The Smart Factory is driving efficient, automated, flexible, scalable and decentralized manufacturing, whereby large amounts of data have to be transported and communicated reliably in a minimum of time. The industrial network is thereby becoming very important: everything will be connected with increasing speeds to the lowest level of the factory floor.
The successful RJ45 connector, the de facto standard in Telecom/Datacom applications, has always been at the base of this, but its inability to adapt to the specific industrial requirements will disqualify this connector for many future industrial applications.
It looks like RJ45 manufacturers have developed a blind spot for the industrial markets. RJ45 provides a perfect match for industrial data rates, but when it comes down to matters like vibration resistance (its single beam contact system allows for micro interruptions in process critical operations) or size and PCB real estate usage (IO modules and drives are becoming smaller) there are now better alternatives to RJ45.
Most connectors for industrial applications have been improved over time. For example in terms of reliable contact systems (from single to dual point of contact) and processability (from through hole to through hole reflow). Apart from the plug side - RJ45 has never manged to improve the receptacle. And attempts to ‘industrialize‘ the RJ45 receptacle prove it cannot be adapted. This inability to adapt makes more and more component engineers look for more robust, smaller, and reliable alternatives.
M12 is a good example of an industrial connector family which has adapted itself: from its D-code Industrial Ethernet it has recently added an X-coded version which handles Cat6A speeds. M12 X-code is a serious alternative to RJ45, although its threaded coupling is not preferred for “easy-to-install“ applications.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are several manufacturers working on successors to RJ45 – and one of the latest additions to this is called “Industrial Mini IO“ – a small robust rectangular IO connector. With its dual beam contact systems and metal, polarized housing, this looks like a serious candidate to outpace RJ45. The challenges however, as for all new industrial connector systems, will be to set this promising connector as a new standard approved by the different standard committees.
The current standard for Industrial Ethernet will not give up so easily but at the end this will be a matter of “survival of the fittest“: the ability to adapt (including standardizing) is the key to future success in industrial applications, and this might turn the odds against RJ45.
Gijs Werner is the Strategic Marketing Manager for TE Connectivity Industrial’s Automation & Control business unit and is responsible for finding and selecting new products, technologies and innovations to grow TE’s business in the Industrial segment. He has over 18 years of experience in strategic marketing and business development of innovations and technologies and holds a MSc in Business Economics from the Erasmus University Rotterdam.
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