As an application engineer, one of the most frequent questions I get asked by the customers is “What is IO-Link and what data does it contain?”.
Well, IO-Link is the first worldwide accepted sensor communication protocol to be adopted as an international standard IEC61131-9. It is an open standard, and not proprietary to one manufacturer. It uses bi-directional, single line serial communications to transfer data between the machine controller and sensors/actuators. No other communication protocol is manufacturer and fieldbus independent, and yet provides this level of communication down to the sensor/actuator level. It provides the user with three different data types: process data, parameter data, and diagnostics or event data.
Process data of an IO-Link smart device is considered the latest state of that device. Containing both input and output data, process data is cyclically exchanged between IO-Link master and IO-Link slave device (i.e. sensor or actuator). The time interval or data update rate solely depends on amount of data, 1 to 32 bytes, and speed at which an IO-Link slave device communicates. IO-Link standard (IEC61131-9) defines three different communications speeds; COM1 is set to 4.8kBaud (slowest), COM2 is set to 38.4kBaud and COM3 is set to 230.4kBaud (fastest). Depending on the device, process data may contain status of inputs or outputs of remote I/O hub, position feedback of linear transducers, pressure feedback from pressure transducers, information from am RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) reader, and so on. For more information about process data content, refresh rate, and data mapping, one should reference an IO-Link slave device datasheet or user manual.
Lastly, process data is then buffered in memory of the IO-Link master device and passed to the controller via a specific fieldbus at request packet interval. Request packet interval is set in the controller settings.
Parameter data contains information and parameters specific to the IO-Link slave device. This data is exchanged acyclically, which means that it is requested from the IO-Link master or controller and not time based. Parameters can be read from a specific device or written to. Parameter data is primarily used for device configuration, or verification. A key advantage of IO-Link is that it gives the controller the full access to IO-Link slave device parameters, down to a sensor/actuator level. This means that your controller, PLC or PC based, can change the configuration of an IO-Link’s slave device dynamically without taking the device off line, and without use of proprietary cabling or configuration software.
Typical use of parameter data is for automatic machine configuration, recipe change, process tuning, maintenance, and easy component replacement.
Diagnostics or Event Data
Diagnostic data provides the controller with events that affect the operation and performance of the IO-Link smart device. Content can vary depending on the device used, and the manufacturer. IO-Link smart devices can provide crucial data such as load, temperature, stress level, overload and short circuit diagnostics, error codes, configuration or parameter issues, access issues, etc., as part of diagnostic or event data. The event code size is 2 bytes, and in hexadecimal data format. This information can then be interpreted by the controller/user using a lookup table or IODD (I/O Device Description) file. User manual will have diagnostic data table that can be used as a reference.
In conclusion, IO-Link enables a plug-and-play relationship between the controller and the devices on the machine. Using IO-Link data, the controller can automatically recognize and configure an IO-Link slave device that is connected to its network. Process and diagnostic data provide continuous feedback on machine status and health down to a sensor level — the lowest level of the automation pyramid.
Keep in mind that the content of process data is specific to the device and will vary from device to device, and manufacturer to manufacturer. This makes IO-Link data one of the main differentiators between smart devices and their manufacturers. Luckily, IO-Link is an open standard, and fieldbus and manufacturer independent, so you can mix and match devices best suited for your application without worrying about device compatibility, special cabling, or third-party configuration software packages.