FieldEcho® – IO-Link taken a step farther

Jul 7, 2021

GO BEYOND. Discovery #6 

Is there a tool which automatically detects all IO-Link devices in a machine? Would it not be desirable if the device descriptions (IODD) could be automatically downloaded in the same way? And is it not in the spirit of future-proof machine concepts and Industry 4.0 to be able to parameterize and monitor IO-Link devices throughout their entire life cycle, regardless of the control system and fieldbus? Three questions there is an answer for: The FieldEcho from SICK.

The FieldEcho aims to make the handling of IO-Link devices from all manufacturers as simple as possible and to remove anything which could stand in the way of the use of IO-Link devices. The system-independent software tool is always available and closes any existing gaps in integration. The FieldEcho independently integrates into machine HMIs and creates direct access to the process and service data of all IO-Link devices. These are exactly the parameter values, diagnostic messages, events and alarms which are usually not or only rarely required in the control program of the machine or plant but which deliver decisive information to MES or cloud applications. The FieldEcho thereby guarantees complete transparency of device data, thereby supporting commissioning and monitoring during system operation as well as targeted maintenance measures. The FieldEcho saves development time - the required PLC code consists of only one line - and ensures that PLC cycle times remain unaffected. Control communication via OPC UA or TCP/IP as well as data exchange with IT- or cloud-based applications via REST enables state-of-the-art IO-Link data integration into any Industry 4.0 applications. 


IO-Link: Ideal data channel for smart and future-proof automation 

Digitalization, Industry 4.0, the Smart Factory or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) - implementation of these mega-trends require one thing above all: Data. The IO-Link point-to-point communication is the ideal channel for providing such data, typically measured values, parameter settings and device information. There are a number of reasons for the success of IO-Link: The devices are fieldbus-independent, help minimize costs and are cost-neutral themselves. They reduce the number of different I/O types in a machine to one IO-Link master, transmit data digitally and provide ad-ditional diagnostic information. They can be connected using standard sensor cables and communicate bidirectionally - they can therefore be parameterized and read out at runtime. All this opens up new and different application functions - be it production in batch size 1, the locking of operating elements or the provision of preprocessed data. Intelligent sensors can even execute so-called Smart Tasks, for example counting or measuring lengths, and then provide this information via IO-Link. The popularity of IO-Link is no surprise: More and more field devices – particularly those which do not have Ethernet space – have the interface on board. Several hundred IO-Link devices in a machine line are therefore no longer uncommon.


Making the benefits of IO-Link more accessible and useful

SICK developed the FieldEcho software tool with the aim of closing any existing integration gaps, making the use of IO-Link devices as easy and resource-efficient as possible and providing IO-Link data for Industry 4.0 applications using typical IT processes. It offers complete access to all IO-Link device data at all times in order to call up, observe or change it via a browser or HMI (human machine interface). The IODD of the connected IO-Link devices detected by the FieldEcho are automatically downloaded and made available to the ports of the configured IO-Link masters. There time usually needed for manual downloads is saved. Communication is dependent on the system - it can be done via different PLCs, fieldbuses and IO-Link masters. The time and effort for development is minimal: The software developer of the machine manufacturer only has to write a single line of PLC code, with which the function block generated and delivered by the FieldEcho is called up to send read or write requests to the IO-Link devices. Controls from Beckhoff, Mitsubishi, Rockwell Automation and Siemens are currently supported. With read and write data access, the FieldEcho communicates with the machine PLC via OPC UA or TCP/IP, both which are established standards in industrial communication and are sufficiently future-proof. A REST API, through which data is sent and received in JSON format, is also sent and received on board. You can transmit IO-Link device data to ERP and MES sys-tems as well as cloud-based services in this way in order to use the data in the Industry 4.0 world, for example for data analysis, predic-tive maintenance or inventory.




Graphic, web-based, user-friendly: The user interface

The FieldEcho offers a graphic web-based user interface in a mod-ern, self-explanatory and appealing design. It can either be opened with a browser or integrated in the HMI of a machine or plant. In the system and IO-Link master overview, it visualizes all configured IO-Link masters and the IO-Link sensors and actuators which are connected to the respective ports and therefore automatically detected. It also clearly displays the status of all IO-Link devices. It is also possible to open the software in a device page, which enables the user to look at the device data like with a zoom function. In this view, the device identification is displayed with information such as the serial number or the software version and device name and image. Incoming and outgoing process data is visible at a glance. In addition, the graphic user interface also provides the option of completely parameterizing all IO-Link devices. The FieldEcho there-fore ensures unrestricted transparency - the entire IO-Link system is visible for the user on the screen like an open book. The machine manufacturer or system integrator therefore not only saves time, but also relieves its PLC, thereby ensuring that the usual performance of the machines or plants is maintained.



Autonomous, dynamic, communicative:
The FieldEcho dashboard

With the REST API, the FieldEcho enables integration of IO-Link data into ERP and MES systems as well as into proprietary applications or cloud-based services. Using this REST API, the FieldEcho dashboard offers a complete overview of the status of all IO-Link devices. It also autonomously warns or sends alarms in the event of an anomaly. It automatically connects to the FieldEcho, inde-pendently fetches the information on the entire IO-Link system using the REST API and structures the interface dynamically all on its own using the received data - the user therefore does not have to spend time on configuration. The dashboard features an integrated database to be able to manage a lot of information from a large number of IO-Link devices. This database can be used to access any applications - as an alternative to requesting via REST API - therefore reducing the communication load on the fieldbus and via IO-Link. The dashboard makes it possible to select individual process data and device parameters for observation from the cloud level - which would otherwise require elaborate programming in the PLC without the FieldEcho and dashboard - and to set limit values and alarms. An example of what is possible with these function is the quality-of-run diagnosis of an optical sensor in order to identify its detection reliability if it gets contaminated. A switching threshold is typically defined here for which the sensor automatically generates a corresponding signal. It is now possible to define and monitor your own contamination limit values in the dashboard inde-pendently of this threshold value in the sensor in order to use them in a predictive maintenance application. Warnings and alarms are visualized - also in the form of test messages. In addition, the dashboard can send corresponding e-mails, for example to the person responsible for plant operation or the machine service staff.



IO-Link integration easier than ever before

FieldEcho makes IO-Link data accessible and transparent as a manufacturer-dependent integration tool. It enables system-dependent access to parameterization and monitoring of all IO-Link devices in a plant through the entire life cycle. The automated detection of connected IO-Link devices and the automated retrieval of their IODDs minimizes the time needed for and sources of error of engineering and commissioning work. Data between the FieldEcho and the automation system is exchanged via OPC UA or TCP/IP as an alternative. The REST API is used as a communication channel to MES, ERP or cloud applications. The FieldEcho currently is closing any existing IO-Link integration gaps and giving momentum to the dissemination of IO-Link technology in all branches of automation engineering.

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Christoph Müller

Senior Vice President Product Management  Industrial Integration Space

Christoph Müller is responsible for Product Management and Marketing for the Global Business Center Industrial Integration Space, and thus all SICK's activities involving vertical integration and data-based solutions for Industry 4.0.