relay to a plant communications network like we were doing twenty years ago?

On one hand, these are basically the same idea. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is about intelligent devices like overloads, photo eyes, variable frequency drives, or PLCs providing data that we use to make our processes more efficient. IIoT is a name for a trend that has been going on in manufacturing and process control for years – remember “shop floor to top floor”? IIoT is about gathering more data from more intelligent things, and using powerful analytical tools to find and eliminate waste.

Remote Monitoring and Equipment Access
I know, we’ve been connecting to PLCs remotely for as long as most of us can remember! In the old days, remote access meant installing a serial modem connected to a dedicated phone line, so the machines we made remote access-capable were limited to the most critical operations.

What’s changed in the IIoT world is the proliferation of wireless connectivity, especially cellular networks and wireless LAN. By some estimates, 85 percent of the world’s population will be covered by high-speed cellular data networks by 2017. This has had several effects that change how we should approach remote access and equipment monitoring. First, it’s becoming feasible to gather a LOT more data from remote machines. Since 2008, the average cost per MB of cellular data has dropped 98 percent, from $0.46 per MB to just $0.01 per MB. Now, all that data that we used to deem not important enough to transmit can be made available from our remote sites.

Second, as consumer demand has driven rapid development of Internet- based user interfaces, these same technologies are making remote access to industrial equipment, and especially to process data, more accessible for more people throughout the organization.

Finally, machine builders and control engineers responsible for widely dispersed global operations can build reliable connectivity into their systems without the need for custom infrastructure and integration at the end site. Cellular technology that works on networks worldwide allows these engineers to design their system around a standard remote connection, and reasonably expect that connection to work wherever the machine ends up. For mobile equipment, access is available just about anywhere the equipment goes.

Machine and Process Control
IIoT technology is not just about cellular connections to remote machines. We are seeing new networking approaches to the old requirements of connecting sensors, operator interfaces, controllers and ERP systems that take advantage of the networking technology of today’s Internet. Major automation vendors like Rockwell Automation® and Schneider Electric® have been offering industrial Ethernet connectivity for PLCs and related devices for more than a decade. Industrial Ethernet protocols like ODVA’s EtherNet/IP provide the kind of performance required for automation systems, while also enabling interoperability with the massive Internet Protocol-based network infrastructure found in virtually every organization.

In many industrial applications, moving equipment presents a major challenge for communication to the sensors, actuators, and controls on that equipment. Many products exist to try to solve this problem, from slip rings to flexible cable trays to festoons.

However, these hard-wired solutions add cost and complexity while increasing the maintenance requirements for the machine. Meanwhile, we roam around our offices and homes with continuous connection to the Internet – no festoons in sight! Today’s automation engineers are taking advantage of the Internet Protocol-based industrial technologies to design more reliable networks for moving equipment.

Asset Mobility
One area of automation where IIoT technology is creating new opportunities involves taking the network connection anywhere in the plant. Old systems offered only so many places to “plug in.” Operators had to run the machine from one place – the operator panel. Maintenance had to jot down measurements and observations to enter into the maintenance management system when they got back to the shop. Control engineers could only program PLCs by plugging into the PLC, or to the PLC’s physical network through a proprietary adapter.

In a world where I can set my home thermostat while walking through an airport, we don’t have to live like this! Automation systems are now benefiting from the same “network everywhere” mindset as our home and office environment.

Things to Consider

Keith Blodorn - the author

Keith Blodorn – the author

The Industrial Internet of Things opens up some interesting new possibilities for automation, so you should begin planning how you can get your system “IIoT Ready.” The good news is that you likely have many pieces in place already – intelligent field devices, industrial networks, perhaps even some Internet Protocol-based infrastructure. Here is some food for thought as you consider how your system can fit into this new world of connected machines.

• Network Migration – While many of your field devices are likely already on a network, it is probably not an Internet Protocol-based network. Not to worry! As you see the need to move device data up to higher-level systems, you won’t need to scrap that tried-and-true device network. Gateway devices and in-rack protocol interfaces in your controller allow you to easily connect those older networks to the IP-based applications that need that device data. Serving up data from smart devices adds value to your operation, but it doesn’t necessarily require changing everything that is already there.

• Cybersecurity – While the interoperability of the IIoT brings great benefits, it also opens up new risks that we need to address. In reality, many automation systems are already “connected,” so cybersecurity should already be on your mind. It is important to understand what equipment can be accessed by whom, what connections are necessary and not necessary, and how data that’s transmitted outside the boundaries of your organization’s network is protected.

• Start Small – Vendors everywhere have grand visions for what the IIoT can do for manufacturers. But remember, you don’t need to dive in head first to get benefits from IIoT. Look for applications in your industry that make sense, and give them a try. One of the best parts of the IIoT concept is its scalability – Internet-based applications can just as easily serve one deployment as one million. Pick an interesting application, and run a pilot in a small area. There’s no better way to learn about a new technology than by giving it a go.

