IO-Link — Enables Industry 4.0 and Reduces Costs

Where does IO-Link fit on the road to Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing?

IO-Link is a major enabling force for Industry 4.0 & smart manufacturing. Motivations for flexible manufacturing, efficient production and visibility require that we have more diagnostics and data available for analysis and monitoring. Lot-size-one flexible manufacturing requires that sensors and field devices be able to adapt to a rapidly changing set of requirements. With the parameterization feature of IO-Link slave devices, we can now send new parameters for production to the sensor on a part by part basis if required. For example, you could change a color sensor’s settings from red to green to orange to grey and back to red if necessary, allowing for significantly more flexible production. With efficient production, IO-Link slaves provide detailed diagnostics and condition monitoring information, allowing for trending of data, prediction of failure modes, and, thus, eliminating most downtime as we can act on the prediction data in a controlled & planned way. Trending of information like the current output of a power supply can give us new insights into changes in the machine over time or provide visibility into why a failure occurred.  For example, if a power supply reported a two amp jump in output three weeks ago, we can now ask, “what changed in our equipment 3 weeks ago that caused that?” This level of visibility can help management make better decisions about equipment health and production requirements.

Has IO-Link been widely accepted? Is anything still holding back its implementation?

In the last year IO-Link has become widely accepted. Major automation players like Balluff, Rockwell Automation, Festo, Siemens, SMC, Turck, Banner, Schmalz, Beckhoff, IFM and more than 100 other companies are engaged, promoting and, most importantly, building an installed base of functional IO-Link applications. We have seen installations in almost every industry segment: automotive OEMs, automotive tier suppliers, food & dairy machinery, primary packaging machinery, secondary packaging machinery, conveying systems, automated welding equipment, robot dress packs, on end-effectors of robots, automated assembly stations, palletized assembly lines, steel mills, wood mills, tire presses and more. The biggest roadblock to IO-Link becoming even further expanded in the market is typically a lack of skillset to support automation in the factory or a wariness of IO-Link as “another industrial network.”

What is the latest trend in IO-Link technology?

One of the biggest trends we are seeing with IO-Link technology is the reduction of analog on the machine.  With analog signals there are many “gotchas” that can ruin a good sensor application: electrical noise on the line, poor grounding design, more wiring, expensive analog input cards, and extra integration work. Analog signals cause a lot of extra math that we don’t need or want to do, for example: a linear position measurement sensor is 205mm long with a 4-20mA output tied into a 16bit input card. How many bits are there per mm?  A controls engineer needs to do a lot of mental gymnastics to integrate this into their machine. With IO-Link and a standard sensor cable, the wiring and grounding issues are typically eliminated and since IO-Link sensors report their measurements in the engineering units of the device, the mathematic gymnastics are also eliminated.  In our example, the 205mm long linear position sensor reports 205mm in the PLC, simple, faster to integrate and usually a much better overall application cost.

Will Healy III is the Industry Marketing Director at Balluff Inc. in Florence, Kentucky and he is enthusiastic about smart manufacturing, automation and STEM education. Will graduated from Purdue University with a degree in mechanical engineering and has been sharing his passion for automation for more than 10 years in a variety of industries. He is published and quoted in various trade magazines, works as an industrial adviser for multiple universities and has widely presented on the value sensors, networking and IIoT bring to manufacturing.

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