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Industrial Connectors

The New Interface That Withstands Harsh Environmental Conditions

Traditional connectivity products provide customers years of reliable service in the typical office environment. However, expose the same copper or fiber connectors to extreme conditions such as dust, temperature, moisture, electromagnetic interference, or vibration and performance and reliability will suffer. In harsh environments where exposure to some or all of these elements is a daily occurrence, the typical mated connection (i.e., RJ-45 outlet and plug) may corrode, wear, clog with debris, and eventually fail. In the end, customers are faced with high maintenance costs due to trouble-shooting and component replacement.

Figure 1: Humidity corrodes contact pins inside outlets. Repeated exposure can eventually destroy the contact pins altogether, rendering the outlet unusable.

Enter a new breed of connector designed to deliver a robust Ethernet connection in even the harshest environments — tougher, stronger, and more resistant than any previous Ethernet connector. This new interface is commonly referred to as the "industrial connector", however applications are not limited to manufacturing. While the connector is designed to withstand the most punishing industrial conditions, applications exist in any normal factory floor environment.

Industrial Standard Initiatives

Recognizing this need, the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) have chartered committees to develop an industrial cabling standard. The TIA assembled the TR-42.9 Industrial Telecommunications Infrastructure group in late 1999. Its objective is to develop and maintain standards for telecommunications infrastructure in industrial buildings, structures, and campuses that go beyond the scope of the commercial building standards. IEC is expected to follow TIA and develop a complementary standard based on TR-42.9 work. TR-42.9 is making significant progress toward selection of an industrial connector interface.

An ODVA (Open DeviceNet Vendor Association) and ControlNet™ joint special interest group (JSIG) is developing standards for an Ethernet industrial protocol (EtherNet/IP). The JSIG has evaluated potential designs and has selected Siemon's RJ-45 plug and outlet design with a protective bayonet-style outer housing. Key advantages of the bayonet-style interface include superior resistance to moisture and liquids and a positive quick-twist locking feature which reduces mating time between the outlet and plug.

In addition to specifying a connector interface, TR-42.9 is defining environmental requirements with which the interface must comply. TR-42.9 is building on earlier IEC work, which defines some environmental requirements for enclosures — referred to as International Protection (IP). The IP code rating system (see Table 1) uses two digits to characterize the level of protection a sealed enclosure provides. TR-42.9 is applying this rating scheme to the mated industrial outlet and plug seal. The first digit refers to the seal's resistance level to solid materials and the second digit is for resistance to liquid contaminant's.

To ensure connectors deliver reliable Ethernet performance in harsh environments, TR-42.9 most likely will recommend connections with an IP 67 rating. IP 67 means that when sealed, a connection is protected against ingress of dust and from temporary immersion in water.

Above: An X-Ray of a mated outlet and plug shows where the plug contacts meet the contact pins in the outlet.

Below: After exposure to extreme vibration, the modular plug contacts can pit the contact pins in the outlet. This can cause intermittent transmission problems.

In addition to ingress of dust or water, the final TR-42.9 industrial standard will address exposure to other elements. They are:

Humidity / Moisture:
Traditional connectivity exposed to moderate humidity corrodes over time. Corrosion leads to intermittent transmission problems. In severe cases, contact pins within an outlet can completely decompose. In addition, any submersion or liquid spray cannot be tolerated.

Corrosive Materials:
Exposure to corrosive gases and liquids is common in industrial situations. Oil, gas, and chemicals can eat away at the outside connector housing, plug and jack metal contacts, and cable jackets

Temperature Extremes:
Current connectivity is manufactured to tolerate temperatures between -10° C (14° F) and 60° C (140° F), typical of most office and light industrial environments. However, it is common in harsh environments for temperatures to spike outside of or exceed this range for an extended period of time. This expanded temperature range causes transmission failures and reliability issues.

Standard connectivity reacts in a consistent manner when exposed to extreme vibration. Over time, the contacts in a modular plug wear against the pins in an outlet. Pins become pitted at the contact point, which degrades reliability (see Figure 2). Furthermore, exposure to moisture after this wear introduces corrosion.

Electromagnetic Interference (EMI):
Heavy EMI is common in environments where manufacturing equipment or electrical pathways are close to data pathways. Machinery and electrical pathways generate electrical fields, which cause noise to couple onto the data pathways and compromise the integrity of data signals.

An additional TR-42.9 meeting is scheduled for November of 2001 for further refinements to the draft. Details of TR-42.9's progress will be available on TIA's website: The output from TR-42.9 will allow manufacturers to create components and cabling systems that operate reliably in harsh industrial environments. Industry standards will also ensure intermatability between manufacturers of industrial connector products.

