In Part 1 of this series I described how global competition and the IIoT are changing the industrial automation model. In the new model, the majority of the control function occurs at the field-level, a massive change that requires new kinds of field-level devices.

The new devices will be “plug-and-produce,” that is, they are simply connected, turned on and presto! - they work. Many of them will also include programmable logic control features. These flexible, modular field-level devices will facilitate quick manufacturing changes, thereby getting products to market faster and cheaper. This is a key capability of the Smart Factory of the Future.

What do plug-and produce-devices mean for the control and communication infrastructure of tomorrow? Deepen your IIoT knowledge by reading on to learn about the next generation of field-level devices.

In the future field-level devices will be compact and modular. They will also collaborate with other devices to provide flexible discrete automation control systems.

What Are the Initial Types of Field-Level Plug-and-Produce Devices?

Today switch or control cabinets contain the components for the main functions of automation systems:

  • Power distribution
  • Electrical safety
  • Discrete control
  • Industrial networking

In the future many of these functions will move to the field-level. Cabinet space will be reclaimed and put to use for additional production lines or factories will be smaller and more efficient. To achieve this, the functions above need to be handled by interoperable, plug- and-produce capable, field-level devices, including:

  • Active input/output (I/O) modules
  • I/O hubs
  • DCUs
  • Ethernet switches
  • Connectors
  • Cables

As equipment migrates from control cabinets to the factory floor, the field-level versions of them need to be industrially hardened, with Ingress Protection (IP) levels of IP65 to IP69K. Plus, they need to include programmable logic capability, or work with devices that have it.

Collaborating compact field-level devices will work together to provide effective, modular discrete automation control systems. As plug-and-produce infrastructure continues to be refined, additional components, such as power distribution, power supply and cloud gateways, are the next practical advancements.

The IIoT automation model of tomorrow consists of hardened, collaborating, plug-and-produce field-level devices. Click here for larger image.

The Characteristics of Initial Field-Level Plug-and-Produce Devices

The products used to build field-level plug-and-produce systems include:

1. Active I/O Modules

Active I/O modules directly interface with sensors and actuators and transmit data to and from a PLC via an industrial Ethernet network. The newest generations of active I/O modules provide:

  • Support for multiple protocols such as PROFINET and EtherNet/IP
  • Both digital I/Os and IO?Link ports

These features increase the flexibility and functionality of the modules, reducing the number of stock items needed.

2. I/O Hubs

I/O hubs are IO?Link devices that extend machine installations by connecting multiple digital I/Os per IO-Link port. With automation applications, point?to?point IO?Link communication can be used to transmit both data and power for distances up to 20 meters.

3. Distributed Control Units

New plug-and-produce DCUs combine field I/O modules and PLC functionality into one device in order to significantly reduce costs and simplify installation. They process data and become part of CPSs, autonomously exchanging information with other devices; triggering actions and controlling one another.

The new DCUs can be operated as standalone controllers or in collaboration with a central PLC. In the second case the DCU both relieves the workload on the PLC and reduces bus communication.

4. Ethernet Switches

The demand for Ethernet switches in the field grows with the number of Ethernet devices. Due to this growth, the daisy chain enabled by the integrated two?port switch of most active I/O modules and high-end Ethernet sensors may no longer suffice. Similarly, while unmanaged switches with 100 Mbps ports are adequate for most industrial applications today, higher data rates will be required in the future.

5. Connectors and Cable

The field-level, plug?and?produce concept requires connections that meet international connector standards and IP protection classes 65/67/69K (according to DIN EN60529). Over?molded circular connectors with M8 and M12 threads offer particularly good protection from moisture and dirt.

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Plug-and-Produce Products Enable the Smart Factory of the Future

While today many automation system components are located in cabinets, in the future many of the them move out to the field-level and become plug-and-produce devices. This means they need to be hardened with the correct IP ratings for the manufacturing environment and more of them will include programmable logic control.

Plug-and-produce products provide the flexibility, modularity and field level control needed to equip the smart factory of tomorrow. In further articles on this topic, I will cover implementation pitfalls to avoid and profile some of the first generation plug-and-produce product offerings.

If you want more information on plug-and-produce right away, or an informative briefing on the topic, download the white paper available below.

Are you using any plug-and-produce solutions now? Are they enabling flexible manufacturing? I look forward to hearing from you.

Related Links

IIoT / Smart Factory Resources

Belden Connectivity Products