What is The Difference Between Industrial Gateways and Routers

Introduction

Overview of Industrial Networking Equipment

The growth of the Industrial IIoT has led to an increasing need for reliable and secure networking equipment to connect industrial assets, systems and data flows. Two of the most common types of networking equipment used in IIoT environments are industrial gateways and routers.

An industrial network typically consists of various equipment, controllers, sensors, actuators and other devices that need to communicate with each other and with back-end IT systems. The network enables real-time data exchange and industrial control automation. Gateways and routers play a crucial role in enabling this connected infrastructure.

Industrial gateways act as protocol translators, connecting industrial devices and controllers that use different protocols and allowing them to communicate seamlessly over a network. Industrial routers route data between different parts of a network, determining the optimal pathways for efficient data transmission.

Purpose of comparing industrial gateways and routers

With the rise of Industry 4.0, manufacturing facilities need to determine what type of networking equipment best suits their requirements. Understanding the differences between gateways and routers is essential for selecting the right components to build a robust and future-ready industrial network.

This article provides an in-depth comparison between the two technologies. It covers their key features, benefits, and use cases where one may be better suited than the other. The aim is to help industry professionals choose the right networking equipment for their specific needs and deployment scenarios.

Alotcer Gateways and routers

Industrial Routers

Function and purpose

Industrial routers serve as the backbone for connecting various nodes and networks in an industrial facility. Their primary function is to determine the best path for routing data packets between different parts of the network infrastructure.

Key roles performed by industrial routers:

  • Forward data packets between subnets and VLANs
  • Provide layer 3 IP routing capabilities
  • Route data traffic between the local industrial network and corporate IT network
  • Enable secure VPN tunnels between remote locations
  • Prioritize network traffic based on application-criticality

By optimizing traffic flow, industrial routers improve network performance and ensure fast, reliable data exchanges on the plant floor. This is crucial for time-sensitive industrial control applications.

Key features

Industrial routers come with specialized features to meet the performance, reliability and security needs of industrial environments.

IP routing – Industrial routers provide dynamic layer 3 routing capabilities to route data based on IP addressing information. This enables effective traffic management across complex network topologies.

Networking options – Different networking interfaces like Ethernet, serial, fiber optic, cellular, and industrial fieldbus ports allow the router to connect diverse devices and networks.

Security – Built-in VPN, firewalls, NAT, ACLs help protect industrial networks from cyberattacks. Authentication and encryption prevent unauthorized access.

Rugged hardware – Industrial routers can withstand harsh plant floor conditions like dust, high temperatures and vibration. Redundant components ensure high uptime.

Benefits

Some key benefits provided by industrial routers:

Enhanced network security – Routers provide a boundary between the industrial network and external connections. Firewalls, VPN and ACLs restrict unauthorized access from outside.

Cellular networking capabilities – Built-in cellular modules enable connecting remote assets wirelessly over cellular networks like GSM, 3G/4G LTE, 5G for IoT applications.

Fault tolerance – Redundant power supplies, modular design, and other reliability features allow 99.999% uptime. Easy failure recovery avoids downtime.

Centralized monitoring – Network administrators can monitor routers centrally via industrial Ethernet and modify settings remotely.

Application visibility and control – Traffic shaping capabilities based on Layer-4 info enables control over application performance.

Industrial Cellular Mobile Router

Industrial Gateways

Two main types: transparent transmission and cloud gateways

Industrial gateways serve as protocol translators, allowing devices with different protocols to interoperate. Gateways provide a unified communication interface for connected devices.

There are two main types of industrial gateways:

Transparent transmission gateways – Used for protocol conversion between industrial devices and seamless data transfer.

Cloud/edge computing gateways – Offer additional analytics, data processing and IIoT platform connectivity at the edge.

Transparent transmission gateways

These basic industrial gateways focus on the reliable transmission of field data to higher-level networks through protocol translation and optical isolation.

Protocol conversion

A key function of transparent gateways is protocol conversion between industrial automation protocols like Modbus, Profinet, EtherNet/IP, EtherCAT, CC-Link and IT/OT protocols like Ethernet/IP and OPC UA. This enables interoperability between controllers, sensors and actuators that support different protocols.

Fast reliable transmission

Transparent gateways feature optical isolation and signal conversion between field devices and higher-level networks. This ensures reliable transmission of industrial data upstream without any loss or distortion.

Compact, easy-to-deploy

Transparent field gateways feature a compact form factor and DIN rail mounting option making them easy to install in control cabinets near field devices. Simple configuration allows quick commissioning.

Edge computing gateways

In contrast to simple data transmission, these industrial IoT gateways provide value-added capabilities:

Local data processing

Edge computing gateways allow the preprocessing and analysis of raw data from industrial assets locally at the gateway itself before transmission. This filtering and aggregation improves bandwidth utilization.

Open platform for customization

Gateways provide an open software platform to run third-party applications and custom scripts right on the gateway. This enables localized and customized analytics.

