Why choose an industrial-grade network switch?

Why choose an industrial-grade network switch?
Environment, environment, environment.

This is the key difference between the design aspects and considerations of an industrial network switch, vs those of their enterprise or commercial counterparts.

Enterprise-grade hardware is more often than not designed to operate in a specific environment. Whether that is a temperature-controlled control room, or a busy office building, the key point is that enterprise or commercial switches are designed for a controlled environment which differs little from enterprise to enterprise.

Industrial-grade network switches are much different.

It’s all about carpet. No, really.

When it comes to the requirement for either enterprise or industrial-grade network switches, Cisco’s definition of “Enterprise” is a “carpeted environment”. This may sound flippant, or comical at best, but it does help define the differences between enterprise and industrial-grade devices succinctly, and in a way that is easy to understand from layman to network engineer.

Essentially what “carpeted environment” describes is areas such as schools, universities, hospitals and offices, which, by deduction discounts environments where you couldn’t, or wouldn’t, install a carpet. Warehouses, factories, HVAC control rooms — these are all areas which would fall under this umbrella, and are environments in which industrial-grade network switches would be recommended over their enterprise equivalents.

A broader spectrum.

Where enterprise-grade network switches are generally designed to operate in specific, controlled environments, industrial-grade network switches have to cope with a much broader spectrum. For instance, enterprise-grade network switches are often installed in communications racks inside buildings with temperature controls aimed at keeping all the network equipment firmly within their operating range, meaning most switch vendors in this area are able to take the same approach to the physical specifications of the switch design, and simply concentrate on the features and functions they want the switch to offer.

Industrial-grade switches cannot be designed with only one environment in mind. They have to be able to cope with a wide range of conditions, such as freezing or scorching temperatures, or a wild fluctuation between the two, dirt, dust, water, oil, everything nature can throw at it. Of course, there are some industrial-grade units that are built for specific applications, such as safe to use in explosive environments for the oil and gas industry, or high vibration tolerance for the rail industry, but the general rule of thumb is that industrial-grade network switches are designed to withstand a wide range of environmental challenges as standard.

Industrial-grade network switches are also open to Classical Shock Testing. This shock testing is far more rigorous and comprehensive than that performed as standard on an enterprise switch, and consists of half sine, haversine, sawtooth, and trapezoid shock impulses, designed to push the unit's shock tolerances to the limit. The results of these tests are then compared to the benchmarks in the IEC 60068-2 standard to determine whether the unit can be certified.

What makes an industrial switch industrial?

Some of the specifications that make switches industrial are:

Hardened
  • Meets shock (IEC 60068-2-27) and vibration (IEC 60068-2-6) standards
  • Wider operating temperature ranges (-40 to +80    vs    0 to +60 as an example)
  • Meets EMC (EN 61000-6) standards for electrically noisy environments

Ruggedised
  • High-end internal components
  • High MTBF (mean time between failure)
  • Fanless

Industry specific
  • Industrial safety certifications (DNV for marine , EN-50155 for rail, etc...)
  • Hazardous location approvals (ATEX for oil and gas etc...)       
  • Industrial protocol awareness (Modbus, Profinet …)

Longer HW warranties (5 years vs 1-3years)
In general, hardware warranties are offered for 5 years, rather than 1-3 years for the enterprise-grade equivalent.

Industrial Mounting
Enterprise-grade network switches are more often than not either rack or desktop mount, whereas industrial network switches offer DIN-rail, for mounting inside things such as explosion-proof housings.

In summary

Enterprise or commercial switches are designed for specific, controlled environments, and industrial-grade network switches are designed to operate in a myriad of harsh environments. The more standards the industrial-grade unit covers, the wider rating and class of industrial compatibility the switch will have.

Impulse designs, builds and supports industrial IoT solutions, and can help you choose an industrial-grade network switch for your next industrial networking application. For more information feel free to check out our Industrial IoT capabilities, or get in touch by calling +44(0)1782 337 800 or clicking here to send an enquiry.
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