22 July, 2024

The foundation for intelligent sensors and actuators

16 June, 2017

By Patrick Berdal, product manager for control devices, Automation Group Europe, Parker Hannifin, looks at how industrial networks are shaping the future of pneumatic motion control.

As industrial devices are becoming more connected, boosted by trends such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or Industry 4.0, factories are increasingly using industrial networks to make their sensors and actuators more intelligent. This is largely driven by the need for better performance, flexible manufacturing and the desire to integrate factory installations with IT systems.

Communications enabled devices are used extensively in the modern factory to control industrial processes or machines. Microprocessor based systems provide advanced functions, including analogue monitoring, control and high-speed motion control as well as data sharing over communication networks – so which of the various industrial networks available on the market today are being successfully utilised in the implementation of the IIoT for pneumatic motion control?

More and more manufacturers have their own ideas and interpretations of what a ‘smart factory’ is and what they want it to do for them. A common theme is often the need for embedded components to have additional intelligence, thereby enabling machine-to-machine communication and reaction. All of these ideas eventually come down to more practical aspects such as system architectures and how the multitude of new sensors – and an increasing number of actuators – will communicate via the network.

Industrial networks are used for process control, monitoring or both. Industrial network protocols can be thought of as a set of rules that the system must adhere to which governs the language, media and topology of the network itself.

Selecting the right network is always going to be about what’s most important to the manufacturer. The system topology is also a key consideration for factors such as redundancy, future expandability, ease of implementation and what kind of special hardware is required to run the system.

IIoT driving changes in the market

Ethernet networks are rapidly gaining popularity. Many of these networks and protocols are specifically designed for industrial applications, and some of the main benefits include integration with the IT infrastructure, Internet connectivity and remote monitoring.

Many of the Ethernet networks and protocols, such as PROFINET IO, EtherNet/IP, EtherCat, Modbus TCP, have been around for the past 15 years, but until now the prohibitive cost of installing these systems had limited the scope of their applications to those requiring the highest levels of sophistication. As a result, more economical fieldbus networks such as PROFIBUS DP, DeviceNet, CANopen, AS interface have been popular in the past for less complex operations.

However, the trend we are seeing now, in all types of industries where process automation is applied, is that the traditional fieldbuses, such as PROFIBUS DP, DeviceNet and CANopen, are slowly getting squeezed out of the picture, both with the cost of Ethernet networks and protocols coming down and the rise of emerging technologies in the market, such as wireless networks and open communications protocols.

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