Why IO-Link is the Best Suited Technology for Smart Manufacturing

While fieldbus solutions utilize sensors and devices with networking ability, they come with limitations. IO-Link provides one standard device level communication that is smart in nature and network independent. That enables interoperability throughout the controls pyramid, making it the most suitable choice for smart manufacturing.

IO-Link offers a cost effective solution to the problems. Here is how:

  • IO-Link uses data communication rather than signal communication. That means the communication is digital with 24V signal with high resistance to the electrical noise signals.
  • IO-Link offers three different communication modes: Process communication, Diagnostic communication (also known as configuration or parameter communication), and Events.
    • Process communication offers the measurement data for which the device or sensor is primarily selected. This communication is cyclical and continuous in nature similar to discrete I/O or analog communication.
    • Diagnostic communication is a messaging (acyclic) communication that is used to set up configuration parameters, receive error codes and diagnostic messages.
    • Event communication is also acyclic in nature and is how the device informs the controller about some significant event that the sensor or that device experienced.
  • IO-Link is point-to-point communication, so the devices communicate to the IO-Link master module, which acts as a gateway to the fieldbus or network systems or even standard TCP/IP communication system. So, depending on the field-bus/network used, the IO-Link master may change but all the IO-Link devices enjoy the freedom from the choice of network. Power is part of the IO-Link communication, so it does not require separate power port/drop on the devices.
  • Every open IO-Link master port offers expansion possibilities for future integration. For example, you could host an IO-Link RFID device or a barcode reader for machine access control as a part of a traceability improvement program.

For more information, visit www.balluff.com/io-link.

The Need for Data and System Interoperability in Smart Manufacturing

As technology advances at a faster pace and the world becomes flatter, manufacturing operations are generally focused on efficient production to maximize profitability for the organization. In the new era of industrial automation and smart manufacturing, organizations are turning to data generated on their plant floors to make sound decisions about production and process improvements.

Smart manufacturing improvements can be divided roughly into six different segments: Predictive Analytics, Track and Trace, Error Proofing, Predictive Maintenance, Ease of Troubleshooting, and Remote Monitoring.IOLink-SmartManufacturing_blog-01To implement any or all of these improvements requires interoperable systems that can communicate effectively and sensors and devices with the ability to provide the data required to achieve the manufacturer’s goals. For example, if the goal is to have error free change-overs between production cycles, then feedback systems that include identification of change parts, measurements for machine alignment changes, or even point of use indication for operators may be required.  Similarly, to implement predictive maintenance, systems require devices that provide alerts or information about their health or overall system health.

Traditional control system integration methods that rely heavily on discrete or analog (or both) modes of communication are limited to specific operations. For example, a 4-20mA measurement device would only communicate a signal between 4-20mA. When it goes beyond those limits there is a failure in communication, in the device or in the system. Identifying that failure requires manual intervention for debugging the problem and wastes precious time on the manufacturing floor.

The question then becomes, why not utilize only sensors and devices with networking ability such as a fieldbus node? This could solve the data and interoperability problems, but it isn’t an ideal solution:

  • Most fieldbuses do not integrate power and hence require devices to have separate power drops making the devices bulkier.
  • Multiple fieldbuses in the plant on different machines requires the devices to support multiple fieldbus/network protocols. This can be cost prohibitive, otherwise the manufacturer will need to stock all varieties of the same sensor.
  • Several of the commonly used fieldbuses have limitations on the number nodes you can add — in general 256 nodes is capacity for a subnet. Additional nodes requires new expensive switches and other hardware.

IOLink-SmartManufacturing_blog-02IO-Link provides one standard device level communication that is smart in nature and network independent, thus it enables interoperability throughout the controls pyramid making it the most suitable choice for smart manufacturing.

We will go over more specific details on why IO-Link is the best suited technology for smart manufacturing in next week’s blog.


How do I justify an IIoT investment to my boss?

Many engineers and managers I meet with when presenting at conferences on Smart Manufacturing ask some version of the question: “How can we justify the extra cost of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)?” or “How do I convince management that we need an Industry 4.0 project?” This is absolutely a fair and tough question that needs to be answered; without buy-in from management and proper budget allocation, you can’t move forward. While an investment in IIoT can deliver major payoffs, the best justification really depends on your boss.

I have seen three strong arguments that can be adapted to a variety of management styles and motivations.

1) Showing a ROI through Reducing Downtime

“Show me the money!” I think everyone has a manager with this expectation. It may seem like a daunting task to calculate or capture this information, but by using a team, knowing your KPIs and applying anecdotal feedback, you can get a good initial picture of the ROI that an IIoT project will bring to the organization. Many people have shared with me that their initial project’s ROI has “funded the next project.” There is a really great article from MetalForming Magazine that discusses how exactly to do this with the tables and forms they used at ODM Tool & Manufacturing.


2) Corporate Goals for Productivity and Utilization

We can be successful getting support for a project when we link corporate goals to project goals. Smart Industry publishes a research project each year that investigates trends in the manufacturing space in regards to digital transformation initiatives. This report cites that the three top benefits manufacturers are seeing are: improving worker productivity (3rd 2016), reducing costs (1st 2016) and optimizing asset utilization (2nd 2016). These goals are driving investments and showing actual results for manufacturers both large and small. However, the report also revealed that more than half of manufacturers cite workforce skills-gap issues as their largest roadblock and this is, I believe, why we saw improving worker productivity move to the top spot. We must bring efficiency and effectiveness to the people we have.


3) Your Competitors are Investing in IIoT!

If you have a boss that worries about falling behind, this can be a motivating argument. Control Engineering recently published a study of manufacturers and how they are investing in IIoT technologies. The largest investments are coming with sensors, connectivity and data analytics. But what is most shocking is that on average IIoT budgets are $328,160, with 18% budgeting more than a half-million dollars. If you want to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the global market, an investment in IIoT is a requirement to remain competitive.

If you are looking for support and partnership on your IIoT projects, we are experienced at utilizing IO-Link, smart sensors and RFID to enable Industry 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing projects.