IO-Link master with OPC UA interface

Seamless communication from the field level to the cloud

Every industrial sector is faced with the task of digitally networking its factories. Heterogeneous interfaces between individual systems typically prevent access to the data required to do this. By combining the standardized OPC UA communication standard and the IO-Link sensor interface in a single device, Pepperl+Fuchs creates new paths for seamless communication from sensor to cloud. This combination offers customers full transparency over their processes and is an ideal way to prepare for the demands of Industry 4.0.

IO-Link master with OPC UA interface

Seamless communication from the field level to the cloud

The digitization of all areas of life is incessant. Digitization promises to further increase the efficiency of production processes and the flexibility of production equipment, especially in the various sectors of industry, through the networking of factories and personnel. To achieve this, however, the previously rigid hierarchical levels of the automation pyramid must be broken down and standardized interfaces must be created from sensor to cloud. By combining the standardized IO-Link sensor interface and the separate, manufacturer-independent OPC UA communication standard in a single device, Pepperl+Fuchs is creating new ways to make end-to-end data availability seamless and seamless from the lowest field level to the cloud.

IO-Link standardizes sensor communication

With a total of 11.4 million IO-Link network nodes installed in the field at the beginning of 2019 and a growth rate of around 40% compared to the previous year, IO-Link has long established itself as a field sensor interface and continues to gain importance. IO-Link enables standardized data access (IEC 61131-9) to sensors and actuators at the lowest field level. Unlike conventional digital switching or analog sensor technology, IO-Link not only provides access to simple switching signals and data, but also provides access to detailed information, diagnostics and parameter data for a sensor or an actuator. Smart sensors are thus activated with parameter settings that can be automatically adapted to changing production requirements, i.e. when changing batches. A significant reduction in plant downtime is possible with IO-Link. If a problem occurs at the field level, diagnostic data allows an accurate assessment of the severity of the problem. If it is necessary to replace devices, the identification data makes it very easy to know which device to obtain from which manufacturer. If the replacement device is installed, all previous settings can be automatically transferred to the replacement device and the installation can be restarted, without manual intervention.

OPC UA enables end-to-end communication to the cloud

While detailed IO-Link sensor data has so far only been available in closed control systems where access to external data is hardly possible, OPC UA opens up new ways to make this data available from comprehensive and comprehensive manner. OPC UA is a particularly impressive Ethernet-based communication standard which, due to its independence from manufacturers, programming languages ​​and platforms, offers customers maximum flexibility in the design of their IoT systems. . OPC UA is very different from deterministic fieldbus protocols such as PROFINET or EtherNet/IP, which are well known in the control world. While these protocols are usually only supported by specialized controllers from the respective manufacturers, OPC UA is ideal for manufacturer-independent communication with a wide range of IT or cloud-based systems. The corresponding OPC UA clients, which interface with the OPC UA server, are available for different operating systems and directly integrated with major cloud providers. Due to the independence of OPC UA, customers are free to develop their own interfaces. Corresponding support development kits are available for this from the OPC Foundation. Another difference is the performance alignment of the protocols. While control-based communication protocols are primarily oriented towards real-time applications with cycle times on the order of milliseconds, OPC UA is used more as a parallel, non-critical information data channel in time to the cloud and imposes less stringent real-time requirements.

Distribution of tasks between PLC and cloud

Pepperl+Fuchs is the first manufacturer to combine the advantages of IO-Link and OPC UA in a single device. By combining a deterministic fieldbus protocol, such as EtherNet/IP or PROFINET, and OPC UA in a single device, the new IO-Link masters of the ICE2 or ICE3 series can communicate in parallel with a controller and a higher level based on PC. system or cloud. Hybrid systems are thus possible, in which the PLC controls the application in real time via PROFINET or EtherNet/IP, and the IO-Link master simultaneously transfers status data to the cloud via OPC UA, which does not have to unimportant for the controller, but crucial for another machine or a central control system. Since the controllers are specially designed to process the input signals from the sensors as quickly as possible and to transfer the resulting output signals from the control logic to the actuators as quickly as possible, they are not suitable for large quantities status data. They can be processed much more cost-effectively than in computer-based or cloud-based systems, which means that expensive computing resources are not needed in the controller. By taking this approach, data can be processed in a local assessment tool using external software, or uploaded to the cloud without interpretation. Users can decide whether the cloud is located on the corporate network or on the Internet; they also define security levels. For this, the IO-Link masters support both authentication mechanisms and certificate management.

Control from the Cloud

Modules of the ICE2 and ICE3 series not only allow data from IO-Link devices to be read via OPC UA, but also allow write access if required. For each of the eight ports, it is possible to specify separately for each whether the data should only be read or written via OPC UA. In principle, applications that do not require millisecond control can be fully implemented without a traditional controller. As computerized and cloud-based systems increase in power and capacity at the same time, control tasks can be taken on at lower cost.

Ready for the digital future

With the new IO-Link masters with integrated OPC UA interface, customers can already prepare for the digitalization of their plants. OPC UA functionality can be enabled and disabled at any time with full flexibility. This means that customers can already equip their systems accordingly, without a specific application for OPC UA, and unleash the full potential of the IO-Link ICE2/ICE3 masters at any time.