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Digitalization Digest: Issue 1 – Network Review and Upgrade

Network Review and Upgrade for a Chemical Company

The first entry in our Digitalization Digest (articles and thoughts regarding manufacturing plant digitalization) consists of an Ethernet modernization planning project for a chemical company located in the southeastern USA.  The company has seven distinct site locations on a campus that employs hundreds of people. The project was to gather information on all switches, media connections, and equipment related to the network for the purpose of executing a methodical, phased upgrade.

The review process included assessments of over 150 managed and unmanaged switches, the main distribution frame (MDF), all intermediate distribution frames (IDF), as well as the connections from industrial switches at the site to each other and to computers/databases/terminals.  The project was specifically targeted at Level 1 and higher on the ISA-95 model, not focusing on PLC connections to the production processing equipment level.

The company had a moderately accurate inventory of their managed switches and main computers (essentially everything with an IP address).  The network is monitored by two different pieces of management/monitoring software (MNS), these being IntraVUE and WhatsUp Gold.  However unmanaged switches, fiber media converters, and patch panels had not been inventoried effectively and devices like these had been added throughout the campus over the years.  Added challenges were that much of the hardware was fifteen years old or older and had been installed in an open-air plant environment so that the exteriors of the machines etc. were in poor condition.

Post onsite investigation, a plan was generated to consolidate equipment – multiple smaller switches were to be replaced by larger switches.   Reuse of the patch panels was originally considered, but after discussions with the client, it was evident that newer update patches would be preferred in most cases. Every effort was made to create the lowest quantity of unique situations, i.e., minimizing variability and design time, and to reuse existing punch-downs if serviceable and able to be transferred into new enclosures.

A proposal was completed for migration of each site and included the following:

  1. Recommendations for overall system planning and architecture accounting for available connections and transmission lines, required routes of communication, and best practices with respect to layers, VLANS, etc.
  2. Hardware plan per site.
  3. Labor per site for both configuration and deployment.
  4. The client was self-installing Visio documentation so that generation/update of existing system drawings would be performed in that medium.

PDA developed plans to move forward and provided documentation for each of the seven sites that identified all components of the network, with photographs and labels.  The project is ongoing, and every effort will be made to provide easier access to the network as well as the ability to identify problems when they arise.  Further upgrades to any of the seven sites will be more readily achieved as they become necessary.

PDA is a full-service, CSIA Certified industrial control systems integration firm. Our Controls Engineering group specializes in physical automation system design, programming, and commissioning. We also feature a dedicated Digitalization Services Group (DSG) that connects automated equipment and systems to the business system environment including protected recipe systems, data collection and reporting, and data historian implementation. DSG can provide the systems you need to set your systems up for proper operation and then provide the tools you need to make sure you execute as planned.

Posted In: Digitalization Digest, News