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Impact of IIoT on automation systems design

28 May 2015  | Suhel Dhanani

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Comtrol's IO-Link Master gateway is touted to combine the benefits of the IO-Link standard with the EtherNet/IP and Modbus TCP protocols. This IO-Link Master effectively shields the PLC programmers from the IO-Link complexities by handling those complexities itself. The result is simplified EtherNet/IP and Modbus TCP interfaces, and decreased system development time and installation efforts.

Sensors are also getting smaller. Figure 4 shows what we believe is the world's smallest IO-Link ambient light sensor. It can read the colour value and send that information via the IO-Link connection. The entire system here is about the size of a paper clip.


Figure 4: Industry's smallest IO-Link light sensor has six integrated sensors: ambient light (clear), red, green, blue, infrared, and temperature. This light sensor uses a Maxim IO-Link device transceiver with integrated 3.3V/5V linear regulators, configurable outputs (push-pull, pnp or npn), reverse-polarity/short-circuit protection, extensive fault monitoring. This all comes in a tiny 2.5mm x 2.5mm WLP package. It also features 64KB on-chip programmable flash memory, 4KB on-chip data flash, and operates down to 1.8V.


To understand how small and integrated the underlying technology is, consider that the light sensor has six integrated sensors, each with its own on-chip dedicated PGA and 14bit ADC inside a miniature optical 2mm x 2mm OTDFN package. An ultra-low-power Renesas microcontroller with current consumption down to 66µA/MHz provides system control.

All the components on this IO-Link light sensor system were carefully selected to ensure that they meet the harsh conditions in an industrial environment.

Distributed control with wireless sensors

There are key design challenges with the widespread deployment of wireless sensors within the IIoT. Some of these challenges include standards confusion, equipment interoperability, industrial safety, available bandwidth, and cyber security.

One thing is quite clear today: wireless sensors constitute a very small portion of the industrial market. The technology is still largely concentrated with North American vendors who make sensors for oil, coal, and natural gas processing. Adoption of wireless sensors across broader automated industries can still take off, once some of the distributed control challenges are resolved.

It is clear, moreover, that there is no consensus about the radio standards. In fact, this could become another fieldbus/industrial Ethernet standards war where no single standard ever emerges as the clear winner. A study done by Control Engineering16 highlights the different radio standards that are prevalent today


Distributed control with MicroPLCs
The IIoT requires local, distributed control. Given the number of sensors in a plant/process, it is not feasible to route each one of them to a central PLC. Instead many distributed MicroPLCs are located closer to the line that is being controlled and they drive each subassembly. This means that we need powerful, yet very small and power-efficient PLC system architectures.

The biggest problem with today's PLCs is one that no one actually sees: making the best use of the limited space on the board. Most engineers still believe that digital technology offers the best opportunity for spacing savings. Yet, digital chips typically consume a small fraction, just 15% to 20%, of the board space in PLC modules (figure 5).


Figure 5: The system integration challenge in MicroPLCs is evident here where analogue and digital components are visible on system boards.



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