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IO-Link 101: 8 Common Questions Answered

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You may be hearing a lot of buzz about IO-Link lately, but do you know what it is or how it works? Below are the answers to common questions about IO-Link technology, what it does, who can benefit from it, and more.

1.   What is IO-Link? IO-Link Comtrol_Group final

IO-Link is a standardized, bi-directional communication protocol supported on sensors or actuators, which are connected through a master. This gives the user/integrator more information about their devices and allows them to have remote access, which fits into the hot topic of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or Industry 4.0. IO-Link is a complimentary technology to an existing PLC, HMI or other controls architecture.

What IO-Link is Not: IO-Link is not another fieldbus. Rather, it was developed to reduce dependability on fieldbus support by manufacturers and users alike. It is designed to be as simple and universal as possible, requiring only standard M12/M8/M5 cables (no special cabling or connectors). It is also not a proprietary communication protocol, but rather a recognized international standard (IEC 61131-9).

2.   How is an IO-Link Sensor Different From a Standard IO Sensor?

Compared to a standard IO sensor, a sensor with IO-Link allows the user to see much more data about the sensor and even allows the ability to change the sensor’s settings without having to stop a manufacturing or production line to access the individual sensor. With an IO-Link sensor, you are also able to store parameters or settings inside of a master block, such as Comtrol offers, which can then be loaded to a brand new, factory-default device if necessary.

3.   What Kind of Data Can You See with IO-Link?

With IO-Link, you can see the manufacturer information and part number, among other data, of your sensors that are connected to the master block. So, if a sensor needs replacement but the lettering of the manufacturer or part number has rubbed off or become illegible, you can quickly see the exact model that needs to be replaced with this information already built in with IO-Link. This is also called Service Date, information that is not relative to a device’s function but rather about the device itself.

You can also view sensor performance and diagnostic information remotely through an IO-Link sensor. This is called Process Data (information that the sensor is reading, like temperature or distance) or Event Data (notifications or flags indicating, for example, a dirty lens, an error, communication loss to a sensor, etc.)

4.   What Kinds of Settings Can Be Changed with IO-Link?

A user can change the settings of an individual sensor without stopping the line to manually change the sensor settings one-by-one. With a web interface for instance, the user is provided access to these settings remotely. One of the most common uses of this capability is to change the read ranges of the sensors for product changeover.For example, if a manufacturer is producing “Product A” and “Product B” on the same line and needs to change sensor settings in-between the processes, this can be achieved by storing parameter sets in the PLC and then sending them out through the master block to sensors when a change is needed. The result? With IO-Link there is a potential for drastic reduction in downtime.

5.   What is an IO-Link System Comprised Of?

An IO-Link system consists of IO-Link sensors or actuators and an IO-Link master block. The information from an IO-Link device is communicated through an industrial Ethernet protocol, most commonly EtherNet/IP, PROFINET/IO, or Modbus TCP. The user can then access the sensor-level information and change sensor data remotely via the embedded web interface, PLC, HMI or other controller.

6.   Do I need a PLC to use IO-Link?

It depends on your industry and application. For example, Comtrol worked with one systems integrator in the mining industry that did not have a PLC present for a project. Instead, they used a connected PC to access sensor-level data from their presence detection IO-Link sensors. This allowed them to remotely view the results of the sensors checking for the presence of minerals.

7.   What are the Key Benefits of IO-Link?

IO-Link has three primary benefits: remote accessibility, auto-device replacement, and diagnostic capability. All of these key features of IO-Link contribute to reducing costly downtime, generally at manufacturing or production plants, and also gives the user much more information about their sensors or actuators.

Remote Accessibility: Refers to the capability to access sensor-level information and make changes from anywhere, as long as the user is able to connect to the a master and/or a network.

Auto-Device Replacement: Refers to IO-Link’s data storage feature that allows the user to download an old sensor’s data into a new sensor for seamless device replacement. This means that the new sensor can be quickly installed with all the settings of its predecessor, which ensures the line can be up and running in a timely manner.

Diagnostic Capability: Refers to the ability to see errors and other important information without having to stop the entire line to investigate the problem. For example, in material handling applications, a problem with a sensor would traditionally mean shutting down the system so that a person can access it and manually troubleshoot and makes changes to the device. With the ability to see error codes or other events through the web interface, the user can quickly identify which sensor is malfunctioning and what the problem is. No line shutdown required.

8.   What Industries Are Adopting IO-Link Technology?

Key industries that Comtrol is seeing use IO-Link include automotive, material handling, manufacturing, food & beverage, and many other industries, especially those that experience frequent changeover or typically long downtime.


Originally seen on SICK USA’s Blog:


Comtrol in the Broadcast Industry

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Broadcast Industry

The broadcast industry is made up of companies like TV networks, radio stations, and Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) have numerous peripheral devices that are crucial to the services that they provide. These companies need a way for their video servers, video switchers, wireless connections, control rooms, and satellites to communicate efficiently, and Comtrol’s product do just that.

Broadcast Industry

The RocketPort® SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) multi-port serial card line by Comtrol Corporation is the most comprehensive line available for the broadcast market, providing numerous solutions to serial device connectivity challenges. Available in 2 port and 8 port densities, the RocketPort® SMPTE has been utilized by broadcasting networks, giving them reliable connectivity to create, control, and distribute unique content.

