The Best Way to Communicate with Smart Sensors

When I am discussing with customers the use of smart sensors and smart devices in industrial automation, I always get posed with these questions:

  • How do the smart sensors interface with the controller?
  • How do you configure the device?
  • How do you get diagnostics out of it?
  • What other information can it provide?

This is sort of solved in a muddled world of proprietary communications or expensive network enabled sensors.  But John and I have been talking for a long time about IO-Link, which can easily and cost effectively answer all these questions!

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Valve Manifolds on Ethernet for Cheap!

Valve manifolds, or islands or banks, are used by many automation engineers in their machine design. They are a great way to easily implement a large number of pneumatic motion applications while keeping the air infrastructure minimal.  Recent demand in the market has driven manifold manufacturers to reluctantly embed network interfaces and remote I/O into their products.   Customers tell me while manufacturer’s expertise may lie with the pneumatic side of the product; there is usually less knowledge with-in their organizations to work on the Ethernet side of the product.

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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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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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IO-Link Scalability Animation Video


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How can I use IO-Link in my application?  How is IO-Link scalable?  If these are questions you still have, watch this animation describing the scalability of IO-Link.  To learn more about Balluff’s IO-Link offering, click here

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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I Can Do Quick Recipe Changes on the Fly, Can You?

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In my recent travels of the east coast from Boston to Tampa, customers have been looking for quality solutions to be able to run:

multiple products,

and multiple sizes,

and multiple form-factors,

all on one production line.

Two things about this seem to be in every application:

  1. Change-over needs to be simple for the operators.
  2. Management needs to see the cost/time savings, be it planned or unplanned downtime.

But how can I do multiple recipes or multiple jobs on one machine?  I have to reprogram/reposition sensors, move guide rails, swap out components, etc…

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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.

Get Rid of Remote I/O Cabinets Once and For All

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Every time I travel, customers tell me, “we just wire everything into a box.”  Every equipment designer goes through a phase of their design process where they need to decide how their I/O gets from their sensors and their valves to their controller.  Some people use I/O cards on their PLC, or networks with IP20 solutions inside remote I/O cabinets.

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5 Things You Need to Know about IO-Link

Industrial networks are nothing new; ASi, CANbus, DeviceNet, Profibus (to name a few) have all been around for years.  Designers of production equipment use networks for a variety of reasons: simplified machine mount I/O, motor starters, valve bank control, etc.  Each network has a limited number of devices that can be connected and each device is designated a node address or IP address.  IO-Link takes a standard network and expands it beyond its current capacity through flexibility and expansion.

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