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New decentralised IO system delivers real-time data handling

New decentralised IO system delivers real-time data handling

Andrew Parker-Bates, Product Manager at industrial automation specialist Festo, answers questions about its new CPX-AP-I decentralised IO system and the improvements it delivers for machine builders, system integrators and end-users.

CPX-AP-I is a decentralised IO system that provides seamless connectivity from the field level right through to the cloud, making digitalisation incredibly easy. It integrates IO Link, high speed data transfer to the cloud and intelligent connectivity to the host PLC in one simple package. This allows integration of I/O link masters and valve terminals into major host systems in a flexible and scalable way, no matter which industrial automation network is being used. This combination of capabilities offers some significant advantages over existing alternatives for machine builders, system integrators and the end user.

What has inspired Festo to develop this product?

We want to help our customers deliver on the Industry 4.0 vision of the smart factory: a highly automated environment in which every component, every device, every system and every site is digitally connected via the cloud. To deliver this requires seamless communications and a standardised approach to machine architecture that can handle potentially massive amounts of data in real time.  Right now, industry is in a state of transition, where the benefits of Industry 4.0 connectivity are beginning to take hold but the standardisation required at all levels is not yet fully realised. We see CPX-AP-I as an enabling technology that can deliver the seamless communications and high data speeds necessary for smart factory automation.

Is network communications a new departure for Festo?

While we are probably best known for our pneumatics expertise, Festo has a long history of innovation in many aspects of industrial automation, as well as a central involvement in the development of common communication protocols for Industry 4.0. For example, the company is currently participating in the FIND (future industrial network architecture) research project, which is working to develop the foundation for the industrial Internet of tomorrow, based on the latest network technologies from the fields of industrial automation, Internet and 5G communications. It has applied this combination of skills in the development of the new CPX-AP-I communication platform.

What was the biggest single challenge in developing CPX-AP-I?

The biggest challenge for us was finding a way of achieving the level of standardisation and connectivity required without compromising on design flexibility. Achieving network neu-trality was a key element to dev-eloping a viable solution. PROFINET, EthernetIP, EtherCAT® and Modbus are the most commonly used networks in industrial automation, but customers may combine these network options with other communication standards to share information across different parts of their business. For example, a machine can carry IO Link at the base layer, PROFINET in the middle automation layer and OPC-UA over Ethernet with the communication to the cloud. This makes standardisation very complex for machine builders and system integrators. CPX-AP-I makes it much simpler.

How does CPX-AP-I work?

CPX-AP-I is based on Festo’s new Automation Platform (AP). Essentially, it consists of a fieldbus module which will connect to networks such as PROFINET, PROFI-BUS, Ethernet/IP, Mod-bus and EtherCAT®, ensuring that customers can integrate the system irrespective of their host PLC of choice. Below this fieldbus module, the system then becomes standard and communicates on the Festo Automation Platform. Offering genuine network neutrality, CPX-AP-I therefore ensures that customers can maintain a standardised architecture and bill of materials, with all I/O seen as being on the host network – irrespective of the customer’s choice of PLC.

What data speeds are possible with CPX-AP-I?

This system achieves impressive speeds of 200Mbaud/sec on each of the ASIC’s three ports. To put this into perspective, that is twice the speed of equivalent industrial Ethernet based networks available today. These speeds have been achieved by embedding the AP protocol, which is the backbone of the new system, directly on the silicon. So, unlike solutions based on IO Link, CPX-AP-I is always synchronous to its host PLC.

How does improved data speed benefit the customer?

The data speeds that CPX-AP-I can deliver enable higher productivity due to faster overall cycle times and deliver real-time system behaviour. The Festo AP protocol is fast enough to deal with data-hungry formats such as video, and its multichannel approach ensures that the user can parameterise the size of the cyclic data channel and the non-real time data channel. This ensures the cyclic data is never adversely affected and deterministic behaviour is guaranteed, which has benefits for predictive maintenance features such as monitoring cable quality or actuator travel times. The customer can use these tools to minimise maintenance costs and to optimise machine availability and cycle times.

Improving functionality often means adding more interfaces. Is this true for CPX-AP-I?

Quite the reverse. CPX-AP-I offers the ability to incorporate more devices using fewer interfaces. The new system has the flexibility of connecting up to 500 different devices, each containing the AP ASIC, to the same network node: so the limiting factor is never the AP protocol. Modules available include digital I/O, analogue Inputs, incorporating temperature measurement, IO Link masters and – unique to Festo – pneumatic valve terminals with embedded connectivity. Integrating valve terminals in the system reduces the integration cost and complexity for customers. It also allows machine builders to avoid connecting hardwired valve terminals to remote I/O or adding costlier PROFINET or Ethernet/IP valve terminal modules. This reduces the number of devices required, simplifying installation and shortening delivery times.

What other improvements does CPX-AP-I offer?

Each module is connected via a CAT6e cable that meets the high electromagnetic requirement of a 125MHz system and is already prepared for high speed cable chains. Separate 24V DC power connection allows more power to be run through the system network – up to 4 Amps – so larger valves and loads than previously can be switched. Separating the protocol and load supply also allows designers greater flexibility on the system behaviour during an emergency stop. For example, if a loading door is opened, devices inside can be isolated without interrupting data communications.

How easy is it to integrate CPX-AP-I?

CPX-AP-I follows plug-and-play principles. The system is prepared for tree, line and star topologies with a maximum cable length between modules of 50 metres. In combination, the decentralised connectivity and generous cable length offered by CPX-AP-I means that modules can be fitted wherever groups of devices need connecting – offering so much more flexibility for machine builders.

How can users optimize their CPX-AP-I system?

The Festo Automation Suite forms the basis for parameterising, programming and maintaining devices from Festo in a single software package, and a new plug-in for AP-I is available. It already features temperature measurement in every module, load voltage monitoring, cable length, webserver with smart functions/live diagnosis, re-addressing protection and TIA V15 auto detection and other capabilities – such as a valve cycle counter and IoT connectivity – will be added shortly. Future diagnostic tools are likely to include dashboards, cable quality monitoring, actuator position monitoring and I/O time stamping, to name a few.

What next for CPX-AP-I?

CPX-AP-I represents a significant step forward in the provision of decentralised digitalisation, moving beyond what has previously been possible with simple IO systems. It represents the first part of a whole platform providing different types of RIO families (decentral, modular IP65/67/20), which will include motors, single valves, service terminals and new valve terminals. As we constantly develop new automation products like servo drives, motion controllers, pneumatic valve terminals and sensors, integrating the ASIC becomes simple: enabling real time behaviour and the collection of big data with very little additional cost.

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