Introduction to Industrial Communication Networks

Ofir Levi

Ofir Levi, CoreTigo Head of Support

| 25 December, 2023
Discover how industrial communication networks struggle with the demands of the Industry 4.0 era, and how IO-Link Wireless solves these.
Ofir Levi
Providing IO-Link-based products for devices, control, and software, CoreTigo ensures full and smooth implementation of this industrial wireless automation protocol into both existing machinery and automation equipment and newly created ones.

Ofir Levi

Head of Support

In the fast-paced landscape of manufacturing, many industries are rapidly transitioning towards Industry 4.0, which is driven by concepts such as mass customization, operational excellence, and business intelligence. To succeed in this new era, keep up with the pace of the competition, and gain an advantage, manufacturers require a more flexible, versatile, scalable, agile, and cost-effective approach to production. This necessitates maximum adaptivity, increased throughput, and a significant reduction in downtime. To achieve these objectives, a key component of the Industry 4.0 revolution is the implementation of an ultimate Industrial Communication Network – such a network is IO-Link Wireless.

What is an Industrial Communication Network?

An Industrial Communication Network is a critical backbone of an advanced manufacturing facility in general, and of one in the age of Industry 4.0 specifically. Whereas in the past every device operated on its own, with no relation to the others or with a factory control system; connecting various devices, sensors, actuators, and control systems within a manufacturing environment became a must in today’s industrial reality. Such connectivity serves as the nerve system of a smart factory, enabling seamless communication between machines, processes, systems and people.

Traditionally, wired communication systems have been the primary choice for factories due to their high reliability and low latency, making them suitable for both machine control and monitoring. However, the use of cables has its limitations. Cables restrict and limit the flexibility and agility of machines, are prone to degradation and breakage, resulting in downtime, and are costly to maintain, as at times entire sections of the communication infrastructure of the factory need to be repaired or replaced. Moreover, wired communication is more than often not feasible for high-speed motion control solutions, such as rotating components, robotic end-of-arm tooling, transport tracks & conveying systems, and more.

Conventional/traditional wireless communication methods such as Wi-Fi, Zigbee, and Bluetooth also fall short when it comes to meeting the strict requirements of industrial environments. They lack the necessary reliability, low latency, scalability, and deterministic nature to support real-time machine control. While these technologies are great for domestic/office use, they are ill-suited for controlling critical manufacturing processes. Even when it comes to monitoring applications, these protocols are revealed as unsuitable for the industrial space, as they lack the required characteristics, as well as pose an issue when it comes to convergence from their IT (Information Technology) domain and the Factory’s OT (Operational Technology) one.

To truly enable Industry 4.0, with its vast capabilities and strength, there is a need for a solution that provides intelligent, cost-effective, specifically designed industrial-grade wireless communication. Such a solution should cover communication from the Device level (sensors and actuators) to the Industrial Ethernet (PLC and industrial PC), all the way through the software and to cloud and enterprise applications.

Industrial Communications Solves Manufacturing Challenges

Whereas in the past manufacturing processes were conducted “blindly”, without the ability to gain visibility and real-time control and monitoring of the production line, IO-Link Wireless brings an era in which factories turn smarter than ever, enhancing and upgrading those that preceded it.  As in the case of other industrial communications, so is the IO-Link Wireless industrial network pivotal in addressing several manufacturing challenges:

  1. Enhanced Flexibility and Adaptability:

When it comes to mass customization, manufacturing processes need to be (a) highly adaptable, while retaining their ability to (b) produce quickly and (c) operate efficiently. Compromising any of these three elements poses a threat to the manufacturer’s ability to compete with others. Industrial communication networks, as a whole, allow machines and systems to communicate and adjust in real time, facilitating quick reconfiguration to meet changing product demands. IO-Link Wireless specifically enables achieving even more, by allowing to have these enhanced communication capabilities on moving and rotating parts of the machine and production line.

  1. Increased Throughput:

Efficient communication networks enable data to flow seamlessly between machines and systems, optimizing production processes and increasing throughput. This results in improved productivity and reduced time-to-market. When it comes to IO-Link Wireless, this gets an additional boost, as actuators can be controlled while on the move, as opposed to having required an external robot to serve as the actuator. The ability to handle the same amount of work (or more) with fewer machines and less footprint contributes greatly to increasing the throughput when manufacturing.

