How Industrial Networks and IO-Link Are Shaping Pneumatics

Manufacturing expert Erick Rudaitis of Parker Hannifin Corp. discusses how industrial networks are delivering new levels of intelligence to the plant floor.

As enthusiasm for the Industrial Internet of Things grows, engineers are looking to industrial networks and communications protocols such as IO-Link to help unlock data from sensors on the plant floor. By doing so, they hope to apply diagnostic data and proactively identify potential problems before they have a chance to occur. Here, Design News talks to manufacturing veteran Erick Rudaitis of Parker Hannifin Corp. about what industrial networks and IO-Link will mean to myriad pneumatic components used on the factory floor. Rudaitis, who has served in advanced manufacturing for General Motors and numerous other companies, is a senior market development engineer working with an international team to develop network interface products for smart factories.

DN: Let’s start with a definition: How do you define industrial networks?

Rudaitis: Industrial networks are protocols that use Ethernet in an industrial environment to provide machine control. For example: EtherNet/IP; Profinet; EtherCat; Modbus TCP; CC-Link IE. Many of these protocols have been available for over 15 years. But their cost limits them to higher operations.

Fieldbus networks such as DeviceNet, Profibus and CC-Link were used for lower operations to save cost, but they sacrificed some functionality.

Parker Hannifin engineer Erick Rudaitis: “Customers have an interpretation of Industry 4.0, and the common theme is of added intelligence embedded in components. They want to get more intelligence onto the plant floor, versus holding it in a PLC.” (Source: Parker Hannifin Corp.)

DN: When we talk about industrial networks for pneumatics, what kind of applications are we talking about?

Rudaitis: Networks are mainly used in processing. They’re used heavily in automotive for end-of-arm tooling, holding fixtures, weld fixtures, turntable assemblies. Anything that’s going to hold a part or move a part is going to use pneumatics and be controlled by a pneumatic manifold.

DN: What is IO-Link and how does it fit in these applications?

Rudaitis: IO-Link is a dynamic new open protocol standard that’s gaining greater use in point-to-point serial communications. It was started in 2008 by Siemens and has really been taking off in the last five years. It’s targeted at Industry 4.0 intelligence and it’s especially good for communicating with actuators and sensors.

PLC and sensor manufacturers have united in an international consortium to advance IO-Link communication. It’s got a lot of backing from companies like Allen-Bradley and Siemens. A lot of the big players are part of this consortium. They see the move from the smaller networks to this as driving the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), or the smart factory.

So there’s a good push behind it. As of last April, 124 companies had joined and there were 3.5 million nodes in the field. So in a short time, IO-Link has really caught on.

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