• Get Help – Most importantly, work with vendors you can trust. When it comes to industrial networking, ProSoft Technology® has been helping engineers get different equipment all talking the same language for more than 25 years. We can help you navigate your IIoT course, from connecting older Modbus® and PROFIBUS® networks to enabling remote equipment connectivity via cellular networks. When you’re ready to start the next phase of your IIoT journey, we’re here to help make it happen!


“Were you made for me?” – Choosing the right connector spec.

14/09/2015

Connectors come in all shapes and sizes depending on environment and application. There are literally thousands of options, sometimes for the same job. Inevitably, this can cause a lot of confusion. To make sure you find the best product for every job, there are a few questions you might want to ask yourself before making a purchase. Here Amy Wells, business development manager at Electroustic poses the questions you need to be asking when specifying a connector.

ELE060First things first, size matters. Do you know the physical size of the connector you need, or are you limited in space and height by the job? Hundreds of connectors are used in wire looms; perhaps even thousands if these are part of an automated manufacturing line. In each case, the requisite space needs to be analysed and the correct connector specifications chosen. Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how often people come a cropper. 

The next question you need to be asking yourself is how many poles the connector needs.

Different applications require connectors with different poles. Future-proofing your choice can be a good idea, especially for a new product. So it’s worth considering whether you should go for more poles than originally required.

Do you know how many mating cycles the connector needs be able to make? Despite what you might think, mating cycles refer to the number of connection or disconnection operations the connector can withstand, while still meeting the specifications for maximum resistance and pull force. Every connector has an expected number of cycles before efficiency is compromised and the connector needs replacing.

This brings us nicely onto the proper protection. Connectors may be susceptible to ingress of foreign materials, such as moisture or dust. Connector protection is provided by the housing and the seal. The IP standard rating system defines the degree of protection provided. The first digit defines the protection against the ingress of dust particles; the second digit defines the protection against the ingress of water. Choosing the right connector for the job is key.

One of the most important factors is knowing what applications and environment a connector will be operating in – we can’t stress that enough. Electromagnetic radiation can interfere with electrical equipment. In applications where electromagnetic radiation is likely to be higher than usual or where operations are critical, connectors need to have electromagnetic fields (EMF) shielding.

Similarly, connectors used in explosive environments must be ATEX certified and components used in military applications need to have Mil-Spec to ensure the highest levels of performance. 

Furthermore, connectors in particularly harsh environments – like those in the oil and gas industry – need to be up for the job at hand. Knowing the minimum and maximum operating temperature is essential for specifying a rugged connector that meets the temperature range set by the application.

It’s not just the connector’s specs you have to be aware of when planning a job. Lead times from manufacturer to supplier can be lengthy, running from anywhere between four to sixteen weeks. It’s no good specifying a part that has a typical 16 week lead time if it will hold up the production process. To combat this potential issue, a good distributor will always hold a substantial amount of stock on the shelf.

Speaking of distributors, they will also be able to advise you on cost effectiveness.  When crafting wire looms, connectors are ordered in bulk, with the resultant savings passed on to the customer. However, if you need just one connector – perhaps if it’s a specialist part – you won’t be quite as lucky. A good working relationship with an experienced distributor can result in alternatives being sourced for a fraction of the price.  

Finally, as any lifestyle magazine will tell you, compatibility is paramount. If you’re retrofitting new connectors to old or simply mating two together in a loom, they need to be intermateable. If not, you risk damage to the system and or data/power loss.


The road to Wireless – which wireless standard suits you best?

17/08/2015

WiFi, Bluetooth or Zigbee? Tom McKinney of HMS Industrial Networks offers a review of the available short range wireless standards for industrial applications.

Tom McKinney, Business Development Manager at HMS Industrial Networks

Tom McKinney, Business Development Manager at HMS Industrial Networks

Recently the buzz around Industrial IoT has grown to a deafening roar. The market for IIoT devices is projected to grow exponentially over the next several years as businesses start to capture more data regarding their operations. That data will be used to monitor and optimize processes, and as companies learn to use the data they capture to improve processes, the result will be increased productivity. Beyond internal productivity, this data may lead to improved company-to-company operations benefiting both the producer and the customer.

Multiple technology advancements have converged to make large-scale Industrial IIoT deployments possible. These advancements include reduced cost of data storage, lower power RF solutions and higher levels of network accessibility. Another important enabler for Industrial IoT is wireless standardization.

Wireless is nothing new
Wireless networks have been used for over 30 years in the industrial market. In the past, these networks were typically sub 1GHz proprietary systems. The solutions used simple modulation techniques like amplitude-shift keying (ASK) or frequency-shift keying (FSK). Radios that supported these types of modulation could be created easily with a handful of discrete parts. The drawback of these solutions were a complete lack of security and limited bandwidth.

Over the last twenty years, several standards have been developed to define robust radio solutions. The most recent standards are secure enough for broad deployment. In addition, several new free-to-use frequency bands where introduced in the 80s including the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Deploying a standardized radio solution today is a cost-effective secure way to both monitor and control devices in the field or factory. Given the number of wireless standards to choose from, the question becomes which standard is the right standard to deploy.

Summary
1) WiFi
a. Pros
i. Highest Bandwidth up to 600Mbits/s with 802.11n
ii. Fixed 25 MHz or larger Channels
iii. Support for 2.4 and 5GHz channels
iv. Extensive security features
b. Cons
i. Range is lower with higher data rates and 5GHz
ii. Not a good match for battery powered sensors
2) Bluetooth/BLE
a. Pros
i. Very low power
ii. Massive deployed
iii. Very good performance in congested or noisy wireless environments
iv. Ease of use, no frequency planning or site map requirements
b. Cons
i. Max data rate of 2Mbits/s
ii. No automated roaming standard
3) Zigbee
a. Pros
i. Very low power
ii. Fixed channels between WiFi channels in 2.4 GHz band
iii. Support for sub 1GHz bands
b. Cons
i. Complicated mesh network
ii. Max bandwidth of 250Kbits/s

So let´s take a look at the three most common wireless standards deployed in the 2.4GHz band: Bluetooth, WiFi and Zigbee.

WiFi
WiFi or IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n is the widest deployed consumer and enterprise wireless TCP/IP network solution. WiFi is short for Wireless Fidelity and is a standard used to identify Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) devices. The committee managing this standard is aims to create the best possible wired TCP/IP network replacement. The committee prioritizes security and speed over all other tradeoffs. As a result, 802.11n has the highest bandwidth of any short range wireless standard. The drawback is power consumption and processing power required to effectively manage the 802.11 stack. These drawbacks created a gap in the market and several standards have emerged to address the very low power wireless market.

Bluetooth
Bluetooth and Zigbee were both introduced to address markets not serviced well by WiFi. The Bluetooth standard addressed the needs for a low power Personal Area Network (PAN). A PAN is defined as the network that surrounds a person or a smart device. The requirements include fast association, simple human-to-machine interfaces and low power. In a PAN, multiple transmitters can be placed very close together – Bluetooth includes timing to ensure device transmitters don´t overlap. Bluetooth was also designed under the assumption it would have to co-exist with WiFi and includes a frequency hopping algorithm to ensure Bluetooth messages can get through even when multiple WiFi channels are active. Finally, because Bluetooth uses a very low power transmitter, it is less sensitive to multi-path compared to WiFi. As a result, Bluetooth can be deployed successfully without extensive RF site reviews and planning. The system is very resistant to noise and interference.

Zigbee
Zigbee is based on IEEE 802.15.4 which is a general-purpose, low-power wireless radio standard that allows different protocols to be built on top of the standard radio. Zigbee set out to support low power sensor networks capable of covering a large area. Zigbee uses meshing networking and a very aggressive power profile to meet the needs of this niche market. Zigbee´s protocol is designed for quick turn-on and turn-off, thereby saving power. Several other protocols have been built on top of 802.15.4 including ISA100, WirelessHART and 6LoWPAN.

Bluetooth Low Energy
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) was introduced as an update to the Bluetooth standard. Leveraging some of the techniques used in 802.15.4, BLE was able to achieve even lower power points when compared to Zigbee and support many of the features originally created by the Zigbee standards effort.

Selecting the standard for you
So which standard is the right standard to deploy? That depends on the system requirements. In summary, WiFi has the highest bandwidth and most comprehensive stack but Bluetooth, BLE and Zigbee offer features ideal for particular applications. For example, if monitoring battery-powered sensors over a very large area, Zigbee would be the ideal standard. Bluetooth/BLE works well as a cable replacement point-to-point technology or for monitoring sensors over a smaller area. BLE has a huge installed base of tablets and phones making it an excellent choice for human-to-machine interfaces.

Although technology standards may vary, there is no doubt that more and more applications will be wirelessly connected in the near future. With the advent of Industrial IoT, billions of devices will need to hook up to the Internet, and many of these connections will undoubtedly be wireless.


It’s not a Cable, It’s an Antenna!

30/07/2015
Keith Blodorn of ProSoft Technology, tells us there are several conditions in industrial communication systems where using a radiating cable as an antenna offers major benefits.

