Industrial Network Basics: Simplifying I/O Terminology

There are many terms used for I/O technology in industrial automation: Remote I/O, Distributed I/O,  Modular I/O, Expandable I/O, Block I/O, Conventional I/O and the list can go on.  What do they all mean?  Can they be used interchangeably?  What is the difference?

Lets be honest… this is a muddled topic and many people use different things interchangeably.  I’ve done a bit of research and reading of automation magazines, forums and websites and have tried to piece it together.

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Defining Your Next Network Architecture: Topologies and Global Standard

As many machine builders, OEMs, individual plants, and large corporations decide to move from the “bus” to the “net” (Profibus or DeviceNet to Profinet or EtherNet/IP) they have a chance to look at all the new architectures available and decide on which is the best for them.  Here are the first two topics to take into consideration:

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How Ethernet Works… for Dummies

I recently watched a short webinar recorded by the PI North America organization and it really helped me understand the basics of how ethernet communication comes together.  There are so many protocols and standards and they all communicate on the same media.  Carl and Hunter do a good job presenting ethernet in a technical but easy to understand way.

The webinar is here.  Their topics include:

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Defining IP Ratings and NEMA Ratings

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As I was preparing to write my blog entry, I was browsing my e-mail and came across an article in the October Issue of TIA Newsletter (Totally Integrated Automation) from Automation World, concerning IP Ratings.  I found the article , very informative as it broke down the different degrees of IP ratings, as well as some similarity and differences between IP ratings and NEMA ratings.  I only wish there was some information involving IP69K. 

This article, IP Ratings – What are they and what do they mean,  is a great starting point to learn about IP Ratings, I suggest you stop by and read it. 

For more information about IP67, check out The Secret of IP67 Protection.

3 Steps to Evolve to Ethernet Networked I/O

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Let’s face it; an installed base, a trained maintenance crew, and an established set of procedures all make it really difficult to try to implement any new technologies in a running manufacturing facility.  The idea of an industrial network providing detailed data about your processes and improving productivity sounds interesting and valuable,  but where do you begin?  Retrofitting everything with the newest technology isn’t an option in today’s economy, the capital investment is just too great.  But there is hope!  And with small steps, time and training, any plant can move forward into the ethernet realm and beyond.

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The Basics of Profibus and ProfiNet, Revealed!


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Regularly I attended free one day seminars on Profibus & Profinet put on by the PI Organization.   They have two different classes that they offer in cities all over the US and Canada.  There are usually about 50-100 attendees and it is a great opportunity to network with local engineers from and around the area in a wide variety of industries.

In the seminars they cover these topics in general:

  • The history and breadth of the PI Organization
  • Different ways to build I/O architectures and how to integrate them
  • Why networks are important and how to select a network

And they cover in detail (using vendor products and Siemens PLCs):

  • How to design a network
  • Configuration of a network using the PLC
  • Installation considerations, cabling & hardware
  • Commissioning a system
  • Long term maintenance and troubleshooting
  • Plantwide Energy Conservation

During breaks, multiple vendors of Profibus & ProfiNet related products were available to discuss applications and projects with the attendees and provide valuable resources for industrial network design.

We (Balluff) are a sponsoring member of the seminars and I was attending to discuss IO-Link, Profinet and Profibus industrial network applications with potential and current customers.

If you are unfamiliar with Profibus, ProfiNet or IO-Link I recommend you attend one of these seminars to learn about how it can help your machine design.

I updated the text in this entry on 3/8/2011.