IO-Link Simplifies Connectivity on Robotic End-Effectors

In my last two blogs, Rise of the Robots: IO-Link… and Realize Productivity Gains with Smart Robotic Tooling , I shared how implementing IO-Link and incorporating pneumatic and electric smart grippers can help maximize your use of robotics in your applications. In this blog, I will discuss how you can get more from your robots through expanded use of end-effectors in your applications.

As pneumatic air and vacuum systems have been an integral part of automation projects of the past, these systems can also benefit from gains in intelligence moving forward. Smart vacuum generators can provide feedback on the operation of the system; for example, if cups are starting to wear or fail, the smart devices can be used to provide estimates on remaining service life through predictive maintenance calculations. Key components like process sensors, variable regulators, pneumatic grippers, and pneumatic valve manifolds are available with IO-Link technology at a reasonable price. More importantly, these devices dramatically simplify integration, installation, and maintenance with built-in diagnostics and parameterization tools. By utilizing smart pneumatics, we substantially reduce wiring complexity in new installations and expedite downtime repairs.

Easier I/O and Connectivity on Robotic End-Effectors

Figure 1 – An industrial robot with IO-Link I/O hubs and valve manifold control on the EoAT.

However, most people avoid adding these types of smart technologies to end-effectors due to cable management issues or the effort to put high-flex Ethernet or many conductors into the robot dress pack. With IO-Link and its use of standard conductors for communication, integrators and machine builders have been able to install already available conductors in the arm or use lower-cost high-flex sensor cables to communicate with IO-Link smart devices on the end of arm tooling (EoAT).

Smart I/O hubs allow for standard sensors to be used with simplified wiring and on large tooling, valve manifolds can be mounted and controlled on the EoAT (Figure 1). If tool change is needed for the application, non-contact wireless connectivity can send power and signal across an airgap, increasing application capabilities and functionality.

Manufacturers big and small have gained impressive intelligence at the robot’s end-effector using IO-Link electric grippers, smart pneumatics and tooling enabled with IO-Link sensors. As you look to your next robotic automation project, consider how you could reduce integration efforts, improve part quality, enhance production flexibility, gain more process visibility, and increase application capabilities of EoAT. To realize all the benefits of an industrial robot system and earn productivity gains in machine tending, assembly and material handling applications, smart grippers, smart sensors, and smart tooling (enabled by IO-Link) are a necessary part of your next smart factory project.

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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