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IO-Link and SPE/APL unlock data at the edge

July 18, 2022
Ethernet veteran shares his thoughts on the state of industrial networking

Tom Weingartner joined PI North America, the nonprofit trade organization supporting Profibus, Profinet, IO-Link and omlox technologies in North America as its new technical marketing director.

Weingartner has more than 30 years’ experience ranging from ASIC design to avionics system development with emphasis on communication and control. He has spent the past 15 years advancing industrial-Ethernet technology at the silicon and network interface solution level, including Profinet RT/IRT and time-sensitive networking, at Analog Devices. In this capacity, Weingartner participated in various PI North America plugfests, workshops and trade fairs, demonstrating Profinet technology, as well as contributing to presentations, articles and working groups over the years.

Also read: Ethernet vs. fieldbus

What have been the biggest improvements to industrial-networking technology in the past five years?
Tom Weingartner, technical marketing director, PI North America: One of the biggest improvements in the past five years has been in the “last meter” of industrial networks. Both the growth of IO-Link and emergence of single-pair Ethernet (SPE)/advanced physical layer (APL) have greatly improved the reach of networks to unlock data at the edge. IO-Link’s simple, standardized wiring significantly reduces the variety of interfaces for sensors/actuators while providing consistent communication between sensors/actuators and the controller. SPE/APL brings similar levels of simplicity and consistency to intrinsically safe environments for process automation. Each of these communication technologies also has the advantage of being able to provide power to the devices at the edge of the network. So, when we talk about getting data from the sensor to the cloud, or vice versa, it is the application of these technologies at the edge of the network that make it possible.

What future innovations will impact the use of industrial-networking technology in discrete-manufacturing operations?
Tom Weingartner, technical marketing director, PI North America: The biggest impact to industrial networking in the future will come from innovations around time-sensitive networking (TSN). From the baseline specification created by the IEEE to the industrial network profile specified by IEC/IEEE 60802 and the subsequent adoption of TSN into Profinet, this massive effort will enable the convergence of OT and IT networks. But all of this is only the enabler for evolving manufacturing operations from where they are to giving automation equipment the ability to “plug and produce.” In other words, a standard, off-the-shelf piece of automation equipment will be able to be plugged into the network and be able to take on its production role without any operator intervention. Adapting to the network, whether it is 10 Mbit/s or 1 Gbit/s operating at 100 µs or 100 ms cycle time, or it’s connecting to more than one controller, all of this will be done in a completely secure manner transparent to the end user. In other words, it is the confluence of these innovations that will bring plug-and-produce to future manufacturing operations.

Tell us about your company’s state-of-the-art industrial-networking technology.
Tom Weingartner, technical marketing director, PI North America:
PI North America is dedicated to supporting the global PI organization responsible for the Profibus, Profinet, IO-Link and omlox technologies. Its standardization efforts and commitment to openness have guaranteed leading-edge, certified-interchangeable products from an enormous range of suppliers. In particular, communication from sensor to cloud is possible today already, with IO-Link as a widely deployed sensor-level protocol and Profinet as the Industrial Ethernet backbone. IO-Link is a serial, bi-directional point-to-point connection for signal transmission and energy supply under any network, fieldbus, or backplane bus. With IO-Link, information can be exchanged between the I/O level and the field device. Profinet is the world’s most advanced Industrial Ethernet solution. It is a communication protocol to exchange data between controllers and devices. Controllers can be programmable logic controllers (PLCs), distributed control systems (DCSs) or programmable automation controllers (PACs). Devices can be I/O blocks, vision systems, RFID readers, drives, process instruments, proxies or even other controllers.

About the author: Mike Bacidore
About the Author

Mike Bacidore | Editor in Chief

Mike Bacidore is chief editor of Control Design and has been an integral part of the Endeavor Business Media editorial team since 2007. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning multiple regional and national awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at [email protected] 

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