Industrial Automation

Tale of 4 Costs

Sylvia Feng

If an industrial plant wants to succeed, an investment in automation and interconnectivity is essential in order to increase productivity, minimize total cost of ownership, ensure safety, optimize logistics and support real-time, data-driven decision-making—there’s no way around it.

While manufacturing was already headed in this direction prior to 2020, COVID-19 accelerated the journey. It also revealed how vulnerable plants can be when they aren’t ready to scale and digitize to maintain operations and handle surges.


For companies that were already following a path to digital transformation, the sudden shift brought on by the pandemic was not as jarring and the change affirmed that they were headed in the right direction. For industrial sites that weren’t yet taking advantage of automation, the writing was on the wall: change is here, and it’s here to stay.


This drive toward automation, Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is also driving demand for industrial Ethernet cables that can handle noise, vibration, abrasion, repetitive motion and harsh environmental conditions.


When it comes to total cost of ownership for industrial-grade cables, there are four factors to consider.

1. The Cost of the Initial System

Every organization wants to reduce costs when possible—and rightfully so. Sometimes, however, cuts are made in the wrong places.


Consider, for example, the expenses associated with deploying a control cabinet on the factory floor—complete with I/O blocks, switches, PLCs and sensor nodes. Or think about manufacturing a motor control center (MCC) with variable frequency drives, switches and I/O blocks.


The total cabling costs are typically less than 2% of the cost of the system—the control cabinet or the MCC. In other words: Attempting to reduce your investment by sourcing the most inexpensive cables you can find makes a very small impact on savings while also creating very high risk.


In industrial environments, cables are exposed to everything from oil and vibration to dust and high temperatures—and they must continue to perform through it all. Investing in a ruggedized, industrial-grade cable is the only way to ensure long-term reliability and reduce unplanned downtime.


Recently, a U.S. wastewater plant was experiencing problems with outdoor cameras monitoring treatment processes. When using regular Ethernet cable, the images were breaking up and difficult to decipher. A switch to Belden’s industrial Ethernet cable, which features Bonded-Pair cable construction, fixed the problem without a camera replacement.


The bottom line: When it comes to overall system costs, cable isn’t the place to reduce expenses. In fact, if you want to make the most of your initial cable investment, then select a cable with additional headroom to accommodate future performance requirements. For example: Even if your current application calls for a Category 6 cable, select a Category 6A solution to make sure you’re ready to add devices down the road without creating bandwidth constraints.

2. The Cost of Maintenance

When a network goes down, the physical layer—a loose connection, damaged cable, poor-quality connector, etc.— is to blame more than one-third of the time.


Although a generic, office-grade Ethernet cable may work for a little while (if you’re lucky) in a plant environment, the cable is bound to fail over time. Unlike industrial-grade cables, commercial-grade cables aren’t exposed to things like cold bending, abrasion, high temperatures, oil or EMI/RFI interference when tested for performance. They were never intended to encounter these conditions.


Because office-grade cables aren’t designed or constructed to work in industrial environments, you’ll unavoidably need to replace them over and over again, which not only takes lots of time, but also negates any initial savings you achieved by using inexpensive cables. The more time you spend fixing the issues they create after they’re installed, the more money you spend over the long term.

3. The Cost of Unplanned Downtime

The cost of downtime is huge in any mass production scenario, whether you manufacture consumer packaged goods, fill beverage containers, assemble SUVs or refine metal. Every idle second translates to lost revenue. Depending on the business, this loss could equal $500,000 or more for every hour of downtime. A 2020 downtime survey led by ITIC indicates that 40% of enterprise organizations lose between $1 million and $5 million per hour.


As these dollars slip away, there’s a scramble to find someone who can troubleshoot the issue, verify the problem, identify a workable solution, contact a distributor for the right part, hope the necessary components are available and get systems up and running again as quickly as possible. Depending on the problem, as well as the repair costs and parts availability, interruption could last from a few minutes to a few days (or longer).


In some cases, it’s not cost-effective to restart production lines if they shut down suddenly (processes that involve melting metal, for example)—instead, the lines must be rebuilt, which leads to major losses.


One of our customers learned the downtime lesson the hard way after an entire consumer goods production line shut down for six hours unexpectedly. The cause? A poorly terminated, low-cost RJ45 connector. Any preventative measures you can take to avoid unplanned downtime—like investing in industrial-grade solutions that are error-proofing in design, user-friendly and built to last—will pay for themselves over and over again.

4. The Cost of Non-Compliance

The word “non-compliance” can conjure up many things: legal issues, fines or worse. Just because those repercussions don’t apply to cable installation doesn’t mean that lack of compliance won’t create trouble.


Standards exist for a reason: to define cabling types, recommended distances, connections, performance parameters, testing requirements and more. They give us a common language to establish quality and safety criteria, as well as ensure a minimum level of performance. For example, standards dictate that outdoor applications should use a cable rated for that purpose. Will you be fined for not following this recommendation? No … but you also won’t get the results you need, and performance will ultimately be compromised.

Belden’s Dedication to Lowering Your Cable Costs

When it comes to industrial cables, Belden’s focus is on helping you reduce the total cost of ownership.


We do this through technology such as Bonded-Pair construction, which bonds individual conductors along their longitudinal axis to guarantee extremely uniform spacing within each twisted pair to maintain consistent, reliable electrical performance without interference.


Our DataTuff® Industrial REVConnect® RJ45 solutions are another example of innovative ways we help reduce total cost of ownership. These connectors (plugs and jacks) use a universal cable manager and specialized tool that creates a reliable insulation piercing contact without separating the four twisted pairs, bringing termination time down to less than a minute. Training time is minimal (approximately 15 minutes); after that, any installer can create repeatable, high-quality terminations regardless of experience level or technical skill.


Learn more about Belden’s industrial Ethernet cables here