Industrial Connectivity in the Premise Market

Increasingly, cabling system consultants, designers, and installers are faced with challenging environments. There may be a portion of an installation or an entire site that requires connectivity in problematic areas — wash down rooms, areas prone to dust, and locations subject to temperature extremes for example.

Today, when designers or installers are faced with this problem, some opt to install traditional connectivity and hope for the best. The Siemon Company surveyed a variety of such customers and witnessed the results of environmental exposure on traditional cabling products. Figure 1 shows an outlet used in an area exposed to moisture and humidity. Unprotected, the exposure corroded contact pins and resulted in catastrophic failure.

Another solution is to create a custom protective enclosures to house connections. An example would be a sub floor box designed specifically to protect connections from water and debris. Unfortunately, this type of solution must be custom built, is often costly and provides limited protection. This restricts the wide-scale use of custom solutions.

Both situations are more common than most would expect and each are frustrating and costly for end-users. Unprotected components and jury-rigged enclosures can be seen in nearly every field from medical buildings to food processing plants, marine sites, dusty order fulfillment warehouses, or refinement facilities. In each case, the troubleshooting, maintenance, and corrective actions associated with these installations drive end-users, installers, and consultants to seek a more robust solution. Fortunately, new industrial cabling systems provide an ideal, cost-effective solution.

Siemon's Industrial Outlet incorporates a bayonet-style mating mechanism that delivers an IP 67 rating. UTP and ScTP versions are available.

Siemon's Industrial Plug is designed for easy field termination.

Industrial Connectivity on the Factory Floor

An evolution is taking place in the manufacturing market that is driving the need for robust connections on the factory floor. Many manufactures are in the process of implementing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) initiatives, which streamline operations, improve product availability, and reduce production costs. The key to implementing an effective ERP solution is access to accurate, real-time data. Unfortunately, most manufacturing equipment in use today does not have the capability of collecting and communicating data seamlessly from the plant floor to an enterprise's network. However, leading manufacturers of automation production equipment are now offering solutions such as EtherNet/IP for control on the plant floor, system configuration, and to collect data for ERP applications. Current estimates predict that by 2004 more than 22% of new manufacturing equipment will have an Ethernet connection. Once this new generation of production equipment hits the market, the factory floor will become a seamless extension of an organization's network.

Specific examples of applications that could benefit from industrial Ethernet include mining, refineries, automotive facilities, and manufacturing plants. For these customers, corrosive gases and liquids, extreme sources of EMI from robotic equipment, vibration, high temperatures, and humidity are common. A robust industrial connector will be the essential link between the factory floor and ERP applications — keeping data flowing and providing a competitive edge.

Industrial Connector Solutions Available Today

Manufacturers are responding by developing products that are aligned with industrial standards initiatives. The Siemon Company has developed an industrial connector that meets all pending TIA and IEC requirements. The Siemon industrial outlet and plug provide superior resistance to harsh environmental conditions.

Siemon's industrial solution achieves an IP 67 rating primarily by means of the mating style of the plug and outlet. The plug's body has a unique bayonet-style collar that mates with the outer shell of the outlet. The plug is inserted into the outlet, and with a simple quarter turn of the collar, the plug and outlet are engaged. It is fast and provides a superior sealed connection.

Siemon's solution provides superior protection against: moisture and vibration. The mating style prohibits ingress of moisture from either airborne humidity or by direct contact with liquid. Additionally, the mating style resists vibration by maintaining the plug's relative position to the outlet. It does not allow the plug to shift with vibration, which would otherwise cause damage to outlet contacts.

The Siemon design also incorporates materials that are more resistant to chemicals and have wider operating temperature ranges than traditional connectors. The connector's expanded temperature range is from -25° C (-13° F) to 85° C (185° F). Compared to the operational temperature range for standard connectivity, Siemon's industrial connector expands the overall operational temperature range by over 50%.

Finally, for environments with high EMI, Siemon offers a screened (ScTP) version of the industrial connector. ScTP solutions, which are essentially UTP cable with an overall shield or foil, are ideal for environments where additional protection from EMI is needed to ensure the integrity of data signals. In addition to the screened cable, the connecting hardware also has high screening effectiveness and low transfer impedance to sheild the data signal as it transitions from horizontal cable to the equipment cord.

The Future of Industrial Connectivity

The goal of implementing seamless network solutions in all areas of an enterprise's operation - including harsh environments - is finally within reach. Customers evaluating cabling for harsh environments will now have an ideal solution for their cabling system needs — the Siemon industrial cabling system.

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