on May 19th, 2010

We Need Your Help: We are looking for a range of solutions for troubleshooting industrial data communications and networking systems and some critical safety hints for working with fiber.

A slight wrinkle to my normal newsletter: We are in the throes of constructing a list of troubleshooting tips and tricks for working with industrial data communications systems. We did this a few years back with electrical safety and received a tremendous response from everyone. (Interestingly it was noted that there were dramatic and often unacceptable discrepancies in electrical safety standards when operating on a mine in the middle of the Congo compared with those practiced in the more pristine surrounds of London).

If you can send your troubleshooting tips and tricks, along with the problems you have encountered (in (industrial) data communications and networking systems), I will acknowledge all your contributions and ensure we provide a complete guide in our next newsletter based on all your suggestions.

Typical problems include:

• Grounding/Earthing the shield of a data communications cable at one end only
• Ensuring the terminating resistor is installed for a RS-485 system
• Watching out for common voltage problems with RS-485
• Switch problems with Ethernet
• Noise and interference problems with Ethernet at RJ-45 connector due to excessive untwisting of pairs
• Poll response problems with Modbus protocols on a radio telemetry system

Send your contributions in soon so that we can publish a comprehensive list of problems and troubleshooting tips in next week’s newsletter. Remember all submissions are relevant – whether you consider them big and significant or small and fairly trivial.

Working with fiber or fibre (for my Commonwealth friends)

Fiber usage is growing fast and will be familiar to anyone working in industrial plant installation (especially when working in industrial automation). Its employment has offered many brilliant solutions; it allows data communications systems to run at high speed, facilitates the avoidance of electrical interference and provides electrical isolation (compared with traditional copper cable).

There is, however, a general lack of appreciation for how dangerous fiber usage can be. These range from damage to eyes to massive internal bleeding when the microscopic fibers are ingested in error. Some really great safety tips can be found on the Fiber Optic Association website: (http://www.thefoa.org/SafetyPoster.pdf). I have summarised the key points below:

• No matter how low the fiber source power is; do not ever look into the end of a fiber cable. NEVER with a microscope. Test with a powermeter first.
• Wash your hands thoroughly before touching anything personal (especially your eyes) and keep all foodstuffs well away from your fiber work area
• Dispose of all fiber scraps into a clearly marked container. Thoroughly clean your area and ensure all fibers have been removed.
• Work on black mats and use disposable lab aprons if possible.
• Wear safety glasses with side shields to protect your eyes from fiber shards.
• Ensure you have top notch ventilation when working.
• Keep combustible materials well away from fusion splicers and curing ovens.

Bob Edwards’ remark is a truism generally, but is certainly relevant here with regards to fiber usage: A little learning is a dangerous thing but a lot of ignorance is just as bad.

Yours in engineering learning



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