Stop Industrial Network Failures With One Simple Change

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It’s the worst when a network goes down on a piece of equipment.  No diagnostics are available to help troubleshooting and all communication is dead.  The only way to find the problem is to physically and visually inspect the hardware on the network until you can find the culprit.  Many manufacturers have told me over the past few months about experiences they’ve had with down networks and how a simple cable or connector is to blame for hours of downtime.

2013-08-19_Balluff-IO-Link_Mexico_Manufactura-de-Autopartes_healywBy utilizing IO-Link, which has been discussed in these earlier blogs, and by changing the physical routing of the network hardware, you can now eliminate the loss of communication.  The expandable architecture of IO-Link allows the master to communicate over the industrial network and be mounted in a “worry-free” zone away from any hostile environments.  Then the IO-Link device is mounted in the hostile environment like a weld cell and it is exposed to the slag debris and damage.  If the IO-Link device fails due to damage, the network remains connected and the IO-Link master reports detailed diagnostics on the failure and which device to replace.  This can dramatically reduce the amount of time production is down.  In addition the IO-Link device utilizes a simple sensor cable for communication and can use protection devices designed for these types of cables.  The best part of this is that the network keeps communicating the whole time.

If you are interested in learning more about the benefits that IO-Link can provide to manufacturers, please take a look at this flyer.

Light it Up! Industrial Stack Lights are old news…

I am seriously excited about the new Smart Light.  It will revolutionize how we automate and interface with people working in the manufacturing environment.  If you didnt watch this video… you need to watch this video.

Even if you don’t know what a stack light is, you will want one of these for your discotec to light it up!

Operating on the open communication protocol IO-Link that I have discussed in previous posts, I think this single part number will improve the factory for:

  • an operator wanting to know when to refill a feederbowl, position a part, or empty a full output bin
  • a maintenance guy needing to know what cell is causing the machine downtime
  • a plant manager wanting to know the machine output, speed, productivity

If you want more information on how this works visit the Smart Light webpage.

2 Simple Ways to Protect from Arc Flash Hazards

If you are a manager at any level of a manufacturing facility, I hope you are aware of the dangers of arc flash.  For those who are not aware, “an arc flash, also called arc blast or arc fault is a type of electrical explosion that results from a low-impedance connection to ground or another voltage phase in an electrical system.”  Typically this does not occur in 120V situations, but can occur in 480V+ installations if proper precautions are not taken.  Employees can be severely injured or even killed when an accident occurs while working with these kinds of electrical systems.   There are many standards  like OSHA, IEEE and NFPA that regulate these types of situations to provide a safe working environment for the employee.  In addition to those standards, I would propose two simple changes to controls architecture and design to help limit the exposure to working inside an electrical cabinet.

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IO-Link is the USB for Industrial Automation

I’ve recently heard this comparison used a number of times and the parallels are quite interesting.  USB was designed to help standardize a dizzying array of connectors and configurations of supplementary devices that developed during the age of the Compaq vs IBM.  It always took days to configure and establish communication between devices and then finally you could never get all the functionality that the device promised because of your PC’s specific configuration.  USB revolutionized the personal computer by allowing for a standard interface for simple devices from hard-drives to keyboard lights, and best of all by offering a device drivers the functionality promised could be delivered.  If the device broke, you bought a new one, plugged it in and it worked.

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Machine Mount I/O: Get out of the Cabinet

In April, Jim Montague of Control Design wrote an interesting article on Machine Mount I/O entitled “Machine-Mount I/O Go Everywhere.”  I think the article makes some very good points as to the value of why someone wants to move from inside an enclosure, or controls cabinet, to mounting I/O products directly on the machine.

He summarizes, with the help of a number of industry experts, the below points:

  • Same or Better control performance out of IP67 products versus IP20 products.  
    • Installation time alone “is reduced by a factor of 5 to 10″
    • Assemble more controls equipment faster with the same people & workspace
  • Smaller & Simpler components take up less real-estate on the machine
    • Smaller Controls cabinets are needed
    • Less terminations required 2 versus “4 or more” for one connection
    • standard & simple quick disconnect i/o and network cables
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Intelligent Interfaces and IO-Link Innovation

I recently had the opportunity to attend Hannover Fair in Germany and was blown away by the experience… buildings upon buildings of automation companies doing amazing things and helping us build our products faster, smarter and cheaper.  One shining topic for me at the fair was the continued growth of new products being developed with IO-Link communications in them.

All in all, the growth of IO-Link products is being driven by the need of customers to know more about their facility, their process and their production.  IO-Link devices are intelligent and utilize a master device to communicate their specific information over an industrial network back to the controller.  To learn more about IO-Link, read my previous entry, 5 Things You Need to Know about IO-Link.

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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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Defining Your Next Network Architecture: Topologies and Global Standard

As many machine builders, OEMs, individual plants, and large corporations decide to move from the “bus” to the “net” (Profibus or DeviceNet to Profinet or EtherNet/IP) they have a chance to look at all the new architectures available and decide on which is the best for them.  Here are the first two topics to take into consideration:

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