  1. Downtime Reduction

Industrial communication networks play a crucial role in predictive maintenance. Sensors and devices can relay real-time data to maintenance teams, allowing them to identify and address potential issues before they lead to costly downtime. Utilizing IO-Link Wireless’ ability to be placed in hard-to-reach places, even if in non-line-of-sight, contributes to an even greater constant monitoring ability and full visibility of each machine individually, as well as cross-factory. Knowing exactly what the condition of the equipment is and receiving indications of flaws, errors, or malfunctions, allow addressing these in time and in pre-determined maintenance downtimes.

  1. Cost Reduction

Eliminating the need for extensive cabling and enabling wireless communication not only reduces installation costs but also simplifies maintenance, lowering overall operational expenses. This is naturally only applicable to wireless industrial automation communication, as cabled ones still require massive work, parts, and supporting equipment when it comes to deploying, maintenance, scaling, and reconfiguring. IO-Link Wireless allows these to be done quickly, efficiently, and with a reduced cost.

Types of Industrial Communication Networks Used in Factories

The need for connectivity and operational visibility in industrial facilities is well acknowledged and has been addressed in the past years. In the attempt to bridge the gap over the unknown in the production line, various types of industrial communication were created, each suited to specific applications and requirements. Some of the most commonly used types include:

  1. IO-Link Wireless

IO-Link Wireless is a high-performance, industrial-grade wireless communication protocol designed to meet the rigorous demands of factory environments. The IO-Link Wireless system enables bi-directional communication between the devices on the factory floor, through the control level (PLC and similar), and all the way up to the management level applications, such as ERPs and alike. The devices powered by slip rings, inductive power, battery, or 24V, communicate with the IO-Link Wireless Master, which in turn communicates with the PLC in any number of industrial ethernet communication protocols, such as PROFINET, EtherNet/IP, EtherCAT, or OPC UA. It also communicates to the software application, allowing the convergence from OT to IT, and from there to the Cloud and On-premise applications (such as OEE, IIOT, Analytics, and more). IO-Link Wireless offers several key features that make it the preferred choice for Industry 4.0 applications.

  • Reliability: IO-Link Wireless provides an exceptionally high level of reliability with a 1e-9 Packet Error Rate (PER), which is significantly more reliable than other wireless standards like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Zigbee. If to put it in simple terms, it’s practically a million times more reliable than other wireless communication protocols.
  • Deterministic: If compared to traditional/common wireless communication protocols, one of the main highlights of IO-Link Wireless, is the fact that it’s a deterministic one, whereas the formerly mentioned ones are best-effort. This might seem like a non-issue to the unprofessional observer, yet industrial professionals are well aware of the fact that each transmission is critical and cannot be compromised. As opposed to video or music streaming, each tiny bit of information conveyed is of the highest importance and must reach its destination. If to put it in short terms, IO-Link Wireless was purpose-built as a deterministic protocol, ensuring that each data packet is delivered within a bounded delay. This predictability is vital for maintaining consistent performance.
  • Low Latency: IO-Link Wireless offers low-latency communication, in par with wired industrial communication protocols. The 5 milliseconds latency is an important feature, complementing the deterministic abilities of it. IO-Link Wireless allows the 5 msec latency for communication with up to 40 nodes,including sensors, actuators, and I/O hubs, with a distance of up to 20 meters, in accordance with the official protocol. If a user is willing to compromise the latency, in certain cases, this distance may be exceeded – increasing the latency, yet keeping it to industrial standards.
  • Coexistence: Operating in the unlicensed 4GHz ISM (industrial, scientific, and medical)band, IO-Link Wireless is designed to coexist with other wireless networks and interferers through mechanisms such as blocklisting and adaptive frequency hopping. This is to ensure seamless operation and optimal performance of all factory systems, simultaneously.
  • Interoperability: CoreTigo’s IO-Link Wireless devices support a wide range of IO-Link, Digital, and, Analog devices, making it suitable for retrofitting wireless capabilities to legacy equipment. As factory managers and other industrial end users are in no hurry to replace entire production lines at a great cost, this is a key element in converting facilities into IO-Link Wireless, enabling them to benefit from its abilities.
  • Power Consumption: The specification for IO-Link Wireless includes provisions for low-energy devices, facilitating the use of battery-powered sensors and actuators. This is critical in such cases where neither wired power nor contactless inductive one is unfeasible.
  1. Industrial Ethernet

Industrial Ethernet is a wired communication standard that has been meticulously designed and tailored to meet the rigorous demands of industrial environments. One of the key attributes of Industrial Ethernet is its reliability. Industrial Ethernet systems are engineered to withstand the harshest of conditions, making them a robust choice for environments where factors like temperature variations, electromagnetic interference, and dust are part of the daily routine.

