Smart factories are the next step in the evolution of manufacturing. The interconnected nature of this new tech-driven factory is changing the way companies make things. There is incredible potential there, with more room for growth and profitability. You have far greater control over your equipment and processes, along with a better idea of everything. You can even make data models to conduct tests or make predictions.
However, all of that connectivity and continuity is something that relies on hardware. In particular, there is a need to use cables to wire everything together. For the most part, what you’ll see used in industrial contexts are ethernet cables. Should this notion be challenged, though? Would we be better off getting OTS fiber optic cable for smart factories?
What’s a Smart Factory?
A smart factory is one where everything is interlinked, hooked up to sensors and computers. Data is collected and analyzed, systems are tweaked and controlled. This gives a number of advantages that ordinary facilities simply can’t replicate.
Smart factories use sensors in various places. They can detect the remaining raw materials, keep track of inventory, monitor conditions on the floor, and even activate safety protocols. At the core of many of those advantages is the fact that everything is interconnected, giving people real-time control and input.
That’s the key here: real-time. For a smart factory to work at the full capacity, you need to use the fastest cables available. You need the data to come in as it’s generated. In the case of safety concerns, even a second of delay could result in injury or worse. This means that you need the fastest connection possible.
So Why Wired Connections?
Wireless connections aren’t fast enough and are too prone to disruption, especially since so many factories can act as inadvertent Faraday cages, blocking all signals. Wired connections are more reliable, but the speed will vary based on the cables used. To get data in real-time, you need better cables and there’s an argument to be made that this means you need fiber optics, not copper.
Why Fiber Optics?
Fiber optic cables are faster than older, copper-based cables. The use of light in glass tubes as a means of transmitting data increases the speed, allowing for that real-time collection of data. This allows for faster response times, more accurate readings, and the opening for people to react faster to things that go wrong. Speed isn’t everything in a smart factory, but it’s hard to dismiss it as being a huge part.
There is the question of durability, of course. Consider for a moment the notion that there are numerous factories out there that have extreme conditions. You might be dealing with hazardous chemicals, corrosive substances, heat enough to melt the casing of the cables, or just things that could cause physical damage to it. Even just vibrations along the factory floor can be a problem.
Older cables, the ones with copper in them, have to be specifically shielded against these conditions. However, they’re also slower in data transfer. The cables are more prone to interference and degradation of signal, particularly around anything that creates an electromagnetic field. With the sheer amount of power used in the average factory, you’re looking at a staggering amount of potential disruption.
There are ethernet cables built for factory conditions, of course. They provide protection from temperature extremes and the like. Fiber optics also have variants designed for these conditions. The average cable, entirely on its own, is resistant to abrasion and vibration. These two are the most common sources of problems in a smart factory’s wires. If these are the only issues you expect, then you don’t need any further protection.
Network capacity is also vital in the “Internet of Things,” which the smart factory falls under. Low-capacity networks cause problems because the amount of data might cause the bandwidth to choke. Fiber optic cablesprovide greater bandwidth for all that data, surpassing even industrial-grade copper or copper-clad cables. This means that the issue of data is unlikely to be a concern.
The security of a company’s data is also crucial, and having all those devices and equipment connected to one network can be seen as a huge risk. In particular, the physical elements of the network might be targeted for industrial espionage. Fiber optic technology also assists in this. Optical fiber is much more difficult to hack without security systems detecting it.
Fiber optic as an integral part of international communications networks also provides the ability to have multiple factories coordinate and cooperate. This allows for consolidating all the data that comes in from a number of factories, which provides the business with a better data model to use for things like projections and theoretical experiments.
It’s no surprise that technology is pushing for the creation of the smart factory It’s also not really surprising that fiber optic cables are being pushed as the new foundation of that connectivity. Their speed, durability, and reliability make them the ideal choices.