For the last 25 years, Weyburn Inland Terminal Ltd. (WIT) has embraced rather than weighed the risks that come with any new technological implementation. With a history of deploying new and upcoming technologies, the Weyburn, Sask.-based company says it has been successful in virtually every venture it has attempted. So, it was only natural that when WIT decided it was time to replace its existing copper-based network infrastructure, that it seek a relatively new type of solution.
With the help of business partner Southeastern Computer Solutions, a network and computer consulting firm also in Weyburn, WIT came to the decision that a fibre-based network was the best bet to ensure greater network flexibility well into the future.
WIT, a farmer-owned and farmer-managed company, operates an inland terminal and grain complex designed with grain cleaning, drying, storing and shipping capabilities. With the recent construction of a new office building on the company’s site, WIT and Southeastern opted for London, Ont.-based 3M Canada’s Volition Network Solution.
According to 3M, Volition is an end-to-end fibre-optic network solution for Ethernet networks. The system consists of a backbone, horizontal fibre ports and media converters and also includes VF-45 connectors – a two-part interconnect made up of a plug and socket. The VF-45 connector takes approximately two minutes to install and terminates two fibres at once, 3M says.
“The main reason for going with fibre was the distance issue – being able to get over the limitations of copper,” says Aaron Rubin, president of Southeastern. “Depending on the certification of the (copper) wire, you are restricted to distance before you start to pick up interference. With fibre, the distances are a lot greater. Fibre’s bandwidth (is also) far greater than copper’s.”
Rubin says that WIT narrowed the search for the best solution down to three possible options: Cat 5e, Cat 6 and 3M’s fibre-optic solution. He says that Cat 5e copper would have likely been the next-best option in terms of cost, but it was still unable to cover the same distance as the Volition system. Cat 6 was developed as the affordable step in between Cat 5e and fibre, but has not yet been proven to cover distance.
“At the time, (Volition) was the most affordable, and their patch ports were a lot more durable than the original patch ports that have been on the market,” Rubin says. “The product was also fairly simple to deploy. The VF-47 (connectors) are one modular end, so you just plug into the jack and it’s good to go. The 3M Volition product seemed a little hokey (to others in the industry) because it was too simple.”
According to Bunny Bailey, WIT’s system administrator, the company wanted a solution that was more efficient than the previous copper-based system.
“What we had previously was a building that had been there for close to 20 years,” Bailey says. “The wiring had just been thrown together and run here and there over time. We were looking to have a brand new install into a brand new building. For us, (fibre) is the wave of the future and we thought we may as well go to the expense and do it now versus trying to … change it a few years down the road.”
The installation ran smoothly with only a few bumps in the road, Rubin says. He notes that one of the challenges was the company’s environment.
“With fibre, cleanliness is an extreme issue,” he says. “This is a grain elevator. Because of the gravel roads and the movement of the grain there is an extreme amount of dust out there. The fibre has been very hearty as far as surviving the environment. We had a couple of hurdles where some of the jacks had gotten dirty, but 3M had a solution for this. (They offer) a spray that you can use to clean your jacks and cables.”
Rubin says he was impressed with 3M’s commitment to the quality of its products. He explains that in once instance a piece of the electronic equipment failed. 3M flew out a replacement product the next day.
“We were pleased because we didn’t have any major hurdles,” says Rob Davies, CEO of WIT. “We are comfortable with what we have today as well as the flexibility we will have going forward.”
So far, Davies says the fibre network has been deployed in the office, but the grain elevator areas still run on copper. He says the company plans to have the fibre solution deployed throughout the entire site, but no date has been set for completion.
The process of laying fibre in the new office building took WIT a total of approximately three months from the research stage to the final installation.
“We are very satisfied,” Bailey says. “Any changes you make you’ll always have the bumps and bruises but the end result is looking very fine. We have put a lot of onus on Southeastern Computer Solutions and 3M and they have, in turn, done very well.”
For details on the Volition Network Solution, visit 3M at www.3M.com.