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Intelligent MCCs fundamentals

What makes a motor control center (MCC) intelligent?

Motor control centers provide monitoring and control for the operation of a collection of electrical loads. When integrated with communications and smart devices, this equipment becomes intelligent – enabling actionable insight into the power system. Intelligent MCCs allow you to easily access data, make more informed decisions, and control the MCC to optimize facility, process and power system performance.    

Intelligent MCCs are characterized by open, secure communications and interoperability with building and facility systems to: 

  • Deliver immediate access to detailed information that enhances asset management when you need it, where you need it 
  • Provide precise control and monitoring through intelligent devices
  • Easily integrate with new and legacy systems using any of the major industrial protocols  

Engineers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), contractors, and facility and maintenance managers use intelligent motor control centers to accelerate project timelines, reduce costs, enhance personnel safety and gain valuable insight into plant operations. Communications, real-time and historical power system data, and ability to access information from the MCC remotely provide a new level of building and process oversight that directly impacts the bottom line. 

Why intelligent motor control centers? 

Intelligent MCCs are used to achieve: 

Today's MCC is streamlined and intelligent

An intelligent MCC can help reduce labor and installation material costs and shorten commissioning time. Equipment that can integrate with existing systems and support major network protocols and controllers makes installation and commissioning easier and faster. Additionally, factory configuration of the MCC to specific project parameters, including IP address, motor data, protection features, and other parameters can cut project timelines further. 

Through new information and remote monitoring and control functionalities, intelligent MCCs can help enhance personnel safety. Personnel can better access system performance data and status, while staying outside of the arc flash boundary to reduce the exposure to energized equipment. 


Smart MCCs can help support network reliability and security – by using proven architectures and network solutions, factory configuration and adherence to key industry standards.  Today, there are many types of industrial networks available, including:

  • Ethernet/IP
  • Modbus RTU/TCP
  • Profibus 
  • Profinet

New intelligence can help users reduce costs

New diagnostics enable: 


The rise of Industrial Ethernet and growth of intelligent MCCs


Hardware proliferation and simplification is enabling more capabilities to be leveraged with MCCs and common solutions.

Industry 4.0 and the IIoT is fueling growing use of Industrial Ethernet, which provides the intelligence backbone for smarter operations. With simplified media and on-demand data capabilities, Industrial Ethernet is enabling new diagnostic information. 

Get the intelligence you need. It’s not an all or nothing solution – get exactly the information to impact your operations. 

Network connected at its core

Intelligent MCCs are network connected. According to the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), network-enabled motor control centers incorporate devices with ports or sockets that are directly connected via networking cabling or wireless connections to a network, forming a node or set of nodes on that network. It is essential that the industrial communications networks are rugged, reliable, and capable of being interconnected to various platforms. 

In 2019, Industrial Ethernet became the fastest growing indusial network layer for the first time, overtaking growth in fieldbus installations. (Source: HMS)  The increasing application of IIoT devices, such as motor starters, will help fuel even more use of Industrial Ethernet, which provides a host of benefits compared to traditional communications means because it is practically infinitely scalable.

As shown, the standard Ethernet Implementation of OSI Model where major industrial protocols build on top of the standard Ethernet stack.
What this simplification allows for is greater interoperability between multiple plant systems, even if different protocols are employed for each instance.  For example, a plant control system may rely on an Ethernet/IP controller for operation of the process and an operation team may desire visualization of similar data on an HMI supporting Modbus TCP/IP.  With these common Ethernet stacks, an intelligent MCC can communicate this important data to both sources with no issue.

By using Industrial Ethernet: 

  • IP-based services like file transfer (FTP), email (SMTP) and web browsers (HTTP) can coexist with Industrial Ethernet traffic 
  • Mobile devices can integrate into the enterprise using the same IP services over WiFi or cellular connections 
  • No special hardware or software is required to build an Ethernet device 
  • Common Ethernet stacks allow multi-protocol support in even simple devices 
Common stacks can allow multi-protocol support even in less complex devices such as Eaton’s C440 and C441 motor protection relays.

An “industrial hardened” network infrastructure

Deploying MCC connectivity in industrial environments requires careful consideration of rugged network elements. Typical cabling and switches used in office or server room applications are not designed to withstand industrial conditions and application requirements.  Additionally, motor control centers contain a host of voltage ranges to power and control devices, which would normally cause interference to communication signals.  

