Features, Robotics & Automation

How to control product quality with IO-link

Explore how ifm efector’s IO-Link enables quality control in manufacturing by blending digital automation capabilities with new and existing systems.

The need for automation extends across all industries and organisational levels, with technology becoming integral to the industrial world’s path to better efficiency, safety, and sustainability.

Many industries have embraced digital transformation by integrating machinery and processes with advanced technology to enhance production rates, efficiency, and product quality.

Through continuous innovation and a commitment to quality, industrial automation technology company ifm has established itself as a trusted partner for businesses seeking to optimise their manufacturing processes.

The company’s offerings are designed to enhance manufacturing processes across diverse industries such as manufacturing, food, and beverage manufacturing, automotive, and mining.

“We specialise in automation sensors and instrumentation to monitor the full process from manufacturing to logistics,” said national product and brand manager at ifm efector, Glenn Thornton.

“For instance, in industries like dairy, our solutions can be used to measure milk levels in silos, ensure proper flow rates during bottling, and maintain correct temperatures during production and processing.”

ifm tailors its solutions to meet customer needs, emphasising overall process efficiencies, productivity, quality improvement, and minimising downtime.

“Our sensors cover a wide range of functions, from monitoring production flow to ensuring proper packaging and logistics,” said Thornton.

“They can track the entire process, from material delivery to manufacturing and shipment.”

What is IO-link?

IO-Link is a versatile communication system employed in factories to seamlessly link sensors and devices to a central controller.

A typical system often comprises an IO-Link master and IO-link module devices working together with a range of smart position sensors, process sensors, and more.

Its primary function is to enable seamless communication between these devices, facilitating tasks such as monitoring equipment and managing processes.

According to Thornton, a key benefit of IO-Link stems from its adaptability, user-friendliness, and effectiveness in enhancing factory operations, ultimately leading to decreased downtime.

“IO-Link technology takes automation to the next level,” he said. “Traditional automation systems simply indicate whether a process is running within parameters or not.

“With IO-Link, sensors gather detailed data, much like a smartphone does with its various sensors and connectivity options.”

Through its integration with sensors, actuators, and other devices, IO-Link enables real-time monitoring and data exchange, empowering manufacturers to optimise production processes and promptly address faults or inefficiencies.

“In essence, it serves as a bridge facilitating communication between different devices – much like the concept of IoT (Internet of Things) communication,” said Thornton.

“But IO-Link goes beyond mere communication; it enables finer control over manufacturing processes by unlocking rich data insights.”

IO-Link’s bidirectional communication capability allows for detailed diagnostic data collection, including temperature and operating hours, facilitating predictive maintenance strategies to minimise downtime.

Moreover, IO-Link facilitates remote configuration of sensor settings, enhancing process control and optimising manufacturing parameters.

Its standardised protocol simplifies system integration with existing control systems, reducing installation complexity and cable clutter.

The IO-Link technology utilises standard, unshielded M8 or M12 cables, extending up to 20 metres, facilitating seamless communication between devices without the need for specialised shielded cabling.

The system’s fully digital signal enables the transmission of significantly more data, enabling devices to send and receive digital measured values and process data from sensors without any conversion losses.

IO-Link offers convenient parameter setting and monitoring via software, enhancing flexibility and ease of use. The system also enables the reading and logging of event and diagnostic data, providing valuable insights into operational performance.

With support for binary use of sensors in SIO mode and additional digital functions in COM mode, IO-Link offers a comprehensive solution for optimising manufacturing processes and enhancing efficiency.

By adopting IO-Link, businesses can enjoy reduced costs, heightened productivity, and a forward-looking investment in automation technology that can evolve alongside advancements in sensor technology.

Thornton explained that ifm’s IO-Link technology can easily integrate into legacy systems.

“In discussions about automation, we’re often emphasising the blending of digital technology into existing systems,” he said.

“It’s important to convey that this isn’t about completely replacing systems, but rather enhancing them.

“IO-Link isn’t just another protocol; it’s a way to unlock valuable data from sensors and processes.”

Thornton said having access to better data could significantly improve quality control in manufacturing processes, highlighting its direct impact on customer satisfaction and brand reputation.

He underscored the need for meticulous attention to detail, particularly in critical processes like food production, where even minor deviations can lead to quality issues and potential contamination risks.

“Take, for example, a simple manufacturing process, like producing yogurt or ice cream,” said Thornton.

“The temperature, flavouring, and other specifics are critical to the product’s quality. If these parameters aren’t met, the product risks contamination or may not meet consumer expectations.

“Ensuring product quality is crucial for maintaining brand reputation. Even seemingly minor issues, like an EPA violation, can tarnish a brand’s image.

“We prioritise product surety to safeguard brand security.”

The ifm point of difference

Thornton also highlighted ifm’s cost-effective approach, emphasising the accessibility of their solutions for small businesses.

“For us, it’s not only the functionality but also the affordability of IO-Link,” he said.

“While some competitors may offer entry platforms ranging from tens of thousands of dollars, you only a spend fraction of this with an ifm solution.”

Thornton underscored the flexibility of starting with a simple setup and growing according to their needs, making ifm’s offerings an attractive option for companies seeking to enhance their automation capabilities.

“This accessibility allows even small businesses to embark on their digitalisation journey without breaking the bank, with the flexibility to scale up as needed,” said Thornton.

“There’s minimal risk involved, just a small cost. If for any reason it doesn’t work out, they can walk away without significant repercussions.

“While issues are rare, sometimes it’s just a matter of misinterpretation, but we’re here to provide all the necessary support and guidance to ease them into the process.

“Once clients start seeing the wealth of information available, they quickly grasp its potential.”

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