Industrial Ethernet

Plug-and-Produce is Key for the Smart Factory of the Future – Part 3

Thomas Schoepf
Companies and countries around the world are competing to increase their market share in all manufacturing sectors. A key way to compete is to increase productivity, a measure of output compared to input, and it is improved through the use of digital technologies such as those of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

The German governments’ strategy for computerized manufacturing, Industrie 4.0, envisions smart factories that are interconnected and intelligent, producing only what’s needed. In these factories, the majority of control occurs at the field-level and utilizes “plug-and-produce” devices. These devices are simply turned on and presto!-they work.

In previous articles in this series, we looked at the trends driving the development of plug-and-produce products, the key benefits of them and some applications examples. We also reviewed the initial types of plug-and-produce devices and their characteristics.

Now let’s turn to the pitfalls to avoid when selecting field-level plug-and-produce products and the solutions that Belden offers for this next generation of manufacturing systems.

Industrie Plug-and-Produce

Industry requires compact field-level devices for cost effective and flexible manufacturing.

What Are the Key Criteria for Selecting Plug-and-Produce Solutions?

When automation projects move into the implementation stage there may be internal and external pressures to select and install a solution quickly. However, to avoid reliability issues post-installation, don’t overlook three critical quality factors.

1. Choose Standards-Based Solutions

Legacy systems built on proprietary technology limit product selection and integration options. This limitation has led vendors to create products that support industry standards, creating an avenue for interoperability and setting the stage for more progress.

Thus, whenever possible, choose a solution that supports popular industrial Ethernet protocols such as PROFINET, EtherNet/IP and EtherCAT

2. Choose Metal Housing Instead of Plastic Housing

It’s difficult to choose the right housing because many products come in a wide-range of protective coatings and casings, each suited for different applications. However, a fundamental and important choice is to select metal housing over plastic housing. Here’s why:

  • It makes the module mechanically robust.
  • It enhances performance as the body protects the internal components from environmental extremes.
  • It makes connections easier and more reliable through the use of screw-type connectors.

In addition, don’t believe the misconception that metal housing is expensive. The thought that plastic is cheaper and lighter prevails, when in practice, the weight of a module is not determined by the chassis, but by the molding – and all internal moldings are made with a plastic compound.

3. Choose Products with Mechanical Switches for Protocol Selection

Some products utilize software to determine which protocol is used, but selection is easier and more reliable when done via a mechanical switch. Protocols vary greatly by application and region. Active I/O modules loaded with multiple protocols in one device – and therefore capable of operating in different network systems – make it easy to design and use the same machine in both Europe and the United States.


These multi-protocol active I/O modules are highly reliable and flexible thanks to their metal housings, support for today’s Ethernet protocols and simple mechanical switches for protocol selection.

What is Belden’s Field-Level Solution?

Belden and its Lumberg Automation group have developed a field-level system solution built on plug-and-produce principles called the LioN- Power System. It is ideal for engineers who face space and budget constraints plus greater power and performance requirements.

The suite of products works seamlessly together to enable system-side interoperability. The product family includes:

The LioN-Power Active I/O Modules

These all-in-one I/O modules support both the PROFINET and EtherNet/IP protocols and their very different power components. Their multi-protocol ability reduces the number of stock items or spares needed.

The devices can be installed directly on machinery in longer daisy chains, eliminating excess wiring costs thanks to:

  • Reduced weight and size
  • Robust IP67/69K ratings
  • 16 amp power feed

Overall, this product’s features make it cost effective, easy-to-handle and flexible.

The LioN-Power DCUs (Distributed Control Units)

These devices perform a range of functions – from simple logical operations to solving more complex control problems. The various models available can operate either as standalone controllers or in collaboration with a central PLC. If used with a central PLC the DCUs reduce both the workload on the PLC and bus communication.

M12 Power Connectors

Compact M12 power connectors are an efficient solution that utilizes cables from 1.5mm² up to 2.5 mm² to transmit at high power levels for long distances. These new M12 connectors (S?, L?, K? or T?coded) simplify cabling efforts and save significant space on the device compared to conventional 7/8?inch connectors.

M8 5-pole B-coded Cordsets

These cordsets provide exceptional handling capabilities and, along with their extended power range, they ensure very high reliability and easy field installation. In addition to having an IP65 rating (for snap connectors) and up to an IP69K rating (screw-type versions), they meet the highest global industry standards.


Belden’s compact plug-and-produce field-level devices have been miniaturized 
thanks to new M8/M12 connectors.

One-Stop Industrial Connectivity Solutions for the IIoT

When selecting plug-and-produce products for the next generation of manufacturing systems, be sure to carefully consider the areas that contribute to high reliability. These include support for multiple industry standard protocols, the ease of protocol selection and the availability of modules with metal housing.

Also, select a suite of products that work together seamlessly, such as Belden’s LioN- Power System for system-side interoperability.

For more information on designing compact field level networking and control infrastructure that will help your organization realize the efficiencies and flexibility of Industrie 4.0, download the white paper available below.

Are you using any plug-and-produce solutions now? Are they reducing costs? I look forward to hearing from you.

Related Links

IIoT / Smart Factory Resources

Belden Connectivity Products