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How smart sensors and new communication technologies are redefining the modern automation pyramid

In March of 2019, Yuen Li, Sr. Product Manager, Networking and Controls, gave a presentation at the Industry of Things Conference in San Diego.  Because he received such a strong response, we wanted to provide a synopsis of his presentation.  Watch the full presentation here.

New technology, IO-Link, unlocks trapped data in sensors to improve mass production processes

The current industrial software pyramid requires many “handshakes” across the layers, in order to move data between them.  By using IO-Link enabled sensors and IO-Link Masters from ifm, you can avoid this current hurdle to implementing Industry 4.0 by opening up the “Y-path” of your data.  The PLC is designed to control your machines and not meant to collect data.  In too many cases today, the PLC is “forced” to be the middle person in exchanging large amounts of data with the upper layer software systems, putting a tremendous burden on the PLC and the programmer.  Instead of potentially causing a problem with machine control by sending large amounts of data to the PLC, the ifm IO-Link master allows you to connect and send your production data directly to SCADA or your business systems, like ERP, for further analysis and computing.  This allows you to trend data over time with continuous process data instead of simply using sensors as on/off switches, to understand your supply chain needs over time, to improve overall production on real-time data, and to implement visualizations of this data to communicate your findings in a better way.


Transmitting machine control data to plc and to higher-level business systems

On the left side of the Y-path, your sensors still send data to the PLC for control of your machines.
However, implementing IO-Link with ifm opens up the right side of the Y-path, giving you access to the data that your sensors were already capable of providing but was not previously collected.  By enabling access, it allows us to send necessary data without the PLC through two sets of Ethernet ports on our IO-Link masters: Fieldbus and IoT.  The Fieldbus Ethernet ports send data to the controller/PLC and the IoT port sends data to SCADA, Historians, or other higher-level systems.  This reduces the resources, knowledge and skills required to move key production data into your software architecture.

ifm develops new technologies that reduce costs and eliminate complexity

Most manufacturers are operating in a very lean environment, leaving little room for expensive projects not guaranteed to provide a positive return on investment.  For this reason, ifm focuses on eliminating the three main reasons why new technology is not adopted across industry: Cost, Change, and Complexity.  If new technology is cost-prohibitive, then it will keep the majority of potential users from implementing it until a low enough cost can be achieved.  The ifm philosophy encourages offering lower costs for higher quality products, because we want to bring innovation to as many people as possible so that we can all benefit.   With this belief system, companies do not have to fear if new products will cause more lost production cost than if they had never implemented something new.  Whenever possible, we work to include more technology and capability in our existing products at no additional cost, to ensure that customers continue to have opportunities for leveraging more data whenever they decide it is possible for them to explore.  By providing the possibilities in this way, we reduce the cost barrier for entry into new technology.

Implementing change with typical protocols encourages adaptation

Because we know change can be hard to manage, we build products that work with existing systems to reduce the amount of hardware that needs to be replaced to adopt new technology.  This allows production facilities the ability to easily experiment with new technology before investing heavily in an overall infrastructure overhaul of their equipment.  By committing to working with open source software and accepted protocols like IO-Link and OPC UA, we hope to reduce friction caused by proprietary systems that do not operate well with other providers.  Not every company can provide every solution for every industry, so by working cohesively with existing systems, you can avoid it being necessary to implement too much change at one time when adopting new technology.

IO-Link is easy to install and implement

Finally, new technology can be immensely complex if new products are designed and developed without the end user in mind.  Our R&D team focuses on easy user experience, so that a new product does not require intense training or operations manuals in order to implement.  By using IO-Link, ifm products can have parameters set instantly and remotely, allowing for simple and easy implementation.  That way, you do not necessarily need to stop production to deploy new sensors.  This stays true in the middle of the night, when an accident might occur and a new sensor needs to be installed out of the box.  You do not have to shut down production and take on costly maintenance calls, because a new sensor can be automatically set using this same features of IO-Link.  By taking control of the Y-path for your data, you do not need to add complexity into the machine controls portion of your system, taking complexity out of the implementation of new technology.  With and IP69K and IP67 rated versions of our IO-Link masters, a new cabinet box is not even needed to try out the technology, as they can be mounted directly to a wall in your facility.

ifm is committed to help our customer’s succeed in their business

When it comes to spreading adoption of innovative technology in manufacturing, ifm is committed to reducing the barriers associated with cost, change, and complexity. By always keeping the customer’s experience in mind, we develop products optimized for easy deployment across many industries, allowing access to more data than ever before.  Connecting ifm sensors to open platforms and protocols allows you to keep running your operations in conjunction with many of our competitor’s products, because we want new technology to be as convenient as possible for our customers to use.  As always, if you ever have questions you can always call our support center and speak with an Applications Engineer who understands your business needs and challenges.  With this philosophy guiding our company, we stay true to our motto to be “close to you!”