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Industrial Switches: Everything You Need to Know

Industrial Switches: Everything You Need to Know
Industrial Switches: Everything You Need to Know

The goal of any manufacturing process is to produce as many goods as possible in the least expensive way. This might include price-shopping material vendors, using energy-efficient machinery, and using less expensive technology. The latter can pose dangers to the factory floor. Sure, everyone likes to save a buck when they can, but as the old adage says, you get what you pay for. This is especially true when we talk about switches.


What is a switch?

In simple terms, a switch is a device that connects different devices on a Local Area Network (LAN). Switches are responsible for moving data packets between nodes over a network and do so using what is called a Media Access Control (MAC) address. A MAC address is a 48-bit hexadecimal identifier of a node on a network. No two nodes share the same MAC address. When a packet arrives at the switch, it checks the MAC address and forwards the data to the appropriate device. 


Consumer Switches vs. Industrial Switches

Consumer switches, often called home switches, are commonly found in offices and households. They are commonly used to connect devices on a home network. Such devices may include printers, smart home devices, gaming consoles, computers, and other everyday devices.

Industrial switches are used to connect industrial equipment, such as sensors, controllers, and other nodes. They are designed to be rugged and reliable so that they can withstand harsh conditions, such as humidity, extreme temperatures, and vibration, to name a few. They are   built with a heavy-duty metal casing that prevents damage to internal components and electromagnetic interference. They are made with industrial grade components suitable for use in manufacturing, transportation, and automation.

If the switch is being used in a climate controlled office building, you can get by with a simple consumer rated switch. However, if you are planning to use the switch in an industrial environment, using a consumer switch can harm your operation. Attempting to use one can result in:

  • Increased downtime

  • Poor network performance

  • Safety hazards

Consumer switches are notorious for inadvertently ceasing operation when exposed to higher temperatures beyond the well circulated air of an office environment.

It is true that industrial switches cost more than consumer switches, but you get what you pay for. By using the correct switch, you can save money in the long run by reducing your maintenance costs and unexpected downtime.


How does an industrial switch work? 

Industrial switches are responsible for ensuring that data being sent to a device is reliable, secure, and arrives intact. The process in which industrial switches transmit data between devices over a network can be broken down into three steps. 


Step One: Receiving Packets

When a device sends data to an industrial switch, it becomes broken down into packets. The switch buffers them before they are sent out to their destination, indicated by the MAC address. When a switch receives a data packet, it reads the source address and decides which port the data will be sent through.


Step Two: Encapsulation

Before data packets are transmitted, they are encapsulated with more information, such as headers and trailers to ensure that data will reach the correct destination. This information contains the destination address and the source of the data. The data header can also contain information about the sent data and priority level. At times, an industrial switch may add tags to the data packet.

  • VLAN tags allow multiple LANs to share a physical network.

  • Quality of Service (QoS) tags give certain data types priority over others to ensure critical data is transmitted with minimal delay.

Once encapsulated, data is ready to be sent to its appropriate destination. When the data packet reaches its destination, the header and additional information are removed. 


Step Three: Transmission

If the MAC address can be found in the switch’s MAC address table, it will send that packet to the device via the assigned port. If the MAC address is unrecognized, the switch will flood the packet to all ports besides the one from which the packet was received in an attempt to locate the receiving device. When located, the destination device will respond to the message, allowing the switch to learn the MAC address and map it to the correct port for the next time.


Industrial Switch Benefits

Higher Temperature Rating

The temperature rating of an industrial switch refers to the maximum temperature at which it can operate without sustaining damage or failure. Industrial switches are often placed in closed cabinets where there is minimal cooling airflow and the ambient temperature is high. A standard industrial switch can typically rated to withstand temperatures ranging from 32 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (0-60 degrees Celsius), while higher temperature-rated switches can sustain temperatures up to 176 degrees Fahrenheit (80 degrees Celsius). 


Extended Durability

The durability of industrial switches is simply unmatched compared to basic consumer switches. They feature robust housing that is designed to withstand even the most brutal environments. Housed in rugged metal closures, industrial switches can withstand moisture, vibration, dust, heavy impact, and even lightning. This is why they are often used in mines, railways, rapid transit, factories, and other stressful environments. 



Because they are built with the highest-quality industrial components, they are more reliable and have an extended lifespan. In fact, industrial switches have a service lifecycle of up to ten years. Though they cost more than standard consumer switches, their extended lifespans and increased reliability result in significant cost savings over time.


Improved Network Determinism

Network determinism describes the ability to ensure that data reaches its destination safely and consistently. When you use a low-quality switch or one that is not suitable for an industrial setting, you run the risk of experiencing the following problems:

  • Dropped packets

  • Network congestion

  • And unpredictable latency

Using a switch that cannot support network determinism can also lead to poor application performance, system failures, and a frustrating user experience. With the right switch, especially the ones listed later in the article, you need not worry about any of these issues.


Data Integrity

Industrial switches are responsible for maintaining the data integrity of a network by providing reliable communications infrastructure. Industrial switches only send data to the necessary port according to the MAC address. The switch learns each node's location and establishes a temporary connection with the device to transfer data. 


