Manufacturers have been using industrial Ethernet protocols as their controls network since the early 1990s. Industrial Ethernet protocols such as Ethernet/IP, ProfiNet, and Modbus TCP were preferred over fieldbus protocols because they offered the benefits of higher bandwidth, open connectivity and standardization, all while using the same Ethernet hardware as the office IT network. Being standard Ethernet also allows you to remotely monitor individual Ethernet devices over the network for diagnostics and alarms, delivering greater visibility of the manufacturing data.
With Ethernet as the key technology for Industry 4.0 and digitalization, more and more devices will have Ethernet capabilities. Typical industrial Ethernet nodes on a plant floor could include PLC controllers, robots, I/O devices for sensors, actuators, flowmeters, transducers and manifolds. While, it’s great getting all the data and diagnostics of the entire manufacturing process, having every device connected via Ethernet has some downfalls. It can lead to larger Ethernet networks, which can mean more costs in hardware such as routers, switches and Ethernet cables, and some Ethernet software license costs are based on the number of Ethernet nodes being used in the network.
Also, as more Ethernet devices are added to a network, the Ethernet network itself can get more complex. Each individual Ethernet device requires an IP address. If an Ethernet node stopped working and needed to be replaced, an operator would need to know the previous IP address of the device and have quick access to the manual with instructions on how to assign the previous IP address to the new device. Someone must also manage the IP addresses on the network. There will need to be a list of the IP addresses on the network as well as the available ones, so when a new Ethernet device is added to the network, a duplicate address is not use
One way to reduce the number of Ethernet nodes while still getting device data and diagnostics is by using IO-Link for field device communications. IO-Link is an open point-to-point communication standard for sensors and actuators published by IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) as IEC 61131-9. Since it’s fieldbus and manufacturer independent, there is a long list of manufacturer devices that come with IO-Link. Each IO-Link device can then be brought back to a single Ethernet node, through an IO-Link to Ethernet gateway. Since it’s open technology, there are also multiple manufacturers that make different IO-Link to industrial Ethernet gateways.
On the IO-Link to Ethernet gateway, each channel has an IO-Link master chipset. It is designed to automatically communicate and provide data as soon as an IO-Link device is connected to a port. So, there is no addressing or additional setup required. IO-Link is point to point, so it’s always a single IO-Link device connected to a single port on the gateway using a standard sensor cable. Depending on the number of IO-Link devices to be connected to a single Ethernet node, IO-Link gateways can come in 4, 8 or 16 device channels. This graphic (image 1) shows six IO-Link devices connected to a single 8-channel Ethernet gateway. This gateway then communicates back to the Ethernet PLC controller as a single IP address with a standard Ethernet cable. Without using IO-Link, this might require all six devices to be industrial Ethernet devices. Each device would have its own IP address to set up, along with six Ethernet cables going back to a 6-port managed switch before going to the PLC controller.
IO-Link Devices Connected:
- Device I/O Hub used to connect to 16 standard discrete sensors/photoeyes.
- Valve Manifold used to control up to 24 coils.
- Visual Indicator Light
- RFID Processor System
- Pressure Sensor
- IO-Link to Standard Analog (0-10V or 4-20ma) Converter