Commercial vs Industrial Grade Cabling: What’s the Difference?

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More and more, Albertan businesses are relying on connectivity to get the job done on time.  This won’t happen without a reliable Ethernet infrastructure.

You should know from the beginning that not all cables are created equally.  You have commercial-grade products, which you would find in an office environment or at home, and industrial-grade, which would be used in harsher environments like chemical plants, lumber mills, and refineries.

Generally speaking, industrial ethernet cables are more expensive than their commercial counterparts.  And, to keep costs down, business and facility managers can be tempted to gamble and try their luck with the cheaper option.  As you can probably guess, going that way can lead to significant, even disastrous, consequences.

So, here are some of the differences between commercial and industrial cabling, and why they matter.  If you have any questions, Contact Us. anytime.  Our Engineers, Cabling Technicians, and Account Managers are here to help.


Protection from Environmental Hazards


Commercial and industrial ethernet cables are both wrapped a sheath generally referred to as a ‘jacket’.  The purpose of the jacket is to protect the data cabling inside from environmental factors like dirt, dust, oil, water, and chemicals Often, material like Polyurethane (PUR) and Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) are commonly used in the construction of industrial ethernet cabling because they can take a lot more punishment than the Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) material used for commercial cabling jackets.

Spend a few minutes thinking about the environmental conditions between industrial and commercial or residential environments, and the need for extra protection will be clear.  In places like refineries, mills, and manufacturing plants, cabling can be exposed to a range of extremes.  High (or very low) temperatures, dust, and chemical spills are all factors that can wear on a cable, break it down, and render it useless. Even heavy vibration (caused by the operation of nearby machinery) can damage a cable.  The vibration can lead to abrasions on the jacket, which will eventually leave the internally wiring vulnerable.

If commercial-grade cabling were used, the PVC jackets would quickly fail, leaving the internal wiring unprotected.  They would be completely exposed to the harsh environment of your worksite, and degraded network performance (if not outright failure) would be imminent.

Industrial grade ethernet cabling is not susceptible to the same risk because the jackets are highly resistant to spills, heat, cold, and abrasion (friction, cuts, etc.).  While they aren’t invulnerable, they won’t break down and fail nearly as easily.


Minimizing Signal Transmission Delays


In commercial or residential environments, getting information in real-time can be a valuable tool, but it isn’t always critical.

Networks transmit data in packets, and, at times, data packets are lost and need to be re-transmitted.  This can result in a delay of a few seconds, meaning the information won’t arrive when it was expected (a concept referred to as determinism).

This delay occurs because of the way ethernet networks transit information.  In a nutshell, there is the potential for data packets to ‘collide’ as they are transmitted across the network. After all, with multiple users and devices accessing the network at all times.  When a collision occurs, a data packet has to be re-transmitted, leading to a slight delay.

In commercial networks, this may mean the document you sent to the printer could take longer to print, delays or lag in a video conference, or temporary issues accessing a shared drive on the corporate network.   While these delays may be frustrating in commercial and residential settings, they can be detrimental in industrial applications.

Consider how much activity in a manufacturing plant or a refinery relies on automation.  While a delayed data packet won’t mean much in a commercial setting, it could result in a delayed, automated, security alert, or fire alarm in an industrial setting.  It could also lead to delays in production and a drop in overall product quality.  Because of the need for determinism, industrial ethernet cables and networks are designed to negate the risk of data packet collisions.  While this does come at an added expense, the benefits (and site requirements) make it worth the investment.


Shielding from Electromagnetic Noise


Whether you’re working in a commercial or an industrial setting, know that there is an EM (electromagnetic) noise to deal with.

Electronic devices, whether they are printers in the office or machinery on the factory floor, generate an electromagnetic field.  If these fields come into contact with your ethernet cables, it can disrupt the flow of data, causing delays in the transmission of information.  In an office setting, this can mean anything from longer wait times to print a document to difficulty accessing a shared drive on the company server.  In an industrial environment (where automation is part of the day-to-day business), it can mean miscommunication between pieces of equipment, leading to production mistakes, alarm delays, and a range of other potentially serious issues.

Shielding is one method cable manufactures use to mitigate RF and EM interference, and there are three approaches: using foil, braiding the wires, and a combination of both.

Foil is the most common method.  It is effective at blocking out higher frequencies, and it is used in both commercial and industrial cabling applications.  But industrial ethernet cable design goes a step further and braids pairs of the internal wires together.  The braid makes the cable less susceptible to interference from nearby devices that emit lower frequencies (like motors).  Often, industrial cable manufacturers combine both methods.

Protection from lower frequencies isn’t as necessary in commercial environments, and the steps taken to provide that protection can add considerable cost to your cabling.  However, while the less expensive, less protected option might work in an office or residential environment, it could quickly fall short in industrial workplaces that have a wider range of machinery in use and a wider range of EMI being generated.


Getting Started


Those are some of the differences between commercial and industrial grade ethernet cabling, but as you might expect, there are more.  For example, different, more rugged connectors are generally required in industrial settings, and so is a higher level of shielding around those connectors, as well as patch panels.

Because commercial and industrial-grade cables come at different price points and (more importantly) provide different standards of performance, you must know what your facility needs before you buy.  Make a decision based solely on price and could find yourself paying for it with repeated maintenance and constant downtime.  On the other hand, buy cabling that provides far more protection than you need, and you’ll be spending money unnecessarily.

The engineers and cabling technicians at Tridon are here to help you make the right choice and to ensure that your cabling layout is designed and installed so that it supports your network needs, long term.  If you have any questions, just Contact Us. We’re here to help.

Tridon is a full solution Telecom Systems Integrator with CSA certification and licensed by APEGA.  Our Engineering, Service, and Tower Divisions collaborate with customers to build engineered solutions including communications systems design, tower inspections, and co-location, wireless broadband, fiber optic cabling, site security, and two-way radio communication.

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