IO-Link enables Industry 4.0 and reduces costs
Motivations for flexible manufacturing, efficient production and visibility require that we have more diagnostics and data available for analysis and monitoring. Flexible manufacturing requires that sensors and field devices be able to adapt to a rapidly changing set of requirements. With the parameterisation feature of IO-Link slave devices, we can now send new parameters for production to the sensor, on a part-by-part basis if required.
For example, you could change a colour sensor’s settings from red to green to orange to grey and back to red if necessary, allowing for significantly more flexible production. With efficient production, IO-Link slaves provide detailed diagnostics and condition monitoring information, allowing for trending of data and prediction of failure modes, thus eliminating most downtime, as we can act on the predictive data in a controlled and planned way.
Trending of information, like the current output of a power supply, can provide new insights into changes in the machine over time or provide visibility into why a failure has occurred. For example, if a power supply reported a 2 A jump in output three weeks ago, we can now ask, “what changed in our equipment three weeks ago that caused that?” This level of visibility can help management make better decisions about equipment health and production requirements.
In the last year IO-Link has become widely accepted. We have seen installations in almost every industry segment: automotive OEMs, automotive tier suppliers, food and dairy machinery, primary packaging machinery, secondary packaging machinery, conveying systems, automated welding equipment, robot dress packs, on end-effectors of robots, automated assembly stations, palletised assembly lines, steel mills, wood mills and more.
The biggest roadblock to IO-Link becoming even further utilised is a lack of skillset to support automation in the factory, or a wariness of IO-Link as ‘being yet another industrial network’.
One of the biggest trends in the development of IO-Link technology is the reduction of analog devices on the machine. With analog signals there are many ’gotchas’ that can ruin a good sensor application: electrical noise on the line, poor grounding design, more wiring, expensive analog input cards and extra integration work. Analog signals also introduce the need for unnecessary calculations: for example, a linear position measurement sensor is 205 mm long with a 4–20 mA output tied into a 16-bit input card. How many bits are there per mm? A controls engineer needs to do a lot of mental gymnastics to integrate this into their machine. With IO-Link and a standard sensor cable, the wiring and grounding issues are typically eliminated and, since IO-Link sensors report their measurements in the engineering units of the device, the mathematics are also eliminated. In our example, the 205 mm-long linear position sensor reports 205 mm in the PLC: simpler, faster to integrate and usually a much better overall application cost.
There is no doubt that IO-Link is a major enabling force for Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing. Major automation players are engaged, promoting and, most importantly, building an installed base of functional IO-Link applications that are well worth a look.
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