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Ethernet's popularity continues to expand

I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a packaging or controls engineer say lately that Ethernet is their preferred Local Area Network for information exchange.

Whether it’s used for control I/O, for peer-to-peer communication among packaging machines, for pulling data out of packaging machines as a means of measuring Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE), or for carrying information from the plant floor to either the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) or Enterprise Resource Plan (ERP) layers, Ethernet seems to be hitting its stride in the packaging corner of the manufacturing sector.

It even simplifies training, said one controls engineer I talked to recently. “The biggest benefit of using Ethernet to the extent we do now is that it’s not a proprietary network,” said he. “There are more people trained on it compared to other alternatives.”

One interesting use of Ethernet was described to me recently in a conversation I had with Hitan Patel, controls and R&D manager at Sabel Engineering Corp., a maker of case packers.

“We use an Ethernet connection for remote troubleshooting,” said Patel. “We log into an Internet connection and get right down to the controller on the customer’s machine to provide help remotely. The controller on the machine has an Ethernet port, so I can gain access to the company’s Local Area Network and dial into his machine right from my laptop. It’s especially useful for checking issues having to do with programming code.”

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