The growing demand for industrial switches – what they are and why we need them

Paul Routledge, country manager D-Link UKI

By Paul Routledge, country manager D-Link UKI

Talk of smart cities, the Industrial Internet of Things and fully autonomous cars often excites, but it rarely looks at fundamental components needed to realise these next-generation technology developments. But while the UK may not see the likes of ‘smart benches’ appearing in every location, we are seeing an increase in smart trends and innovations – ranging from smart bus shelters, smart traffic control measures, outdoor Wi-Fi, increased digital signage – and as this space continues to develop, so must the technology to support it. Therefore, this is an opportune moment to consider the role of industrial Ethernet switches which will be central to many of the technological advances we’re already starting to see. That’s because they have been specifically designed for application and use in industrial and outdoor environments to bring disparate networks together and work across a variety of applications in a range of conditions. While industrial switches have existed for a while, they’re now increasingly taking centre stage as industrial-grade connectivity really starts to take off.

Defining an industrial switch

In order to be labelled as an industrial switch, certifications must be met for vibration, shock, free-fall and electromagnetic compatibility to ensure maximum network performance and minimise maintenance across a range of deployment environments, including smart city surveillance, factory automation and outdoor wireless networks. Featuring a hardened and rugged design, industrial switches are robust enough to withstand harsh weather conditions, dirt, and dust, while adhering to industrial network design, compliance and performance requirements. They are also able to withstand extremely high and low temperatures ranging from, on average, -40 up to 75 degrees. This makes them ideal for outdoor deployment in kerb-side compartments, whether in cold or hot environments, and reliable enough to perform well without the need for costly air conditioning and vibration isolation enclosures.

Their rugged design differs from commercial switches, which are typically designed for indoor installation only, being commonly used in offices and indoor computer rooms that require strong network connectivity for multiple devices. While commercial switches are also typically mounted via a rackmount, industrial switches have the added flexibility to be mounted via either DIN rail, wall mount or rackmount. Further still, while commercial switches typically cool via vents and holes either with or without fans, industrial switches feature a fan-less design with limited ingress points, which further reduces dirt and dust from setting in while the lack of a fan is one less thing to go wrong.

Bringing connectivity to life
Therefore, industrial switches are ideally suited for supporting smart cities, and they can, for instance, work seamlessly alongside integrated IP surveillance cameras and wireless access points to support continuous surveillance and control; in fact, video surveillance is often a starting point for local authorities making early steps toward developing a smart city. This gives cities the means to easily monitor and manage traffic flow or activities in public areas, in order create a more effective and safer urban infrastructure.

They can also be deployed to deliver reliable outdoor Wi-Fi, to meet the growing demands from end users, remote workers, citizens and visitors for wireless networks, with this extended connectivity comes the opportunity for brands to monetise outdoor wireless network. For example, the ability to reach different areas provides a perfect opportunity to deliver location based services and targeted advertising via billboards, which we are seeing increasing quantities of appearing in locations ranging from town centres to even motorways throughout the UK.

The indoor applications for industrial switches
Aside from the above, another relevant use for industrial switches is within factory and warehouse automation, particularly with the growing demand consumers put upon online retailers like Amazon. In this application, industrial switches are likely to be an ideal solution to drive warehouse efficiency. In line with this, connecting networks will minimise data silos and vulnerabilities, so process and manufacturing information can be maintained and analysed securely and reliably in real time. This will help online stores respond quickly and efficiently to customer orders.

Choosing an industrial switch
Irrespective of the size of network customers are planning, they will want to ensure it runs smoothly and reliably. Industrial switches enable users to unify networks and live data streams in to one secure network to bring the benefits of a smart environment together, complete with real-time communication and monitoring. It is my view that the most important things to consider product-wise when selecting industrial switches, would be to opt for advanced technical features such as the ability to offer gigabit connectivity and a robust design to keep the network protected in all environments. On a practical level, it is also important to consider switches that can be deployed quickly, whilst also being compact and discrete in size to make the most of cabinet space. Finally, a strong warranty programme will give peace of mind.

In addition, those organisations looking to deploy industrial switches – irrespective of the application – should consider working with a vendor that can offer not just proven, reliable products, but also the depth of support and expertise required, given the scale of the projects that most industrial switches will be used in. That means working with partners that already have decades of networking experience and can provide a complete solution – supported by an effective partner programme that’s bolstered by pre and post-sales support.

As industrial switches form part of a complex eco-system designed to bring applications and services around us to life, choosing the right components to underpin that eco-system is imperative if initiatives like smart cities, the Industrial Internet of Things and fully autonomous cars are to become a reality.

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