Why would someone want a cable that acts like an antenna? After all, much research and development has gone into improving cable shields precisely to prevent this! As it turns out, there are several conditions in industrial communication systems where using a radiating cable as an antenna offers major benefits. The most common cases are for communicating to equipment moving along a track, replacing slip rings in rotating equipment, and providing a clear RF signal where obstructions or plant-floor layout prevent a clear “Line-of-Sight” to transmit from a traditional antenna.

What is a Radiating Cable?
Kabel_radiating_thick.jpg_ico500A radiating cable is a long, flexible antenna with slots to radiate RF signals that can be installed around corners, along monorail systems and through tunnels to propagate wireless data signals in situations that are tough or impossible for traditional antennas. Since the radiating cable antenna can be mounted within inches of where the signal needs to be received, it isolates the wireless signal from going to other machines that may be on the plant floor. And, the cable comes in multiple lengths to meet the needs of most applications.

In a typical coaxial cable, a metallic shield wrapped around the cable isolates the signals transmitted on the cable from the electromagnetic waves in the air around the cable. This helps to maintain a strong signal on the cable, and prevents that signal from creating interference with radio frequency (RF) equipment nearby. Without the shield, the cable would act like an antenna, transmitting the signal it carries into the air, and receiving radio waves from other RF devices. For those who remember analog cable TV, we experienced this phenomenon when we saw “ghost” images on certain channels. Instead of just receiving the video signal sent from the cable company along the coaxial cable, we were also receiving that channel’s over-the-air broadcast of the same video signal as picked up by the coaxial cable working like an antenna. This was an unintentional use of radiating cable, and produced undesirable results.

The same principle that gave us blurry television pictures back then is used to make a cable that intentionally radiates signals. This is called a radiating cable, or leaky feeder cable. The difference between radiating cable and poorly shielded TV cables is that the shield on a radiating cable is designed with exacting slots that allow for the transmission of signals at a specific frequency. In this way, these cables are tuned to the RF equipment to which they are connected. The cable’s shield still works to block unwanted RF, but will allow signals of the correct frequency to emit from, and be received by the cable inside. That makes a radiating cable act just like an antenna.

Placing RF Signals Precisely in Crowded Plants
Another benefit of using radiating cables comes from the ability to place RF power very precisely. The use of wireless communication equipment in factories is growing rapidly, which means that factory floors are becoming crowded with radio waves on all the common frequencies. For machine builders who need to use wireless, this creates a real problem. With a radiating cable solution, new machines can co-exist within the crowded plant RF space without adding to the cacophony. This is because radiating cable emits RF in one direction, and only needs as much power as it takes to link with another antenna at a relatively fixed distance. While the plant’s general wi-fi network is screaming to everyone who will listen, the equipment on the new machine can operate at a whisper.

This benefit is especially important in rotating machinery which traditionally used slip rings to conduct communication signals from I/O on the moving part of the machine to a controller on the fixed part. Slip rings are expensive to install, require regular maintenance, and even still suffer from poor communication speeds due to noise on the rings and in the pick-ups that ride on the rings. Traditional wireless solutions can work, but often the motion of the machine will obstruct the wireless link, requiring higher gain antennas that result in greater RF “noise pollution.” Radiating cable is used in these applications to provide a clear, consistent path to the rotating antenna, without interfering with other nearby wireless systems.

Flexibility
Radiating cable also benefits from its inherent flexibility. Since it is a cable, it can follow almost any path to provide wireless signal in places where antennas just can reach. One of the early applications for radiating cable was to enable two-way radio connectivity for emergency workers inside highway and rail tunnels. In the industrial setting, there are many hard-to-reach places, whether those are actual tunnels or “RF tunnels” created by obstructions. An example of that would be a warehouse, where the metal racks and merchandise on those racks can cause obstruction and reflection issues for a traditional antenna. Radiating cable can be installed along the aisle ways to provide a strong signal just where it’s needed.

Summary
For certain industrial communication challenges, radiating cable offers unique advantages. Radiating cable provides consistent data rates over a long distance, can be shaped to provide signal in difficult-to-reach environments, and reduces plant RF congestion by constraining its RF signal to the exact area where it’s needed. These benefits are especially valuable in applications where machines move along a pre-defined path, where the terrain of a facility is particularly difficult to reach with broad coverage, and where signals on rotating equipment are otherwise transmitted through slip rings. Care must be taken in selecting and installing the components of a radiating cable solution. However, with a bit of preparation and advice from an experienced industrial RF vendor, a radiating cable system can provide trouble-free communications for your toughest applications.

• ProSoft Technology® designs industrial communication solutions that connect automation products seamlessly. ProSoft Technology is a highly diversified, customer intimate, global organization with a focus on quality and ease-of-use. Their products include in-chassis communication modules for PLC/PAC controllers, standalone protocol gateways, and a wide range of robust, field-proven wireless solutions. These are found in applications spanning the industrial marketplace.