Smart Solutions for Tough Environments

RuggedCom

RuggedCom out of Concord Ontario is a corporation that possesses such technology. The company has pioneered and developed tools that have become staples in the communications equipment industry. We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Joerg Freitag, RuggedCom’s General Manager, and Jim Slinowsky, Vice President of Marketing, about this specialized equipment and why it is so important and necessary.

11 years ago, RuggedCom was launched to close a gap in the utility communications market. Marzio Pozzuoli identified the gap after he had developed a new protection relay. This new relay had an ethernet communications link built in to enable the elimination of significant portions of the point to point copper wiring found in electric power substations. An ethernet switch that met the IEC61850-3 environmental and survivability requirements was necessary to allow widespread adoption of the new ethernet based protection relays, however this technology was not yet available. Marzio decided to build a business around such a switch. Funded by the founders’ personal resources and one round of venture capitalist funding, RuggedCom grew, posting double digit growth each subsequent year.

In that time, the company’s product portfolio grew from a single switch to the broadest selection of substation communications solutions available from any company anywhere. “The consistent growth was delivered based on the electric utility customers needs,” explains Joerg, “starting with products specifically designed to meet the IEC61850-3 standard, continuing with short order to delivery intervals for built to order products.” Add to that 24/7 customer support and a five year warranty standard on all products. This warranty was unique, and has certainly set a high benchmark for anyone who wants to compete in the substation market.

RuggedCom provides products and solutions that support mission critical ethernet communications within harsh environments. These products are used in electric power substations, distribution grids, oil rigs, navy ships, railways and in intelligent transportation systems. “They use our products because they are extremely reliable and perform at their best when the environmental conditions around them are at their worst,” explains Joerg, “from -40°C to 85°C.”

North America is one of RuggedCom’s major markets, but it also sells its products to many other areas, including Europe and Asia. Currently, RuggedCom is the leader in ethernet communications for electric power substation automation. A very strong focus is on the electric power market. “There are a number of companies that are trying to enter this market but there are high barriers to entry and our strongest competitive asset is the customer that has used our product over many years, and is very happy with the reliability and performance of those products. We have received six consecutive Deloitte Fast 50 awards for growth in the technology sector in Canada. It is nice to be recognized in the industry but the most important form of recognition is repeat business from a happy customer.”

Siemens acquired RuggedCom in March of 2012. RuggedCom’s switches and routers are market leaders in electric power substations and other critical infrastructure; Siemens is a market leader in industrial automation and network components. The acquisition, then, enables Siemens and RuggedCom to bring to market the most comprehensive range of products for its clients’ communications needs. “Siemens has a huge sales network in the industrial business, and we definitely profit from this global set up,” says Joerg.

RuggedCom is highly active within the electric power industry, working hard to establish strong relationships with utilities and OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers), and has helped to move the standardization process forward. “This is quite important, especially for IEC61850, and to implement an IEC61850-3 compliant switch. Also to develop an IEEE1613 Class 2 compliant switch, which means no packet loss under high stress, particularly high EMI (Electromagnetic Interference) conditions.” These are all pioneering efforts the company has made in the broader industry.

RuggedCom has also implemented an enhanced network recovery protocol in its switches, called eRSTP (enhanced Rapid Spanning Tree Protocol), that massively reduces the time for networks built with the company’s products to recover from a fault. More recently, the team has developed a product line of 4G broadband wireless products that are ideally suited for utilities, transport, public safety, and defence related private radio networks. “There is a market out there for a product that can extend ethernet wirelessly over a large area, is simple to deploy (no added core network infrastructure) and is cost effective,” explains Jim.

In addition, RuggedCom is on the leading edge in delivering ethernet solutions to the substation and defence markets by shipping HSR/PRP based products that improve network reliability; the team is currently developing a number of other products and solutions (which, understandably, cannot be discussed in detail just yet). Suffice it to say that further innovations are yet to come and innovation is a key component to success in this competitive business.

The company services some other core markets as well – critical rail communications, intelligent transportation systems and defence applications. Its “RuggedMax” portfolio allows the team to offer efficient, high performance broadband extended range private radio solutions across all of the markets it services. “The very nature of our value proposition to our markets dictates that pretty much all of our products are deployed in locations with significant environmental performance challenges. In terms of difficult logistics, I would cite the implementation of communications systems on the railways of the Himalayas [as a particular challenge]. That would take the prize! [Our products are] used to make communications possible in all the different areas of the railway, including during emergencies.”

Naturally, RuggedCom’s products are designed to meet various stringent environmental requirements. The military standard, for example, imposes certain temperature and vibration resiliency requirements. The company has successfully met such requirements, resulting in its products M2100, M2200, M969 and MX5000 RE, “which went through very stringent testing by the U.S. Navy and is now approved for deployment on any ship class in any application. We are very proud of this, as you might imagine.” These products are used primarily to ensure that all parts of the ship are able to communicate with one another. “Open channels of communication are paramount,” explains Joerg. “Not one single telegram can be lost.”

To better serve its clientele, RuggedCom is also entering into the software sector. “We at RuggedCom are dedicated to helping the utility customer and one means of doing this is by providing secure access to IEDs (Intelligent Electronic Devices) deployed in utility networks with a product called CROSSBOW,” Jim explains. “Another is by providing a means for utilities to deploy IEDs from multiple vendors and still be able to communicate with these devices with a single SCADA system, done via a product called eLAN. We are also trying to meet the needs of smaller utilities with our REFLEX product which provides data visualization capabilities for accessing the data made available via eLAN.”

Indeed, RuggedCom possesses all the elements necessary to be an industry leader. It is remarkable to reflect upon the company’s launch, with one simple switch solution, and subsequent growth into such broad areas. When Siemens acquired RuggedCom it went from a modest respected enterprise to a behemoth of integrated systems solutions for the communications equipment industry – yet the company is not content to rest on its laurels. Continued research and development will always be par for the course for this innovative business. As Joerg explains, “Using innovative communications systems within all different applications and projects is crucial for all of our customers in order to remain competitive in the future.”

November 19, 2017, 3:38 AM EST