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Connecting a machine to a network may only appear to be easy. Let’s find out why.

03 dic 2019

A simple gesture such as inserting a network cable or a Wi-Fi password enables us to connect our laptop, tablet or phone to a network: this lets us browse the Internet or the LAN that hosts us pretty much straight away.  Why is it harder to connect up a machine?

It’s probably best explained by highlighting the differences between a computer’s connection and a machine’s connection.

Connection Parameters

– Computer: As soon as you connect the cable or access Wi-Fi, the Computer will normally automatically receive the IP address and other parameters that allow you to browse.

– Machine: you need to manually set the static (fixed) IP address and other connection parameters on the PLC or CNC of the machine.

Router/firewall

– Computer: has a software firewall which, through default configuration, allows there to be a basic network operation, such as surfing the Internet and accessing shared files and printers.

– Machines: in the most complex machines, there is often a router/firewall that isolates the internal network of the machine from the company network, allowing the machine to be reached by remote assistance from the service, but blocking all other accesses because they could interfere with the operation of the machine itself. Manufacturers tend to configure the router/firewall by cloning a consolidated configuration of this type.

Multiple internal components

– Computer: From the network point of view, it only counts as one device. Once located, for example by name, you do not need to specify anything else.

– Machine: machines are formed of different components, connected in the internal network of the machine. The most common components are the PLC, the CNC, the operator panel or the supervisory PC panel, the remote input/output modules, etc. Each of these can have its own IP address in the internal network of the machine. Assuming you have configured the internal router/firewall, the connection must then be routed to the right device.

Wi-Fi

– Computer: if a cable is not available, you can use Wi-Fi. Even if your computer does not have a wireless card/tab, you can still insert a Wi-Fi stick into the USB socket, install the driver and use it to connect.

– Machine: as well as the fact that wireless connection in industrial environments is not recommended, machines do not normally have a wireless card/tab.  Most PLCs and CNCs have a proprietary operating system that does not allow for the installation of drivers, so the Wi-Fi USB stick/key option will typically not be viable.

Position of the network connector

– Computer: the network socket is normally fairly obvious.

– Machine: the amount of free sockets tend to correspond to the amount of components that a machine is made up of.  E.g. in panels with a double socket, in the internal router, in the PLC with a double socket, etc. If the machine is big, the PLC or CNC needing to be connected may be on the opposite side of the operator panel, and is therefore pretty far away.  So where to put the network cable?

In a few days time, the article summarising how to solve these problems will be published. Stay Tuned!