To solve this, intelligent MCCs contain Ethernet cables that are designed to support communications signals that travel with a minimum of interference for reliable data transfer.


Physical layer 

With more industrial equipment using industrial Ethernet cable, the physical layer needs to address requirements for monitoring and control, without interfering with plant or installation cable. Basic requirements for cabling include: 

  • 600 volt appliance wiring material (AWM) rated Category 5e cable 
  • Shielded construction with metal foil 
  • Metal hood on the connector for grounding purposes
  • Maximum length of 100 meters
  • Ability to convert to fiber to cover long distances (beyond 100M) and harsh environments 

Ethernet switches 

Industrial Ethernet switches are the main connection to intelligent MCCs and help ensure messages are delivered reliably and securely from the MCC to the front-end office.  Ethernet switches that incorporate high-port density in a compact form factor enable integration into typical MCC bucket construction, while facilitating communications to a high quantity of loads. 


Proven hardware and network architectures are enabling reliable communications.


Physical layer topology

Intelligent control and protection devices are typically arranged in a home-run or “star” topology, which enables consistent communications and simple troubleshooting. With home-run topology, communications is maintained across equipment, even in the event that one device losing network connectivity. It’s also easy to identify and troubleshoot a broken link.  

With the vast quantity of devices in play, multiple switches are commonly used to link various network sections together.

Managed switching is an important consideration when redundancy, security, traffic control and security are essential. Managed switches enable many more features, for example, a switch-level ring can be established, should a link between the switches fail.  Additionally, these switches can be monitored, configured through a variety of Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) mangement software and other tools.

Diverse intelligent control and protection devices 

The benefits you receive from an intelligent MCC depend upon the unique requirements of your application. With intelligent MCCs, there is an opportunity to personalize data collection and analysis, so you’re only collecting the system analytics that matter most to your operations.   

Smart components within the MCC provide additional benefits in control and protection that yield: 

  • New ways to solve previously unsolved problems 
  • Intelligence that can be tailored to meet unique applications 
  • A host of programmable settings, yet easy to use

You can right-size the intelligence and communications you need in a smart MCC through the components you choose to incorporate. Whether you need to get the equipment up and running faster, reduce the likelihood of downtime, increase service life and/or a host of other objectives, you can select IIoT devices to match the exact goals you need to achieve. For example, you can connect:  

Intelligence is about having the right capability at the device to enable operations/maintenance teams to make smart decisions.

Visualized operation and maintenance data

Intelligent MCCs simplify connectivity to facility systems, enabling streamlined ways to control and monitor equipment and processes. There are new ways to show data-driven insights that enable maintenance and operations personnel to interact with the system remotely. By supporting a wide range of communication options, MCCs seamlessly integrate and expand upon the capabilities of distributed control, programmable logic controllers and SCADA systems.  

Distributed control systems (DCS), programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and/or safety systems can leverage the data coming from intelligent MCCs to display operational information, Typically, SCADA or DCS systems are not set up to facilitate the level of operational data essential for electrical equipment maintenance. Without intelligence and communications at the MCC, this operation data would require additional hardware to provide monitoring and control for maintenance and operations staff.  

Intelligent MCCs yield real-time information and access to graphical system data to impact equipment and system health and uptime, through targeted maintenance that’s just in time. From in-depth analytics software to simple information presented on a motor protection relay display and fully developed maintenance HMI terminals, intelligent MCCs bring a new level of equipment capabilities to see system information in real time. 

The Power Xpert Dashboard is the user portal to Eaton’s switchgear, motor control centers, switchboards and panelboards.  

An intelligent MCC case study

New-found intelligence at the device level can discover problems that you didn’t realize you had. For example, a food and beverage processing facility experienced an unplanned downtime event. The facility leads checked the advanced motor protection devices they were using to see if they could understand the cause of the event without troubleshooting. The relays showed the technicians that the downtime event was caused by an undervoltage event, a utility power sag. As result, there was no need for further troubleshooting or exposing maintenance personnel to energized equipment to identify the problem. Instead, the facility staff were able to restart the system with confidence – saving time and enhancing personnel safety. 


Read more intelligent MCC application stories