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What Really is an Industrial Managed Switch?

Jan 03, 2024

Disruptive technology in the form of Industry 4.0 first brought industrial switches onto plant floors several decades ago.

In this article, we identify the attributes of a high-quality industrial managed switch. Before we do that, however, we need to first clarify what makes an environment "industrial." For our purposes, we define an industrial environment as any workplace that exerts extreme physical stress on networking equipment. These stresses may involve exposure to moisture and humidity, dust or other airborne contaminants, corrosive chemicals, high or low temperatures, oil and grease splatter, strong vibrations, heavy impact and poor power quality, among others. Now that we’ve established the "industrial" part of the equation, let's drill down into what a managed switch is and identify the key components that enable it to perform. Put simply, an industrial switch connects devices within a common network and transmits Ethernet data frames to and from those devices. Ethernet switches enable users, devices and applications to communicate with each other and share resources. Unlike a router, an Ethernet switch only sends data to a specific destination client, such as another switch, an IP camera, or a PC. Once a device is connected to a network switch via an Ethernet cable, the industrial network switch records the device's Media Access Control address (MAC) located on the Network Interface Card (NIC). The industrial Ethernet switch then uses the MAC address to pinpoint which location the device's outgoing packets are being sent, and where to deliver incoming packets. Industrial Ethernet switches can be either managed switches or unmanaged switches. Managed switches have more capabilities than unmanaged switches and let administrators adjust each port to its own individual settings for better network management, configuration and monitoring. A managed switch will also provide more granular control over how data packets travel and who can access the data which is critical to optimal traffic management and security.

Inside a managed switch housing are interconnected components working together. Poor component quality will lead to malfunctions, failures and loss of productivity while the IT staff struggles to diagnose the problem. Choosing an industrial managed switch built with robust components — like those found in Antaira's broad portfolio of managed switches—makes it far less likely that it will fail in a critical application. The primary components of an industrial managed switch are:

As the use of Ethernet devices has accelerated in industrial applications, requirements such as cybersecurity, segment isolation network redundancy, and packet priority control have made industrial unmanaged switches increasingly impractical solutions. Numerous features distinguish industrial managed switches from unmanaged models that ensure the industry the highest network availability.

Disruptive technology in the form of Industry 4.0 first brought industrial switches onto plant floors several decades ago. The first-generation switches did not hold up well, failing often and requiring frequent maintenance. Since then, industrial-managed switches have only gotten stronger with hardened packaging featuring extended IP (ingress protection), temperature, shock, vibration and surge ratings.

Henry Martel is a field applications engineer for Antaira Technologies.

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Processor: Memory: Network interface controllers (NICs): Switch fabric: Management interface: Power supply: Quality of Service (QoS): Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs): Security features: Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP): Remote management: Advanced reporting and monitoring: