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Sensor Integration ‘On the Edge’

Industry 4.0’s dream of universal integration and data sharing can seem very remote from the daily challenges that engineers face, shift by shift, to deliver on machine availability, efficiency, throughput, and profitability. 

So why, and where, is integration relevant in practical terms?  In reality, Industry 4.0 has more to do with step-by-step integration at the shop-floor, micro level, rather than any single, global, macro transformation.

Seeing Industry 4.0 from a sensor’s eye view helps us to understand this.  In the Industrial Internet of Things, Smart Sensors are the ‘things’, the ‘eyes and ears’ of every process and they have now become intelligent enough to think and act for themselves. By building smart sensor applications, engineers can exploit their smart capability one process at a time. 

Breakthrough Technology

IO-Link was the breakthrough technology that helped join the dots for industrial processes on the road towards Industry 4.0.  It delivered a standard open communications gateway to be used for sensors and actuators of all types in a machine. IO-Link enables sensors to cooperate at the lowest level of the automation hierarchy, then link, through an IO-Link Master, and transmit data, often with added value, via the factory ethernet network to a controller, such as a PLC. 

Enabled by IO-Link, Smart Sensors output the signals or values necessary to enable initial collaboration between other sensors and devices at the field level.  This decentralised automation takes processing load away from higher-level controls, increasing machine responsiveness and production speeds.

So, at the coalface of automation, sensors no longer simply collect data or send binary 1/0 switched outputs; they will intelligently interpret, act upon and communicate the information they collect.  

As a result, traditional, centrally-focused factory network control systems are freed from processing bottlenecks which could often slow the long data communications chain between sensors and PLC.  The processed data and resulting actions from field level can be made available for recording and review in the control room or in the cloud.  

Real-Time Insights

IO-Link also opens a window to individually identify and see right into the heart of the sensor via a local or cloud-based dashboard. Smart sensors provide real-time insights into their own operating status, as well as into the machinery they are part of.  Meanwhile, device replacement is ‘plug and play’, because the automation system remembers and downloads the settings to the new sensor automatically.   It’s easy to find where every sensor is located on a machine via its IODD (IO Device Description) , so the all-too familiar chore is eliminated where machine operators have to conduct time-consuming troubleshooting to track down a sensor when it needs to be replaced or even just cleaned.

This ‘smart’ new world view offers many new benefits, but it also needs a lot more processing power and generates a lot more data traffic.  So, for the whole system to be responsive and manageable, local, distributed processing and data-exchange hubs are just as necessary to take the load off the higher, more centralised levels of control. It will be just as important for engineers to retrofit and future-proof these devices into existing processes, as much as to design them into new plant or machinery.

Sensor Integration Gateways

These processes are facilitated via sensor integration machines and gateways. Such devices make progress towards so-called ‘edge computing’ as part of Industry 4.0 more straightforward.  They have extended the possibilities for engineers to imagine new multi-sensor applications.

SICK has already begun to roll out a scaled portfolio of devices to support sensor integration into fieldbus environments and higher automation hierarchies.  The SICK SIMs (Sensor Integration Machines), for example, are programmable sensor connection and data processing hubs that fuse decentralised, multi-sensor co-operation with field-to-cloud connectivity.

Field-level Co-operation

The SICK SIM1000 and SIM2000 Sensor Integration Machines collect and evaluate data from multiple sensors working together at the field-level via standard interfaces, including Ethernet, IO-Link, CAN and Serial.  With up to four Ethernet ports, the SICK SIM1000 and SIM2000 can support interfaces for cameras, lighting, LiDAR scanners, encoders, photoelectric or displacement sensors, as well as to higher level controls and to the Cloud.  The multi-sensor outputs, values and results can be used to drive typical industrial automation applications such as camera-based inspection, measurement, or identification of objects.  

In January, SICK launched the first in a family of intelligent Industry 4.0 gateways designed to work as both IO-Link Masters and small, distributed control systems in one.  Initially available with the PROFINET Ethernet fieldbus protocol, additional fieldbus versions of the SIG200 will follow in future.

Each SICK SIG200 has four master ports for connecting any IO-Link sensors and actuators. Its flexible data integration can even be extended to standard binary sensors with SICK’s SIG100 sensor hub, that can be used to bundle up to twelve standard I/Os in a single IO-Link data packet, which can then be communicated to machine controllers and cloud-based systems via the SIG200.  A maximum of 52 I/Os can be connected to one SIG200 by using SICK SIG100.

The SIG200 offers all the Industry 4.0 benefits of setting up a system using an IO-Link Master, PLC and sensors. Alternatively, it opens a second route, to by-pass the PLC and create a data gathering system linking straight to the cloud. It therefore opens up high-speed transfer of sensor status, parameter and diagnostics data with enterprise-level or cloud-based systems.

Process control functions, for example activating a mechanical pusher to reject products from a conveyor system, can be configured and set to operate autonomously without the need for the PLC.  So, the communication load in the fieldbus is reduced at the same time.

Starter Kit

SICK is offering an  IO-Link Master Starter Kit, which contains everything needed to set up an application using the SIG200. The kit includes the SIG200, IMC Proximity Sensor, WLG16 photoelectric sensor and reflector, cabling and accessories together with SICK’s SOPAS ET and FieldEcho software.  Step by step guidance is provided for a quick-start configuration of a simple application using the IO-Link Master. 

For more information please contact Andrea Hornby on 01727 831121 or email

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