Real-Time Control and Monitoring

Real-time control and monitoring applications are at the heart of many industrial processes, and Industrial Ethernet, much like IO-Link Wireless, caters to this critical need with low latency and fast data transmission. Whether it’s coordinating the complex operation of robotic arms on a manufacturing line or ensuring that a chemical process remains within tight tolerances, Industrial Ethernet offers the real-time responsiveness that modern industries demand.

Variety of Protocols

Industrial Ethernet encompasses a variety of protocols, favored by professionals in different parts of the world and in different companies. Some of the well-known protocols within the Industrial Ethernet family include EtherNet/IP, PROFINET, EtherCAT, and OPC UA. These protocols provide a framework for communication that is compatible with a wide range of industrial devices and systems and are supported by CoreTigo’s array of IO-Link Wireless Masters and Gateways – connecting via these to the PLC on one end, and via IO-Link Wireless to the devices on the other.

  1. Fieldbus Systems

Fieldbus systems represent a family of wired communication networks designed to address the unique challenges presented by industrial environments, particularly those where devices and systems need to communicate over extended distances. Fieldbus technology has been instrumental in process automation and is widely used in manufacturing industries where remote communication is a necessity.

Multiple Fieldbus Protocols

Fieldbus technology encompasses various protocols, including Foundation Fieldbus, Profibus, and HART (Highway Addressable Remote Transducer). These protocols provide the framework for devices to communicate digitally over the network, enabling seamless data exchange and control.

CoreTigo Industrial Communication Solutions

Catering to the ever-evolving needs of the industrial world, specifically in the era of Industry 4.0 and smart factories, is IO-Link Wireless in general, and CoreTigo’s unique way of implementing it into its diverse portfolio of products.

Providing IO-Link-based products for devices, control, and software, CoreTigo ensures full and smooth implementation of this industrial wireless automation protocol into both existing machinery and automation equipment and newly created ones. Offering the industrial market both enclosed products and embedded modules allows machine builders, automation equipment manufacturers, industrial system integrators, and factory automation end users to match their hardware and needs with the equivalent communication enabler.

While some are currently working on renewing their machinery, designing new equipment, or deploying new production lines, others keep using existing ones, and are in need of an immediate and easy option for utilizing the power of IO-Link Wireless, without starting from scratch. Hence the embedded and enclosed products serve their purpose in allowing the designing of brand-new equipment or retrofitting existing ones.

By coexisting with other networks in the factory, and communicating with Industrial Ethernet protocols such as PROFINET, EtherNet/IP, EtherCAT, and OPC UA, CoreTigo covers all of the needs of manufacturing plants, logistics warehouses, and other industrial facilities. These require robust, reliable, deterministic, low-latency, and industrial-design wireless communication to allow them to fulfill and reach the full potential of their operations by creating a unified industrial network.

In summary, Industrial Communication Networks (also known as Industrial Communication Systems) are essential for modern manufacturing, enabling factories and other industrial operations to achieve mass customization, operational excellence, and data-driven decision-making. The implementation of IO-Link Wireless, as offered by CoreTigo, is revolutionizing the way industries communicate, paving the way for smarter, more flexible, and cost-effective manufacturing processes in the era of Industry 4.0. As factories and other industrial operation lines continue to evolve, the role of wireless industrial communication will become even more integral in shaping the future of manufacturing.

Ofir is an experienced support manager with 23+ years of experience in global tech companies and industrial automation. He possesses strong skills in process control, industrial communication, and control systems. As Head of Technical Support, Ofir led teams of technical engineers providing presales, post-sales, and professional services at Unitronics and Megason. Ofir holds a BSc. in computer science and electronics & control.