Another line of products that has been beneficial to the broadcasting industry is Comtrol’s DeviceMaster® serial device servers. The DeviceMaster RTS server product enables browser-based remote port/device monitoring, which has allowed connections between peripheral devices such as cameras and printers, which are usually which are usually located away from the control room.

Customer Solution: Industrial Brewery Production and Diagnostics

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A major American brewing company was in need of a solution for its production facilities that could network multiple production processes together  and be able to withstand temperatures in excess of 140°F without failing. Multiple controllers and production machines needed to be seamlessly connected, and it had to work flawlessly.  After extensive research and testing, the company chose to deploy Comtrol’s DeviceMaster® UP.

Loaded with Modbus/TCP firmware, the DeviceMaster UP provides the brewery a flexible, easy-to-use and highly robust solution.  Controllers include SCADA systems communicating over Modbus/TCP and PLCs communicating via Modbus/TCP, serial Modbus/RTU or serial Modbus/ACSII.  The production machines communicate via ASCII data, Modbus/RTU or Modbus/ASCII.  Further complicating the situation, the ASCII data machines need to communicate to each controller independently.

The DeviceMaster UP seamlessly networks the controllers to the production machines. The automatic Modbus protocol conversion functionality enables multiple Modbus controllers to communicate to the serial Modbus machines.  The industry’s first command/response mode enables multiple controllers to independently communicate to the ASCII production machines.


Managing traffic: From airports to VLANs

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traffic congestionAs business travelers walk briskly, custodians clean, and administrative workers hold their heads down and move forward to deliver their messages – the common area connecting large airport concourses can quickly become a mess.  Huge amounts of traffic move in different directions, creating congestion in the space.

To improve traffic flow, an architect could re-design the common area in an airport to eliminate all commonality by including multiple levels, so that each separate concourse had its own truly dedicated path.  As you can imagine, this set of bridges would create multiple replications of identical walkways, each with their own infrastructure. This would be a very expensive way to manage pedestrian traffic.

Rather than creating elevated paths for each concourse, the architect could simply paint lines on the floor and tell each pedestrian to walk only in his/her specific lane until he/she reaches the associated concourse.  This system would attain the same goal – segregating traffic and eliminating interruptions caused by inter-concourse travelers while drastically reducing infrastructure costs to build.

Without a question, the above example is an oversimplification.  It is tough to imagine that a pedestrian traffic problem could be solved by red lines on the ground and a simple word of advice from the architect.


Avoiding Ring Topology? Benefits You May Not Know About

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Have you ever considered using a ring topology for your IP surveillance network?

Here at Comtrol, we rarely hear of customers who utilize networks that are configured in a ring.  A star topology is almost always the way networks are configured by most of our customers across industrial automation, security, energy and other major markets we specialize in.

Likely one of the biggest reasons why people avoid a ring topology is that there is rarely interoperability between different brands of switches within that ring.  There is also the fear of broadcast storm.  If one switch goes down in a ring, you will have to buy that brand of switch again for use in that ring unless you remove all current switches and install another brand completely.


Cutting commutes: New traffic technology in Minneapolis, MN

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The city of Minneapolis recently enhanced their Traffic Management Center to allow remote monitoring of every traffic light to reduce commute times.  Instead of sending out maintenance or technical personnel to the site when a traffic light issue arises, the traffic management operator is likely able to remotely resolve the problem.

Comtrol’s DeviceMaster® RTS is part of this integrated solution, enabling communication between the physical traffic lights and the management center.

(video from

To read the complete story by Jay Olstad, please visit

Product Spotlight: RocketLinx® Industrial Ethernet Switches

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The Comtrol RocketLinx series of industrial Ethernet switches are designed to meet the performance and environmental demands for applications requiring extended operating temperatures, rugged housings, high performance, and reliability.

With both managed and unmanaged models available, the RocketLinx industrial Ethernet switch series provides cost effective networking solutions delivering the industry’s best Ethernet switch technologies.


Customer Solution: Eyewear Lens Grinding & Polishing Equipment Control

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Several different software providers and equipment manufacturers in the eyewear production industry have recommended and integrated Comtrol’s products in conjunction with theirs to control lens grinding and polishing equipment.

Although each company has applied the various products to their applications in a slightly different fashion, they have all found Comtrol’s products to be the most reliable solution in providing serial communication between computers and eyewear equipment.

Comtrol’s RocketPort®, DeviceMaster®, and USB Serial Hub products have been integrated and recommended by these companies when presenting their comprehensive management software and equipment to practices and groups.

Starting at the optometrist’s office computer, the RocketPort card has been integrated into a software program allowing them to manage their customer information and internal connections to the lens equipment. In the back production room, you will find that Comtrol’s DeviceMaster and USB Serial Hub have been integrated as part of the control system to the eyewear equipment.  These products provide an Ethernet connection for communication to the lens grinding and polishing equipment.  This connection between the office computer and eyewear equipment allows optometrists to perfectly fit prescription lenses into eye glass frames.

Comtrol’s diverse product offerings allow them to communicate between the PC and peripheral components in a way that suits their specific lens manufacturing needs, and provides their customers with a reliable solution.

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