The missing link

Making communication easy between a series of devices is part of this next generation solution. Manufacturers’ Monthly finds out why one company has turned to ifm.

Getting to the core of Industry 4.0, beyond the hype of individual technologies and high-level systems, requires understanding what language are needed to connect devices for flexible and adaptive manufacturing.

One method of doing this is finding a standard operating protocol that allows for easy communication between devices and the straightforward representation of data. IO-Link, described by Joachim Uffelmann, Peter Wienzek and Myriam Jahn as “the DNA of Industry 4.0”, is a communication system used to connect sensors and actuators to an automation system. ifm, a provider of sensors, controllers, software, and systems for industrial automation and digitalisation, manufacturers a range of IO-Link devices, that can be calibrated to suit the needs of manufacturers.

The protocol builds upon analogue or binary sensors by enabling the transfer of several process values of a device at once via one standard cable. For Alex Baeck, automation engineer at MPSC Australia, the ease of interoperability is what makes ifm devices which communicate via IO- Link protocols stand out.

“Up until now, we’ve done everything with digital inputs and outputs, 4-20 milliamp (mA) analogue inputs and outputs, which is a very reliable system. But where IO-Link from ifm has enabled us to really step forward is that we can install a device without having anybody on site to configure it,” said Baeck.

For MPSC, the accurate reading of sensors is a fundamental part of their business. MPSC provides meat processing facilities with a technology called Rinse & Chill, an enhanced bleeding methodology in animal harvesting, which removes residual blood out of a carcass while modulating muscle temperature and pH. Rinse & Chill, delivers safer, cleaner meat, in addition to improved shelf life and eating quality. The efficacy and reliability of the technology is largely built upon the sensors installed.

The delivery of the Rinse & Chill solution must be managed precisely in terms of concentration, volume, pressure, flow rate, temperature and sterility, all in a sanitary environment analogous with customary practices in other food and beverage sectors such as dairy. MPSC has utilised sensors made by ifm to facilitate process automation and provide real time feedback.

“We have conductivity, we have temperature, we have flow, we have pressure,” said Baeck. “We need to know the conductivity because that’s what we use to make up our production specifications. We need to know the temperature to make sure that the production of fluids is the right temperature. We use the flow meters so that we know that we’ve got the correct flow, and we need to know the pressure so that we know we’re getting the right flows through each of the nozzles.”

“We don’t actually sell any of the systems we build, but rather licence the use of the technology to our clients,” said Baeck. “We own the systems from the day they’re installed until the end of use. So it’s in our best interests to have good components out there that are reliable and that we can remotely configure. That’s where IO-Link has really provided us an opportunity because we can remotely configure the sensors, we can see all the parameters, and we know if there’s a fault with the device straight away.”

Having the devices communicate through IO-Link avoids issues of configuration, which faced MPSC when using sensors with analogue outputs, noted Baeck.

“If we just had a standard sensor that we had sent to site, we’d have to get a service technician or one of their maintenance guys to install that sensor, and then we’d have to step them through configuring it.”

To source and develop an IO-Link enabled solution, MPSC turned to ifm.

MPSC’s devices utilise IO-Link enabled devices from ifm.

“Now we can place an order with ifm, we can send the component directly to site, and they plug it in,” said Baeck. “From the PLC, I send the configuration straight to the device and it flawlessly works. Because it’s IO-Link, it either works or it doesn’t work, so we know immediately if the sensor is stable and reliable.”

In the latest iteration of Rinse & Chill, there are, in total, 108 sensors and associated devices across the sanitary mix room, chiller, and High-Speed Application Machine (HSAM). Communication is enabled through IO-Link back to one PLC.

“There’s 89 IO-Link devices and an additional 19 inputs and outputs used on the IO-Link masters. There’s 19 IO-Link masters which is the most we’ve ever used, and there’s a lot of ethernet so it’s quite substantial step up for us,” said Baeck.

While this may seem to produce a mind-boggling array of data and values, utilising IO-Link has made the system more straight-forward than ever, according to Baeck.

“We rely heavily on ifm components – the whole system wouldn’t work without them – and yet IO-Link has enabled us to do our job easier and more reliably,” he said.

“We can configure it so we can see the feedback from every valve, we can see the temperature from the sensors, the flow, and the pressure from the valve. It just provides so much information so easily.”

Although the technical sophistication in such a machine is an outcome in itself, MPSC remain focussed on the service they provide.

“We need to communicate production and quality assurance data to our clients on a daily basis though automated reporting,” stated Baeck.

“System utilisation and all of the data that is collected is stored each day and we send all of that data to the customer. The data needs to be true and accurate and the client’s daily report needs to reflect that.”

The development of this architecture between MPSC and ifm comes out of an existing partnership.

“We’ve run with ifm previously for many years now as an original 4-20 mA provider,” said Baeck. “So, when we started learning about IO-Link it was just the natural evolution to say, ‘Ok, we’ve purchased non IO-Link devices from ifm so we can see how we will go with IO Link.’ We’ve bought those components and just keep buying more of them. They’re quick and easy to get, they’re next day delivery, and it’s a very nice website – all the information is there. It’s just a really neat platform.”

From the start, representatives of ifm were part of the journey with MPSC.

“We knew what we wanted to do, but we just didn’t know how to achieve it,” said Baeck. “At the early stages I spoke to Ronel Lal, senior sales engineer, and Freddie Coertze, systems solutions manager, and the two of them showed me how easy it is with ifm. I can quickly see from the IO-Link description on their website if it’s going to provide the information I need, and if it is I just add the part number to an order. It really is that easy.

“It provides the real information we need,” said Baeck. “It’s easy to do and it works.”