By Brian Koch
Published in the August 2006 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Since Novell launched the first network operating system in the late 1980s, service and support of company networks has been crucial to its success. Talented and highly trained professionals have been coaxing performance and reliability out of network technology since its original introduction more than 20 years ago.
But as companies converge data communication and factory floor networks, new business challenges arise. How does a company determine who owns and administers these systems? Who is responsible for ensuring their security? Who gets up at 2 a.m. when the network experiences problems? Who is in charge of maintaining and servicing the factory systems? The answers to many of these questions are still being determined, as IT and facility professionals vie for these crucial roles emerging within the manufacturing and automation sector.
Consequently, facility managers are now under immense pressure to keep all systems running smoothly. This includes the physical and electrical infrastructure. HVAC and electrical systems, water and wastewater systems, and lighting are all examples of building functions serviced by these professionals. But what happens when a network is brought to the factory floor? How does this affect them?
As the control and movement of data went from software to hardware functions, these professionals evolved from software concentric engineers to network hardware technicians. The evolution of the demands put on these professionals illustrates how network technology can change job requirements and skills in a very short period of time.
Installing a network on the factory floor requires software and hardware devices that demand service and maintenance. These devices fall under two categories: network gear and support gear. Network gear describes all the software, hardware, and interconnectivity required to implement the network. Support gear includes all the devices used to make the network run smoothly. It also ensures system uptime and sets out to maximize performance.
Current trends show companies are using data/communications support staff to maintain and administer the network gear. The rationale behind this involves the years of experience obtained by these professionals; many of them have been troubleshooting, securing, and optimizing networks.
There is an efficiency experienced when relying on individuals like these for both network systems (factory floor and data comm). However, the support gear involves equipment and devices IT professionals have never serviced before.
Precision cooling devices, uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), harmonic filters, and power distribution are all examples of equipment needed to support a network. These items have traditionally been maintained by facility management. It becomes very obvious that the convergence of the factory and data comm networks will greatly affect the facility groups, starting from the network conception.
The life of a factory network contains the following phases: needs assessment, system design, system implementation, and system optimization and maintenance. Facility management will be called upon to help in nearly all of the aforementioned phases.
During needs assessment, the stakeholders define the requirements for the new network. This will include the support gear.
The facility professional will be asked to assess the power system capacity, the cooling capacity, and the distribution readiness of the plant. This will translate into tasks such as: measuring the current state of the HVAC system, measuring the capacity of the electrical infrastructure, and investigating physical space availability.
The system design phase will ask the facility manager to recommend a power distribution strategy, HVAC solutions, and emergency power systems. During the system optimization and maintenance phases, the facility manager will need to maintain the new HVAC, power, and distribution systems. Tasks will include HVAC and precision cooling maintenance/cleaning, UPS system and battery maintenance, and electrical infrastructure oversight.
This additional work and responsibility can be daunting. Facility personnel should expect many late nights during the installation and initial start up of the factory network. Luckily, help is available.
Reliable network infrastructure is an emerging need for the factory floor. Some vendors who specialize in this area offer an integrated architecture that incorporates the key facility needs in a modular and easily maintainable way. There are also industrial specific devices that meet the electrical and distribution problems encountered inside a control panel, in non-controlled environments, and for the critical process equipment within the plant.
The evolution of the network professional will be mirrored by facility managers in the years ahead. They will be called upon to maintain traditional building wide systems as well as the emerging precision devices needed to support a network on the factory floor.
Koch is a product specialist for American Power Conversion (APC) of West Kingston, RI. This article was written with assistance from Justin Carron, global OEM sales manager, and Dieter Brunner, managing director, industrial systems. Carron and Brunner are also with APC.