In a previous blog entry, I discussed IO-Link SPE (Single-Pair Ethernet). SPE, in my opinion, has two great strengths compared to standard IO-Link: cable length and speed. With cable lengths of up to 100 meters and speed of 10 Mbps, compared to 20 meters and max baud rate of 230.4 Kbps, what could be out of reach?
Robots. We see robots with cabling routed either through the arm itself or tracking along the outside of the arm. Every time the robot moves, we know the conductors within these cables are deteriorating. Is there another “tool” in the IO-Link Consortiums special interest groups that can aid us? Yes, IO-Link Wireless.
Let cover the basics quickly. The architecture will contain a wireless master, wireless in terms of the connection to the IO-Link devices and wireless IO-Link devices. There is no real change to the physical connection of the IO-Link master to the controls system, just the elimination of cabling between the IO-Link master and IO-Link devices. It is perfect for a robot application.
Wireless concepts are not new. When I saw the specification to IO-Link Wireless, the first question that came to mind was about powering the IO-Link devices. Luckily, we are in an age of batteries. and with the evolution of the EV market, battery technology has come a long way. This eliminates my concerns for low power devices. IO-Link was designed to bring more data back from our sensor and actuator devices, so IO-Link is perfectly suited to pass along battery diagnostics; low or failing batteries diagnostics/information should be readily available for a control and/or IIOT system. IO-Link devices with high current consumptions will still need to be wired to a power system.
Density of IO-Link Devices per IO-Link Master
Currently, with wired IO-Link masters, the most common configuration is eight IO-Link ports (i.e., 8 IO-Link devices can be connected), with the rare 16 port version. There is a huge advantage to wireless here within the IO-Link specification. One wireless IO-Link Master can contain up to 5 transmission tracks, where each transmission track can communicate to up to 8 IO-Link devices. That is 40 wireless IO-Link devices per wireless IO-Link master. There are a lot of details within the IO-Link Wireless specification that I will not even begin to discuss, but to go one layer more; within a physical area that the specification calls a “cell”, three wireless IO-Link Masters can exist, giving us a total of 120 wireless IO-Link devices occupying a designated area. We all know that wireless will come with a larger price tags, but at least there is a tradeoff of fewer masters (wired = 15 master, wireless = 3, for 120 devices).
Distance and Speed
I started this blog entry referencing the two strengths of SPE — length and speed. Here is where there is a great difference between Wireless and SPE IO-Link exists. If a wireless master is using one transmission track, the 8 IO-Link devices can be 20 meters away, equaling the standard wired architecture of IO-Link. As soon as we enable another transmission track, the maximum distance drops to 10 meters. The minimum transmission cycle time is 5 milliseconds. Still, I believe the pros of IO-Link Wireless outweigh the length restrictions.
Non-wireless IO-Link devices
Within the specification, there is the ability to have wireless bridges in the architecture. These bridge modules would contain a master IO-Link port to communicate to the standard IO-Link device, and then on the other side communicate to the wireless IO-Link master as a IO-Link Wireless device.
Obviously, robot end-efforts are the first to come to mind for a wireless solution. Food, beverage and medical applications also comes to mind. By eliminating the cabling, there is less surface area where contaminants can exist. Also, it could be used in inductive race ways, where a “pallet” moves along an inductive rail, which is supplying power, but I may not want to put a controller on each pallet. Lastly, IO-Link Wireless could be a good solution in any place where cabling is flexed and bent.
Does standard wired IO-Link fit every application? No. Does Single-Pair Ethernet and IO-Link Wireless? No. Thankfully, the IO-Link Consortium is giving us multiple methodologies to create our IO-Link architectures, where one application may need to encompass all three. For those applications that require fewer or the elimination of cables, the IO-Link Wireless solution can fit this space. For further information on the IO-Link specification, go to the consortium’s website at: IO-Link.com.