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Impact of IIoT on automation systems design

28 May 2015  | Suhel Dhanani

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Analog devices consume as much as 85% of available board space in PLC modules, but they do not scale like digital chips. Consequently, greater levels of analogue integration are needed to conserve PCB space while delivering the required functionality. One way to shrink this tiny form factor is to use integrated analogue devices instead of numerous—even hundreds of—discrete components. Board size shrinks, power consumption drops, and reliability increases.

How about an example? I/O modules are the essential link between PLCs and the countless sensors and actuators distributed throughout next-generation IIoT factories and plants. As manufacturers add more sensors across factory floors, equipment designers must push channel density ever higher, even as available space within a MicroPLC system continues to shrink.

Today, multi-channel serialisers like the MAX31911 can translate, condition, and serialise the 24V digital outputs of sensors and switches to the 5V, CMOS-compatible levels required by PLC microcontrollers. This approach reduces the number of isolated channels; it enables dramatic savings in power dissipation, parts count, and overall PCB footprint.

An assessment of a 32-channel digital-input module determined that multiple integrated devices lower the part count by 70% and the total solution size by 63% (figure 6)

Analog integration is the only way to develop small-form-factor PLCs that can be sprinkled throughout the entire factory. A real-life example of this is the Siemens Amberg factory recently visited by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. This factory which is representative of the next-generation digital factory is controlled by 1,000 Simatic PLCs made by Siemens.17

The two key next-generation system requirements for the IIoT can be broadly categorised as:

 • Sensor proliferation which means smaller, intelligent, and more connected sensors. This requirement is leading to the growth in IO-Link and wireless protocols, and also to the proliferation of gateways that aggregate multiple sensors' data to a fieldbus/industrial Ethernet link.
 • Distributed control of an assembly line affords low latency, flexible system control. This leads to the growth of high-I/O density, compact (or micro) PLCs located closer to the line that is being controlled. These systems have their own design challenges involving form factor, heat dissipation, and analogue/mixed-signal integration.

These system requirements need innovations at both the device (IC) level as well as at the system architecture level. These newer systems are essential to realising the promise of IIoT.


1. General Electric, "Industrial Internet" discussed at several places on their site. Two examples at: Manufacturing Scientist Stephan Biller Discusses the Industrial Internet , and Analyse This: The Industrial Internet by the Numbers & Outcomes .

2. McRock Capital, issuu, McRock's Industrial Internet of Things Report 2014

3. "Digital Oilfield,"issuu McRock's Industrial Internet of Things Repor...., 2014, page 6,

4. GE Software, Learn more about the Industrial Internet.

5. General Electric factory, An Internet for Manufacturing.

6. "Airbus Created its Factory of the Future, Automation World, October 2, 2014

7. Ibid.

8. Wikipedia explains that "Google Glass is a type of wearable technology with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD). It was developed by Google with the mission of producing a mass-market ubiquitous computer." You can start an inquiry here: Google_Glass.

9. The term "wild west" applies to the western expansion into the western United States that occurred in the late nineteenth century. Authors of American frontier at Wikipedia write, "Through treaties with foreign nations and native tribes; political compromise; military conquest; establishment of law and order; the building of farms, ranches, and towns; the marking of trails and digging of mines; and the pulling in of great migrations of foreigners, the United States expanded from coast to coast, fulfilling the dreams...."

10. For the SAP corporation ops margin source

11. "BEHIND GE'S VISION FOR THE INDUSTRIAL INTERNET OF THINGS," Fast Company magazine, July/August 2014

12. GE Annual Report

13. BCC Research, Wellesley, MA, 2014 report

14. "Emerson Targets Emerging Multibillion Dollar 'Pervasive Sensing' Market," Emerson Process Management, October 1, 2013

15. See Universal-IO-Link always fits!

16. "Mobility, Ethernet, and Wireless Study: Wireless results." Control Engineering, November 2013

17. See Merkel sees Industry 4.0 in action at German PLC plant

About the author
Suhel Dhanani is Senior Principal MTS, Control & Automation Strategy at Maxim Integrated.

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