A true evolution in manufacturing is upon us, where different products entering the manufacturing line will communicate their unique recipes so the equipment adapts to the specific product’s needs vs. setting up dedicated manufacturing lines to accommodate an array of different products. At the heart of this revolution is an exciting new technology called IO-Link, which enables traditional sensors to become intelligent sensors.
Sensors are found everywhere. In fact, they are so ubiquitous that they are prevalent in our everyday lives. From the time we wake up to the time we sleep, and even now while we sleep, sensors touch every part of our world. Think about it: you are interfacing with sensors every time you open your car door by pressing a button, every time a light on your dashboard comes on for service, every time you touch the screen of your phone or tablet, or want to cook a meal. Thanks to Fitbit and other wearable products, these devices even monitor our sleep, heart rate, and exercise patterns. And this is only the beginning.
In the manufacturing environment, all products made require an array of sensors working in unison to help machines figure out distance to an object, detect the object, determine colors and composition of an object, as well as to monitor the temperature and pressure of an object or liquid. Now, consider the amount of time and cost involved to send a technician down to the factory floor to change a sensor and then re-calibrate it to the correct parameters necessary to manufacture a single product. This would impact the manufacturing flow in a negative way and represent lost productivity. If we multiply this same level of maintenance necessary to support many different types of products on a manufacturing line, then the unproductive time spent to shut down production and change or re-configure a sensor is the single most costly expense that all manufacturing lines incur. Some estimate this loss to be $800 billion per year on a global basis!
Now imagine a magical technology that enables your traditional binary or analog sensor to become an intelligent sensor. What if you had a sensor that no longer just gathers data, but is an intelligent sensor that offers you the ability to change its settings from a remote site away from the factory floor based on real-time feedback on the health and status of the other sensors on the line as well as the manufacturing operation it needs to perform?
Smart sensors, made possible by IO-Link technology, can help boost manufacturing efficiency.
IO-Link is this magical technology that enables sensors to become interchangeable via a common physical interface that uses software in the form of a protocol stack and a IO Device Description (IODD) file to allow a configurable sensor port. An IO-Link port now becomes the ultimate Universal IO that can morph into any type of sensor. It is truly plug-and-play ready while providing the ability to re-configure its parameters on the fly.
As an example, if you are making chocolate bars and you would like to ensure the same quality of taste and consistency in all your products, a recipe adjustment may be required to accommodate variations in ingredients which come from different suppliers. IO-Link is the answer, as it can be programmed to adapt to a new set of instructions on-the-fly to ensure all the new ingredients are blended and mixed correctly. This eliminates the need to re-calibrate or change sensors, which ultimately reduces the overall manufacturing costs by keeping the manufacturing line up and running.
IO-Link is a powerful technology that will play a pivotal role in factory, process, and building automation as well as other industries over time. It will save manufacturing companies billions of dollars per year while opening up new markets that allow more customization of products. If you are involved in factory, process, or building automation, keep an eye on IO-Link technology, as it will continue to be one of these catalyst technologies that will unleash the true power of Industry 4.0 and the industrial IoT and change the way we think of manufacturing.