Redundant Power Supply

To ensure continuous operation and minimal downtime, industrial switches may utilize redundant power supplies, which provide a backup power supply should there be a power failure. This ensures that the switch can continue to operate without missing a beat. To achieve this, industrial switches can be connected to two power sources. This can be two AC, or one AC and one DC power source.


Advanced Management Tools

Industrial switches also offer advanced management tools that make life easier for control engineers. Perhaps one of the most beloved of these is BSD file support, which allows administrators to save and restore configuration settings. This is incredibly useful for networks using multiple switches. BSD file support also grants the following benefits:

  • Simplify switch configuration

  • Reduce time required to update and configure network switches

  • Minimize configuration errors.

By providing an easy-to-edit, text-based format for switch configurations, BSD file support can enable the automation of configuration tasks while reducing the risk of human error.


Industrial Certification Required

To ensure that they are suitable for the often harsh industrial environment, industrial switches are required to meet certain standards and certifications. The following are a few certifications and standards that these switches have to meet.

  • Ingress Protection Rating: the IP rating measures the degree of protection the device has from contaminants, such as dust, water, and other debris.

  • Underwriters Laboratories Listing: UL testing evaluates the switch based on safety and performance criteria, such as fire resistance, stress and impact resistance, and electrical safety.

  • CE Certification (Conformité Européene): this ensures that the switch meets European health, safety, and environmental standards.

  • Federal Communication Commission Compliance: this ensures that the switch follows regulations pertaining to radio frequency emissions and interference set forth by the FCC.

  • Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Compliance: this ensures that the switch is not comprised of any hazardous substances, or that their concentration is below the maximum limits set forth by the European Union.


Industrial Protocol Support

The term Industrial Protocol Support refers to the ability of an industrial switch to communicate using specific industrial protocols. These industrial protocols are used to connect and control different nodes within the network. A few of these include PROFINET, EtherNet/IP, and Profibus. Certification ensures that the switch meets the specific requirements of the protocol and has been tested for interoperability with other devices in the network. 


Better Security

Industrial switches help protect factories and infrastructure against bad actors and cyber attacks. Better security with industrial switches involves implementing a variety of security measures to protect against cyber threats. 

  • VLAN segmentation

  • Port-based Network Access Control

  • Redundancy and failover mechanisms

  • IEC 62443 certification


Three Types of Industrial Switches

Managed Switches

Managed switches provide advanced features that allow for greater flexibility and control over the network. There are several reasons why a managed switch may be preferred to an unmanaged switch. For instance, a managed switch might be used to balance priority of data in an EtherNet/IP or ProfiNet network. Managed switches offer a variety of features that set them apart:

  • Security: managed switches provide security features like PNAC (Port-based Network Access Control) that allow admins to control access to the network. They also support advanced security protocols, such as SSH and SNMPv3.

  • VLAN support: managed switches allow admins the ability to segment their network into smaller virtual networks. This improves network performance by isolating traffic between segments.

  • Remote Access Management: you can manage and configure your switch from anywhere remotely. By providing secure and convenient remote access management options, managed switches help ensure the reliability, security, and performance of industrial networks.

The ATOP EH7512 is a Profinet certified, fault-tolerant. 12-port managed industrial switch with unmatched reliability. Compliant with the IEC62443 standard for authentication interface management functions, this switch has a multifunctional web dashboard that offers intelligent features such as Quality of service (QoS), Virtual LAN (VLAN), IGMP, Port mirroring and security. 


Unmanaged Switches

Unmanaged industrial switches operate without the need for manual configuration or management. They offer plug-and-play connectivity and fixed configuration that make installation and setup very simple. However, unmanaged switches do not support IGMP and treat multicast traffic in the same fashion as broadcast traffic. 
The biggest selling point for unmanaged switches is affordability. They provide industries with a cost-effective way to connect devices on small networks with limited budgets. Our choice for unmanaged switches is the ATOP EH2308. This switch is as reliable as it is economical, and complies with CE, FCC, UL, and RoHS standards.


Lightly-Managed Switches

Lightly-managed switches, often referred to as ‘smart’ switches, are a hybrid between their managed and unmanaged counterparts. They pair the cost-effective and simplicity benefits of unmanaged switches with some of the advanced features offered by managed switches. Some of these include web-based management interfaces and (some) redundancy features.
To summarize, industrial switches offer a wide range of benefits that make them suitable for factories, mines, railways, and other hostile environments. Using an industrial switch in these conditions helps to reduce maintenance costs and unexpected downtime. Grid Connect has everything you need to stay connected and run your operation efficiently and cost-effectively.


Get Started with Grid Connect

Grid Connect is your source for tools that help you stay connected to the most important devices on your network. We pride ourselves in the quality of our products, our commitment to service, and our ability to find the right solutions for your factory needs. To learn more about how you can best utilize industrial switches, or which of our products is best for you, please get in contact with us. Here’s how:

  • Click the chat icon in the bottom right corner of your screen. 

  • Give us a call at (630) 245-1445 (Note we are in Central Time Zone)

  • Complete contact information, including address and hours of operation.

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