As your industrial Ethernet network develops into a communications infrastructure, monitoring and supervising it becomes more challenging. You can no longer get it done efficiently or accurately using "sneakernet" or with local workstations managing production cells.

Good network management plays a key role in maintaining high system reliability. It also makes you a lot more productive when it's time to do network updates, changes and audits. Find out how one of the largest control networks ever built in the Middle East uses network management software to meet its availability and efficiency requirements.

Qatar Aluminum's Industrial Network Has More Than 1,000 Nodes

One of the largest greenfield industrial projects in the world, the Qatar Aluminum (Qatalum) smelter located near Mesajeed Industrial City in Qatar was conceived with some ambitious plans. Qatalum's goal was to build one of the most cost-effective aluminum smelters in the world. In addition, the plant had to meet strict environmental regulations.

The result was a facility that includes 17 separate plants and an automated process control system. The entire operation is managed, starting when raw materials hit the dock. It continues until the high-quality aluminum extrusion ingots and foundry alloys are containerized and loaded upon ships for delivery to sites around the world.

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The Qatalum facility at Mesaieed Qatar was one of the largest greenfield industrial projects in the world. Photo courtesy of Qatalum.


The industrial network, designed by ZMS Technology of Stuttgart Germany, consisted of more than 1,000 nodes including many industrially hardened Ethernet switches and a network management system (NMS).

The prior experience the technical manager of ZMS Technology, Shariq Khan, had demonstrated that other network management strategies would not work. For example, using a series of local workstations managing cells of networks within a facility, or manual maintenance strategies would not provide the efficiency and accuracy required for Qatalum.

Network Management Software for a Speedy, Error-free Installation

Manual configuration of devices is tedious and error-prone. Finding a configuration error somewhere among the 1000 nodes would have been daunting, time-consuming and difficult. With a deadline to meet, ZMS Technology chose Hirschmann's Industrial HiVision NMS to smooth the way for site acceptance testing. The Qatalum team was able to:

  • Significantly reduce network installation time
  • Assure consistency in network infrastructure configurations
  • Automate documentation of configuration information

Industrial HiVision's installation and maintenance capabilities and powerful diagnostics quickly recognized and mapped all components on the plant network, including non-Hirschmann products. It was able to configure common device parameters across multiple devices simultaneously, dramatically reducing the time it took to get the network ready for test. The ability of the industrial NMS to detect inconsistencies between parameter configurations reduced troubleshooting time.

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Industrial HiVision is able to integrate devices from different manufacturers into a single network management application. For example, switches, PLCs, I/O modules and HMI panels.

Network Management Software for Proactive Maintenance and Troubleshooting

Qatalum uses Industrial HiVision's graphical interface and advanced monitoring capabilities for proactive maintenance of the system. Cable breakdown is a particular concern, as the heat and arid conditions in Qatar can cause rapid cable disintegration. If they are not monitored, deteriorating cables can cause network failures that require expensive shutdowns and emergency maintenance.

Industrial NMS tools make it easy to identify problematic connections. They can dig down from the port to the switch and even to the cable to identify the area of potential failure. This capability practically eliminates unplanned downtime. The expensive alternative would require shutting down a portion of the network and sending a process engineer to troubleshoot.

New call-to-actionNetwork Management Software Improves Productivity and Facilitates Audits and Updates

Once the plant was in operation a single network administrator using the NMS and working half-time can oversee the entire network. This includes carrying out repetitive but essential maintenance tasks such as changing passwords regularly and implementing firmware updates.

Perhaps one of the greatest tests of the network management software came in 2012 when the system was upgraded. The upgrade required an audit on all 1,000 nodes. In addition, close to 100 changes were implemented and checked.

The audit required a complete review of the network, starting with the layer 2 switches and following the network infrastructure throughout the facility. It checked switches, network backbone and firewall connections to the IT department. Each PLC's attachment to the network was verified, and the thousands of cables used for the deployment were checked for damage and accurately mapped.

"It took us eight days to complete the audit. If we had had to do it manually, it would have taken months, and even then we would not have been 100 percent sure the upgrade was complete. Industrial HiVision allowed us to manage the whole process with just a few clicks," said Mr. Khan.

Network Management Software for Remote Access and Monitoring

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Bashar Habib, Qatalum's head of IT infrastructure, can get an immediate status update on the network using Industrial HiVision's graphical interface. Photo courtesy of Qatalum.

The remote monitoring capabilities of Industrial HiVision were very appealing to Bashir Habib, head of IT infrastructure, at Qatalum. With seventeen separate units at the facility, the company often encounters cable crimping and transmission errors, such as cyclic redundancy check (CRC) errors. Many of these problems are difficult to find without the aid of a monitoring system.

Habib says, "A centralized industrial network management system is an important element in overall plant operation that allows Qatalum to consistently meet production goals."

At the scale of Qatalum, only automated component management using a NMS made sense. However, the benefits achieved apply equally to smaller projects.

NMS solutions generally provide a quick payback in terms of engineer productivity. When you factor in the benefits from improved reliability, auditing, and monitoring it makes sense to consider them when your Ethernet network develops from ad hoc to infrastructure.

Does your operation use network management software? If so, what are its greatest benefits or challenges. Let us know.

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