We are all witnesses to the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0 as it has been coined, as most of us will have seen robots, machines, vehicles or control systems connect to the Internet at some level or another. Of note here is the speed with which changes are taking place, a factor that has seen many new and exciting technologies come to market. In short, the union between the IT and industrial automation worlds is taking place in front of our eyes.
Of course, there are many levels of industrial communication and each requires different hardware and software features. Smart factories are looking to get a lot smarter, more flexible and dynamic, so networks need to respond to these goals. The high performance and reliable communication technologies that are entering the market are making it possible to transfer large amounts of data and connect a high number of individual devices both reliably, and with the highest data security standards.
With all this in mind you might well ask: what exactly needs to happen in order to realise the potential of modern networks?
Well, in the first instance, all levels of communication need to be involved. With Industry 4.0, the boundaries of the different levels shift from what is currently in place. The field level remains a dedicated layer, but the devices on it will incorporate more and more intelligence – including smart sensors – which are able to perform many processes autonomously.
Many efforts to develop IoT platforms have focused on the enterprise level with a top-down approach. Although this level is indispensable, it actually only collects about 10 percent of the available data, limiting the ability to support predictive maintenance and component performance optimisation. Unless a discrete IoT system is used for the remaining 90 percent of critical component data, enterprise systems cannot exploit their potential to truly transform business activities.
With its centralised ‘Voice of the Machine’ strategy, Parker provides an example of a company developing and implementing an Industry 4.0 solution which supports extensive autonomous monitoring and control. The strategy comprises hardware such as smart sensors and IO Link, plus a common set of standards, principles and best practices. Although Industry 4.0 is still in its relative infancy, the technology has reached a point of evolution that can provide significant value in many industrial applications.
Continuous position sensing
The use of industrial networks to make sensors and actuators more intelligent has become common across modern factory environments, and the use of continuous position sensing is a pathway to achieving smart motion control in pneumatic systems.
Continuous position sensors are more sophisticated sensor devices with two-way data flow that help to bring intelligence to pneumatic motion control and provide necessary continuous data to help facilitate a true Industry 4.0 environment.
Using contactless technology to continuously detect the linear position of a piston in its cylinder, the quick, precise and high-resolution sensing of the piston magnet is achieved without the need for separate position encoders or additional mechanics, therefore minimising the cost of implementation.
The data communicated by the sensor allows for monitoring, and when information flows in both directions and actuators are employed, control. The result is that positional data is made available for fast detection of any issues that might cause downtime or potential loss of productivity.
Another critical part in the success of Industry 4.0 manufacturing strategies is choosing the right protocol to connect sensors with controllers and actuators. Here, IO-Link provides the ideal solution, allowing two-way communications to receive data and then download a parameter to the device/actuator. As a result, processes can be adjusted remotely.
The advantages of IO-Link include the automatic detection and parameterisation of the IO-Link device, device monitoring and diagnostics, changes on the fly and reduced spare part costs.
Ultimately, the key to unlocking the power of smart sensors is in making diagnostic information easy to access. IO-Link allows for cyclic data exchange capabilities so that programmers can easily send the information directly to where it is required, either to an HMI screen, a signal light or a maintenance request. If sensor or actuator parameters need to be changed or calibrated, this can be done remotely, even while the production line is still running, ensuring that shutdowns, stoppages and unnecessary costs are avoided.
Watch this video to know more about IO-Link:
Article contributed by Manuel Finotto, business development manager IoT, EMEA