Enhanced analytics and response time

By processing data at the edge, the gateways enable faster analytics and reduce response times for time-critical automation decisions. Closed-loop control is also possible.

AR7091G Industrial IoT Edge Gateway Devices

Key Differences between Industrial Gateways and Routers

While both routers and gateways play important roles in industrial networks, they serve different primary functions:

Routers: Set optimal paths for data transmission

The core functionality of an industrial router is determining the fastest path to route data from source to destination on a network. Routers maintain dynamic routing tables and make packet forwarding decisions to avoid network congestion and latency.

Gateways: Protocol conversion and single access point

Industrial gateways provide protocol translation services to enable connectivity between heterogeneous devices. Gateways also act as a single consolidated data access point from the plant floor to higher-level enterprise or cloud applications.

Some other key differences:

  • Data handling: Routers simply transmit data packets without modifying payload contents. Gateways may transform data for protocol compatibility.
  • Network positioning: Routers sit between network segments. Gateways reside at the network edge and interface with field devices.
  • Security: Routers have built-in security features. Transparent gateways rely on perimeter security. Cloud gateways offer endpoint security.
  • Features: Routers focus on data routing and networking capabilities. Gateways offer protocol conversion, data aggregation, edge analytics etc.

Choosing the Right Equipment

Consider specific networking needs and use cases

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when selecting industrial networking equipment. The choice depends on understanding the specific requirements like:

  • Number and types of connected devices
  • Industrial protocols being used
  • Data flows between network zones
  • Need for edge computing capabilities

The use cases should dictate whether an industrial router, gateway or both are required.

Routers for efficient data routing

Companies with complex networked systems spanning multiple locations may benefit most from industrial routers. Routers optimize and speed up data transfers across the organization.

Gateways for protocol conversion and edge computing

Industrial gateways suit applications with legacy devices using incompatible protocols. Gateways also make sense for localized analytics and time-critical control.

Many IIoT architectures employ both gateways and routers on separate network layers to fulfill distinct connectivity and routing needs.

Conclusion

Summary of key differences

Routers prioritize dynamic routing of data across networks. Gateways allow multi-protocol connectivity via translation services. While routers focus on network traffic management, gateways enable edge analytics and legacy device integration.

Understanding these differences allows organizations to architect more efficient and flexible IIoT systems by matching the right equipment to their specific needs. A combination of reliable routing with protocol mediation and edge intelligence helps extract maximum value from industrial data.

As industrial networks become larger and more complex, choosing purpose-built networking components that optimize data flows and analysis is critical for operational efficiency, production optimization and effective decision-making.

FAQ

Q: What is the main difference between a router and a gateway?

A: The core function of a router is determining the optimal path to forward data packets between network points. A gateway provides protocol translation to enable connectivity between devices and applications using different protocols and data formats.

Q: When should I use a router versus a gateway?

A: Use routers when you primarily need to connect and reliably route data between different parts of a network. Use gateways when you need to integrate legacy industrial systems and multi-vendor devices using different protocols.

Q: What features should I look for when selecting a router or gateway?

A: Key features for industrial routers include routing protocols, security, redundancy, and traffic prioritization capabilities. For gateways, look for support for required industrial protocols, edge analytics, isolation and sufficient I/O interface options.

Q: How do routers provide security compared to gateways?

A: Routers offer built-in security features like firewalls, VPN tunnels, NAT and ACLs to protect network zones. Transparent gateways rely more on perimeter security of the overall network. Cloud gateways can leverage endpoint authentication, data encryption etc.

Q: Can routers and gateways be used together?

A: Absolutely. Combining industrial routers and gateways provides optimal connectivity, integration and edge intelligence within complex IIoT environments. Gateways interface with field devices while routers efficiently manage and route data flows between network segments.

Case Studies

Manufacturing Company Gains Real-Time Production Insights with Edge Gateways

Acme Manufacturing struggled with low visibility into factory operations due to their legacy systems and multiple industrial automation protocols. By deploying a set of multi-protocol edge gateways, they were able to aggregate real-time data from various production lines into a central analytics platform.

The edge gateways processed and translated data from PLCs, CNC machines, robotics and sensors into a unified format for cloud-based analysis. Local data caching ensured uptime during network issues. Overall, the gateways unlocked 30% faster insights into production flaws, enabling rapid corrective actions.

Oil and Gas Firm Implements Industrial VPN Routers to Secure SCADA Communications

Texoma Oil & Gas managed their pipelines via a distributed SCADA architecture spanning remote terminal units and control centers. They needed to secure their operational network from increasingly sophisticated cyber threats.

By leveraging cellular industrial routers with built-in VPN technology at their remote sites, Texoma established encrypted tunnels between field assets and control centers. Network access control lists restricted traffic to authorized SCADA protocols only.

The secure industrial routing capabilities reduced Texoma’s cyberattack risks significantly while ensuring reliable real-time monitoring of oil & gas pipelines.