Rugged communications for distribution automation

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Get the complete big picture of the state of your grid

With the growing trend toward optimizing energy efficiency and delivery, distribution automation is rapidly becoming the latest requirement for utility-grade communications and smart grid technology.

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Utility challenges

A cost-effective investment for grid modernization challenges

The digitization of monitoring and control systems offers granular, real-time visibility into system operations, asset performance, and health. Our extensive portfolio of network communications technologies provides reliable connectivity between the installed assets and the control centers. The network solutions support legacy serial communications systems to preserve value and provides advanced digital communications – including wired and wireless connectivity. Designed for the harshest environments, our components meet or exceed the industry’s highest specifications.

One of the important functions of distribution automation is called FDIR (fault detection, isolation, and restoration). It detects faulty segment in a distribution line then isolates the fault by performing topology changes in the distribution grid (opening and closing specific circuit breakers) – and finally restoring the initial topology once it is confirmed that the faulty condition has been eliminated. In the pre-digital era, when a fault occurred on a feeder, a repair crew had to be dispatched to the field and manually open and close circuit breakers to restore the grid. It could take up to several hours to complete the operation. In modern digital grids, it is expected that an automated FDIR algorithm will detect and isolate the faulty segment within 100 milliseconds or less. Such performance is possible with the use of a distributed architecture with Intelligent Electronic Devices (IEDs) using communications to exchange their status via IEC 61850 fast GOOSE messaging. There are many examples in the world where Siemens industrial wireless communications, both public LTE and private broadband wireless, helped to achieve the self-healing grid.

In large-scale deployments, it is very important to avoid making decisions based exclusively on the initial price of the solution (CAPEX). A more appropriate selection is made by taking into account total cost of ownership, and this always includes OPEX. In order to minimize OPEX, and therefore optimize the total cost of ownership, the solution should incorporate robust industrial-grade solutions that will operate reliably in adverse conditions for many years without needing repairs or replacements. Selecting solutions that exceed industry standards and feature long product lifecycles and high MTBF values (mean time between failures) is one way to protect your ROI.

Depending on the geographical region and population density, there may not be a fiber-optic or similar wired telecommunications infrastructure to interconnect devices in the secondary distribution grid. Wireless communications are a natural choice in this case, however, there is a broad range of wireless technologies to choose from. It is obvious there is no “one solution fits all” in terms of wireless communications. Depending on economic and technical criteria, a choice has to be made between private wireless networks and public cellular networks. Private wireless communications like 4G private broadband offer greater reliability, high security, and OPEX optimization, while public cellular networks are attractive because of lower CAPEX, faster deployments and good coverage in most areas. What is clear, however, is that the solution should be standard based, interoperable, scalable and support multi-service network infrastructure.

When designing the network for distribution automation, it is important to look closely at the requirements of the different applications that will use the communications architecture. The requirements should include:

  • the number of nodes to be supported
  • type of communications interfaces (like Ethernet, RS-232 serial) 
  • required reliability 
  • necessary data bandwidth 
  • maximum tolerated latency 
  • network redundancy options 
  • time synchronization protocols 
  • need to support multicast traffic 
  • need to restrict data flows to specific locations or devices
  • monitoring and self-diagnostic requirements.


In order to ensure scalability, the solutions shall include a powerful set of Layer 2 and Layer 3 communications protocols. Siemens Professional Services certified networking experts can assist during the design, engineering and commissioning phases. Additionally, Siemens offers a broad range of certification trainings for industrial communications.


For more on Professional Services for Industrial Networks, click here

More and more utilities are developing strategies for migrating their applications to the latest IT architectures that use edge or cloud computing. Cloud platforms create opportunities for ubiquitous connectivity to assets, data analytics, improved monitoring, predictive maintenance, and more. A big advantage of a cloud-based system is increased competitiveness thanks to a rich ecosystem of applications and services that allow the use of new business models. Those systems should be based on standardized open IoT protocols to avoid vendor lock-in. In addition, edge computing gives companies the ability to move intelligence and data processing closer to the field and process levels. Both cloud and edge increase flexibility and scalability by facilitating easy service provision. Modern communications multi-service platforms such as RUGGEDCOM RX1400 with Virtual Processing Engine (VPE) or RUGGEDCOM RX1500 family with APE1808 are examples of Smart Communications Nodes with edge computing capabilities and cloud connectivity. They are a powerful solution, ideal for running third-party applications.


Learn more about the application processing engine RUGGEDCOM APE1808


Learn more about the multi-protocol intelligent node RUGGEDCOM VPE1400 


Application example

No matter what the need and application – distribution automation requires reliable communications. Click on the information buttons to learn more.

Substation Automation

Reliable communication in substation automation enables stable flow of electricity

Distribution SCADA

Provides visibility of the current status of the grid in the control center

Volt/VAR Optimization

Provides visibility of the current status of the grid in the control center

Substation Backhaul

Connectivity for DERs, reclosers, capacitor banks and voltage regulators

AMI Backhaul

Interconnects last-mile AMI infrastructure to the utility WAN and control center

Fault Location, Isolation, and Service Restoration

Enabling a self-healing power distribution grid

Mobile Workforce

Connectivity to grid equipment for mobile workforce

Featured Products

Products for distribution automation

Our communications solutions for distribution automation help improve the reliability and availability of power distribution grids.

Winner of the 2018 Red Dot award for industrial design, this family of compact, Gigabit IEEE 1588 compliant Ethernet switches are tested and certified to withstand extreme environments.

RUGGEDCOM RX1400 is a multi-protocol intelligent node which combines Ethernet switching, routing and application hosting capabilities with various wide area connectivity options.

The RUGGEDCOM RX1500 family of modular Layer 2 and Layer 3 switches and routers offers WAN, serial or Ethernet connectivity options.

Ideally suited for providing data communication to and from remote locations, this mobile wireless router offers 4G LTE connectivity and automatic fallback to 3G UMTS or EVDO cellular networks.

SCALANCE M includes mobile wireless routers and routers for wired communication. The routers have been proven in a variety of applications that require industrial remote access.

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Facts and figures

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Reduction in field repair time

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Savings on maintenance efforts

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Remote-access savings compared with on-site services

Siemens components provide increased productivity combined with reduced operational cost.


Rugged Communications in practice

3G modems allow for secure communications between remote substations and the control center for the reliable power supply of 1.5 million people in northeastern Oman.
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