F&B manufacturers step into Industry 4.0 with IO-Link technology

By Jenny Eagle contact

- Last updated on GMT

SICK launches AHS36 singleturn & AHM36 multiturn absolute IO-Link encoders. Photo: SICK.
SICK launches AHS36 singleturn & AHM36 multiturn absolute IO-Link encoders. Photo: SICK.

Related tags: IO-Link, Industry 4.0, Food safety

The growing use and benefits of smart sensors in food and beverage applications, such as photoelectric, process, vision inspection cameras, and code readers is stepping up a notch with IO-Link technology.

The IO-Link market was valued at $1.96bn in 2017 and is expected to reach $12.20bn by 2023, at a CAGR of 33.56% during the forecast period, according to MarketsandMarkets​ research firm. 

Horizon 2020

1 (1)

It believes the main players in this market are; Siemens (Germany), Balluff (Germany), ifm electronic (Germany), SICK (Germany), Rockwell Automation (US), Festo (Germany) Omron (Japan), Banner Engineering (US), Hans Turck (Germany), Pepperl & Fuchs (Germany), and Datalogic (Italy). 

Industry 4.0 refers to the digital industrial technology in which sensors, machines, and IT systems are connected along the value chain beyond a single enterprise. The emergence of Industry 4.0 and the need to stay ahead of the competition has led to increased demand for I/O devices (field devices) in both process and discrete industries​,” it says. 

The use of a serial communication protocol in field-level devices increases the productivity and fosters industrial growth. To promote the adoption of Industry 4.0, the European Union (EU) has decided to support the smart use of information and communications technology (ICT) and provide opportunities to micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to enter new markets by enabling them to participate in global digital supply chains through its Horizon 2020 program that focuses on research and innovation.​ 

This revolution is likely to increase productivity and foster industrial growth, which would increase the competitiveness of companies.​” 

It adds, the increased focus by many manufacturing industries to ensure greater operating safety and efficiency, as well as reduce errors and improve working conditions, has aided the adoption of packaging automation technologies and IO-Link offers a seamless connectivity between the sensor and the controller used in packaging automation. 

IO-Link capable color sensors and photoelectric sensors communicate real-time data in the packaging system to the controller. Sensor parameters can also be logged during the production process.  

SICK sensor intelligence

SICK sensor intelligence says it has gone the extra mile adding IO-Link to its encoders, which means manufacturers can create more distributed ‘clusters’ of sensors communicating and interacting with each other at field level via an IO-Link gateway. 

It believes it has reached an important milestone in the development of encoders with the addition of IO-Link compatibility, so motion control can be integrated into smart sensor configurations in automated food and beverage machinery for the first time.  

It also delivers benefits for machine integration, set up and diagnostics.  

Here, Darren Pratt, encoder specialist, SICK, talks to FoodNavigator about why IO-Link is an important technological development, allowing food and drink processors to make the most of Industry 4.0. 

The concept of the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and the idea of a “Smart Factory” has become a familiar talking point for the food and drink industry. Industry 4.0 is promising to remove the factory floor cobwebs so that all processes are visible, data is available, and workflows are optimised across an interconnected world,​” said Pratt. 

But, this big picture view of seamless connectivity can seem somewhat abstract to practically-minded engineers. Food processors want to know how Industry 4.0 can help them adapt their machines and systems to meet the day-to-day challenges of tight margins, pressure for more production uptime, transparent product traceability – all while juggling more frequent batch changeovers.​ 

When you look at Industry 4.0 from a sensor’s-eye view, you can see how it impacts at the shop-floor, micro level, rather than just a global, macro one, and it all starts to make a lot more sense. Firstly, sensors are the workhorses that collect the data at the field level to initiate and drive processes and provide vital information right from the heart of a machine about its efficiency and condition.​ 

Secondly, local, distributed processing and data-exchange hubs are just as necessary for Industry 4.0 as cloud-based networks, because they take the load off the higher, more centralised levels of control​.” 

Pratt says IO-Link is a breakthrough technology because it has provided a standard, open communications gateway that enables a common architecture to be used for sensors and actuators of all types. 

Devices can be grouped in local process clusters, cooperating at the lowest level of the automation hierarchy, then link, through an IO-Link Master, to transmit data, often with added value, via the factory ethernet network to a controller, such as a PLC.  

With the control system fully connected to “see” the sensor via IO-Link, manufacturers have access to a full range of diagnostic capabilities that were not previously available such as does the sensor need cleaning; is it about to reach the end of its life; will it last until the next production changeover. 

Through this combination of sensor self-monitoring and full transparency, production teams can adopt best practice approaches for effective condition monitoring and predictive maintenance​,” added Pratt. 

Demand for smart IO-Link sensors

He said SICK is seeing demand grow for ‘smart’ and IO-Link sensors, from photoelectric cells to process sensors and distance sensors, in food and beverage applications. 

For example, many processing and packaging operations are driven by batch production.  Altering machinery settings and sensor parameters manually every time there is a product changeover creates downtime and production stoppages​,” he said. 

Intelligent sensors, from code readers to vision systems, can detect product changes on the line and trigger a change to new parameter settings automatically with little or no interruption​.” 

Now, for the first time, IO-Link has been enabled in rotary motion control sensors – encoders - and a vital building block on the transition to Industry 4.0 in food and drink manufacturing processes has been completed. 

The basic function of an encoder is to count whole or part rotations in electric motors, drives and other rotating machinery elements so that absolute position, distance and speeds can be measured​,” added Pratt.  

Adding motion sensing into the IO-Link mix offers the potential for all sorts of simpler or more cost-saving measures to be opened up in food and drink applications where encoders operate alongside other types of sensors, such as conveying, cutting and slicing, packaging​.” 

Earlier this year, SICK launched its first range of absolute encoders with IO-Link, the AHS36 singleturn and AHM36 multiturn absolute IO-Link encoders. 

Developments to advanced IO-Link versions of the encoder will also enable processing of Smart Tasks within the encoder itself.  

For example, cost and space-saving benefits for machine builders and end-users because its 36mm diameter in design. The need to use an interface card on the PLC rack is eliminated and standard unshielded cabling can be used between the encoders and the IO-Link master. 

Because they are fitted right at the heart of working machinery, encoders are also ideally placed to provide additional data to the control system to monitor the health of processes and feed back data to guide the machinery in its functions. So, via the IO-Link gateway, IO-Link encoders offer diagnostic transparency and easy set-up with ‘plug and play’ device replacement​,” said Pratt. 

According to MarketsandMarkets, the growth of this market is mainly attributed to the ability of IO-Link to support several higher level Fieldbus and Ethernet communication protocols, and high focus on increasing energy efficiency, optimizing resources, and reducing production costs.

Europe is likely to continue to hold the largest market share during the forecast period. Rapid advancements in technologies, stringent regulatory policies, strong government support, along with the significant presence of key industry players, are a few major factors driving the market growth in Europe,​” it says.

Germany is expected to continue to hold a major share of the European market owing to the high concentration of German players in the market. Germany is also a major hub for discrete manufacturing industries, which also contributes toward the growth of the IO-Link market​.” 

Related topics: Food safety, Food Safety & Quality

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