How it Got Started
A number of years ago, long before the term Industry 4.0 was coined, there was demand – primarily from sensor and actuator manufacturers – to develop a simple and cost-effective multi-functional interface. The goal was defined by a simple implementation – without the need for specialized ASIC solutions – which would enable penetration into a class of devices previously incapable of communicating. It had to be possible to fully utilize the data potential of simple, cost-sensitive devices. Ten companies quickly announced their readiness to actively pursue this goal jointly and amicably within PI. This cooperative spirit is still the DNA of the working groups, which very much function as a real community to this day.
The Current State of Things
After maturing for a period of time, IO-Link has become a communication standard sought after in many areas of industry and implemented in a very large number of products. Manufacturers in the market are also hearing the same question more and more often: Is this device also available with IO-Link?
For quite a while now, acceptance of this interface hasn’t just been limited to Europe – it’s truly a global phenomenon. Companies in many countries have joined together in their own marketing and workshop activities. Both interest and growth have been very high in Asia, in particular.
The factor for success of this PI technology was neutrality and easy adaptation to all common field buses, in addition to technical performance. IO-Link and PROFINET in particular make an outstanding duo, not least thanks to standardized mapping.
To meet the new immediate demand of Industry 4.0 applications – namely, continuous connection from the lowest field level to every area of edge and cloud-based applications – the community has also created a transition and direct connection to the world of IT with a JSON REST API. The working groups also successfully created this interface fully in line with the IO-Link features of simplicity and comprehensive functionality.
Together with the IODD device description developed at the same time, IO-Link has since grown to become an entire ecosystem providing a highly successful service: the IODDfinder. In terms of its functionality and openness, this data server has become a new milestone in the usability of IO-Link, enabling devices to be automatically integrated into a controller or engineering tool. IODDfinder has been a complete success, as impressively demonstrated by its 750,000 monthly uses on over 20,000 devices.
Outlook for the Future
After years of acceptance and growth, the world can’t just stop spinning. Thanks to its Safety and Wireless expansions, IO-Link has been given an even broader range of functions. In one of the next generations, performance data will also be considerably improved by expanding the physical layer to Single Pair Ethernet, for example. The usability of specific device classes is also continually being expanded through the use of profiles, as the community continues working together on future-oriented further development. In this sense, nothing stands in the way of further establishment or penetration into areas outside traditional factory automation any longer.
I’m very confident that IO-Link will see further growth as a neutral PI technology in other areas of application as well.