The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is revolutionizing manufacturing and demanding greater productivity. As companies compete to get their products to market faster and cheaper, they need simple solutions to enable agility in their operations – all at the snap of a finger.

Since there’s no time or budget for special tools or expensive, highly-trained engineers and electricians, machine builders need products that are easy to use, install and maintain. As you may have read in this past blog post about the Smart Factory of The Future, this need is driving a trend in industrial automation called “plug-and-produce.”  

How is Plug-and-Produce Impacting Smart Factories?

To understand it, let’s consider a similar term you’re likely already familiar with – “plug-and-play.” A plug-and-play product, as its name suggests, can simply be connected and turned on – and it works. It carries an expectation of ease of use and reliable, foolproof operation. The practical extension of plug-and-play products, when you apply them across an entire industrial facility, has given way to the term plug-and-produce.

Many networking and connectivity companies are evolving their products to follow the principles of plug-and-produce. With a new array of potential products and solutions at their fingertips, machine builders will see many direct benefits.

One such product is universal input/output (I/O) modules. Universal I/O modules are essential to building networks that operate in the new world of plug-and-produce. It not only makes machine builders’ lives easier, but also has a direct impact on the bottom line. It’s especially valuable for machine builders who face space and budget constraints, or greater power and performance requirements.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is enabling machine builders to make a "plug-and-produce" infrastructure possible.

Universal I/O Modules’ Benefits for Smart Factories and Machine Building

If you want to make the vision of plug-and-produce a reality, you will need these universal I/O modules to make it happen. Let’s examine the impact these I/O modules will have on machine builders and the four key benefits they will bring:

1. Less Complexity. The most ideal I/O module is truly universal. It allows the use of current or old machine designs, while making a future upgrade easy.

Universal I/O modules don’t need specific inputs or outputs. The ability to buy a module with as many inputs or outputs as you need – as opposed to being constrained to the typical 8 inputs and 8 outputs – means you can tailor the module to your needs, instead of the other way around.

In addition, a plug-and-produce-ready I/O module will come with additional adapters. This allows machine builders to not only buy modules with the accommodations they need, but to change course and accommodate varying applications without drilling new mounting holes.

2. Improved Inventory. Choosing a universal I/O module can help you stock fewer product types and variants and ultimately streamline your suppliers. Machine builders can keep one module on the shelf and adapt it for all applications.

The right I/O module has bit-mapping between the physical ports of the module and the logical representation. This means the mapping length can be configured in any way needed to be exchangeable with any module used on the machine.

So, if the software in an I/O module is compatible with all other modules on the machine, the need for multiple I/O modules is gone and inventory is simplified. And, with less device types to stock, less storage space is needed for spare parts.

3. Global Use. Universal I/O modules should meet multiple industry protocols for global and regional use, including PROFINET and EtherNet/IP.

Without this capability, machine builders for global operations are stuck replacing I/O modules on machines to meet the country-specific or protocol-specific requirements. This involves countless product variants and a wide and complex chain of suppliers.

But with the right I/O module that meets many different industry protocols, operating globally is seamless.

4. Greater Impact on the Bottom Line. I/O modules that are more adaptable and easy to customize means your customers don’t have to spend time and money training staff on new modules. With fewer parts to train on, easier module replacements and less downtime, machine builders can help their customers experience greater overall efficiency and cost savings.

In addition, the ability to use one module for multiple applications, instead of constantly purchasing new ones to meet evolving needs, positively impacts the bottom line.

Universal I/O modules are key to the future of machine builders, especially as networks shift to the easy, agile "plug-and-produce" model.

These benefits show that universal I/O modules are the key to operating in the new plug-and-produce, machine building environment. If machine builders find the right I/O modules, they can simplify operations and save money – essentially, doing more with less.

To help machine builders convert to a plug-and-produce network, Belden and Lumberg Automation created a product family of devices for smart factories that includes active I/O modules, I/O hubs, distributed control units (DCUs), Ethernet switches, connectors and cables.

Not only do the LioN-Power Active I/O Modules offer the benefits we’ve outlined, they support both the PROFINET and EtherNet/IP protocols and different power components. Their multi-protocol ability reduces the number of stock items or spares needed. Overall, this product’s features make it cost-effective, easy-to-handle and flexible. To learn more about these universal I/O modules, click here.

Have you experienced the benefits of universal I/Os? Have you faced any challenges? Where are you in your transition to a plug-and-produce infrastructure? I look forward to hearing from you.

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