Computer networks have been very popular in enterprise applications. However, optimisation of network designs that allows networks to be used more efficiently in industrial environment and enterprise applications remains an interesting research topic. This article mainly discusses the topology optimisation theory and methods of the network control system based on switched Ethernet in an industrial context. Factors that affect the real-time performance of the industrial control network are presented in detail, and optimisation criteria with their internal relations are analysed. After the definition of performance parameters, the normalised indices for the evaluation of the topology optimisation are proposed. The topology optimisation problem is formulated as a multi-objective optimisation problem and the evolutionary algorithm is applied to solve it. Special communication characteristics of the industrial control network are considered in the optimisation process. In respect to the evolutionary algorithm design, an improved arena algorithm is proposed for the construction of the non-dominated set of the population. In addition, for the evaluation of individuals, the integrated use of the dominative relation method and the objective function combination method, for reducing the computational cost of the algorithm, are given. Simulation tests show that the performance of the proposed algorithm is preferable and superior compared to other algorithms. The final solution greatly improves the following indices: traffic localisation, traffic balance and utilisation rate balance of switches. In addition, a new performance index with its estimation process is proposed. © 2010 Taylor & Francis.