I/O today, I/O tomorrow

Based on the results of a recent survey, this article takes a look at how users implement I/O today, what they like, dislike, and expect to happen with the systems they’ll use tomorrow.

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By Jim Taylor, VDC, and Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

As we’ve done in previous years, we invited Industrial Networking readers to participate in a study conducted by Venture Development Corp. to get good overview of user requirements for distributed/remote I/O.

The results summarized here are a compilation of the responses made by end users, industrial OEMs, and system integrators during interviews with VDC analysts and via a web-based questionnaire.
 It’s a big market. Worldwide shipments of distributed/remote I/O for industrial markets totaled $3.2 billion (US) in 2005 and are forecast to approach $ 4.3 billion in 2010 (5.9% CAGR).

The growing acceptance of distributed/remote I/O as a means of reducing costs associated with the hard wiring of devices to local I/O at controllers provides the major growth impetus. More than half of the overall 2005 shipments were for OEM and SI applications, but, not surprisingly, end users represented 65% of the DCS use. 

The applications profile isn’t seen to change markedly during that time. The segmentation of markets by product classes today stands at 54% to PLC-centric applications, 34% to DCSs, and 12% to PC-based control systems. By 2010, the study estimates those shares to be 55%, 33%, and 13% respectively.

The market for distributed/remote I/O for PC-based control systems is much smaller than the market for the other product types under study, but should achieve the highest growth rate (6.4%) through 2010. However, the study suggests that the hype surrounding PC-based control systems has died down somewhat and the future displacement rates are not expected to be as pronounced. One reason given is the increasing intelligence provided in PLCs, as well as displacement of DCSs by PLC systems.

There is some trend toward greater implementation of distributed/remote I/O by industrial OEMs and system integrators that the study suggests reflects the outsourcing of new controls designs and retrofits by end users, as they look to cut back on engineering staff and concentrate on their core operations. In addition, with the increasing sophistication of controls, many end-user engineering and implementation staffs lack the needed expertise they once had. 

For DCS applications in the end-user segment, the largest markets are the electric power, chemical, and petroleum & gas industries. The fastest growth forecast is for applications in the petroleum & gas industry. The largest OEM and system integrator markets involved with DCSs are in process controls for the electric power and chemical industries. The fastest growth forecast is for use in controls for textile manufacturing equipment/machinery.

PC-based control system applications in the end–user segment revealed the largest markets are automotive and electric-power industries. The fastest growth forecast is for applications in the plastics industry. The largest OEM and system integrator markets dealing with PCs are in controls for material handling and packaging equipment/machinery. The fastest growth forecast is for use in controls for textile manufacturing equipment/machinery.

PLC system applications in the end-user segment reveal the largest markets are the automotive and food & beverage industries. The fastest market growth forecast is for applications in the consumer products industry.

The largest OEM and system integrator markets for PLCs are in controls for assembly, packaging and material handling equipment/machinery. The fastest growth forecast is in process control applications for the petroleum & gas industry.

Let’s Get to the Users
The study asked the participants to identify the most important product features, characteristics, and specs that they consider when selecting distributed/remote I/O. Whether in PLC, DCS, or PC-based applications the top three considerations were compatibility with existing or other systems, compatibility with chosen hardware, and reliability, although not in the same order, and with less mention (as a %) by the PC-based group. Figure 1 details the major findings.

Participants were asked for their recommendations on how to simplify, reduce, and speed up maintenance of these I/O products. Self-diagnostic capabilities and easier-to-use diagnostics were the clear top choices, mentioned by more than 60% of the respondents. Better documentation and better vendor web site support can third and fourth.

Hot-swappable I/O was named an important consideration for the DCS crowd—64% called it very important. By comparison, 52% of the PLC group and 28% of the PC-centric users called it very important. All users did recognize the importance of hot-swapping for applications in which high levels of uptime and reliability are vital. 

The study also asked about the most important non-product-performance criteria in making a selection. Price (named by 54%), application/technical assistance (51%), customer support (40%), and parts availability/delivery (39%) were top of the list. Figure 2 identifies the other criteria mentioned.

The Ins and the Outs
The study participants were asked to identify the type of sensors being most used with these I/O products. Flow, pressure, RTD, level, and thermocouple were the clear most cited sensor inputs by the DCS group.

For PC-based system users, there was considerably less use as a percent of the responders, but proximity, pressure, thermocouple, flow, strain gauge made the top five.

The PLC user group was better defined, with proximity, pressure, level, thermocouple, and flow significantly outdistancing other sensor inputs. Figure 3 details the findings.

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