You will find that a vast majority of failures on industrial networks are as a result of signal transmission problem commonly associated with cable degradation or malfunction. So, there is every reason to understand the choices and options you have when choosing your industrial Ethernet cable including the material of the conductor. Whenever there is a downtime in the signal transmission, especially in mission critical networks, the loss can be huge. We are talking of thousands of dollars per hour lost in case of a power plant network failure. 

You can imagine the kind of loss you will experience when there is an outrage in a power plant that takes extended time to identify and fix. A damaged or inappropriate cable installed in a power plant’s Ethernet network can be difficult to work on when the network fails. 

So, should you use a copper conductor or fiber for the industrial Ethernet network connections?

Cable run lengths and data volume
If you are installing Ethernet cables to run a long distance and you expect to have a high data volume, you can go with fiber cable. But for shorter run lengths, you can opt for copper, then again make sure that the data rates are within the ranges specified for copper Ethernet cables. 

For instance, the data rates for copper are 100Mb/s for Category 5e and 1Gb/s for Category 6 cables. The maximum cable length is 100 meters. With fiber, the cable length can reach as high as 2000 meters and the data rate is 10Gb/s. 

External environment and stresses
Copper Ethernet cable is susceptible to electrical noise though the “Bonded-Pair” technology or shielding of the cable reduces that susceptibility. As for fiber, it is immune to electrical noise. In regard to spark hazard, copper is hazardous but fiber presents no spark hazard. In terms of weight, copper is heavier while fiber is lightweight, and this has an impact on the ease of installation. 

The aspect of durability is another important thing, and while copper’s durability can be improved by using the right jacket, fiber usually has a higher durability. So, you need to examine these features to see where you use copper and where you need to use fiber. 

The application
You need to know your applications so that you select the right cable, routers, switches, and firewalls for the Ethernet network. You may find that depending on your specific application, you can use either copper or fiber for the network connections.

The bottom line
For your industrial Ethernet network, you can consider fiber cable if you intend to have long runs carrying high volume data but for the short runs that will be carrying average data, copper can do the trick. Don’t forget to check the mechanical stress impact and environmental damages exposed to the cable. 

Belden Industrial Ethernet cables such as 7933A Multi-Conductor - Category 5e DataTuff® Twisted Pair Cableare designed to meet the network installations for different applications, environments, and data rates as well as cable run lengths. They feature the Bonded-Pair technology for longer life and signal integrity. These cables are made of bare copper conductors and an insulation made of polyolefin. The 7933A Multi-Conductor - Category 5e DataTuff cables have a overall Beldfoil shield and a PVC jacket for improved protection to counteract the hard environmental conditions.

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