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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:


Cable Box Testing with DeviceMaster

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A cable company was testing diagnostic ports on their cable boxes. These diagnostic ports connect a television to an external signal, and turn the signal into television content for your home television set. These diagnostic ports also activate if there is a problem with the cable box, and diagnose problems if failure occurs.

99040_6_DMSH8_bklfThe company needed a testing system that would ensure that their products were being tested accurately, and went to Comtrol. Comtrol recommended their DeviceMaster serial hub. Two DeviceMasters were installed to connect cable boxes to display monitors, letting the cable company run tests from various testing diagnostic ports.
Read more HERE

Custom DeviceMaster for Product Organization

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A large company approached Comtrol with a tricky situation. Because the client’s primary business required the rapid and efficient movement of merchandise, they were continuously sorting thousands of barcode labels every day. The client’s current sorting platforms could not process any barcodes longer than 10-digits, and with such large volumes of barcodes, they needed a way to upgrade their system. This urgent need for a cost efficient and timely solution brought the company to Comtrol Corporation.

Comtrol was able to design and implement a custom solution for this client. Using a DeviceMaster UP, Comtrol created custom message routing, custom diagnostic and configuration pages, and full documentation on the custom product.

Read more HERE

Comtrol in the Energy Industry

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Chemical factory

Within the energy industry, companies are continuously looking for ways to maximize the use of our finite natural resources. Comtrol Corporation provides several solutions for companies who are looking to increase their efficiency in energy.

Comtrol’s DeviceMaster servers have applications in many different parts of the energy industry. Many of our DeviceMaster servers are in place controlling several different energy systems, including hydraulic fracturing with oil collection, wind power, underwater hydropower, and more. The DeviceMaster has also been used to collect data from energy meters, and monitor oil pipelines.

RocketPort® multiport serial cards provide data collection and control capabilities within systems such as electricity generation and conversion. Customers who have used the Rockeport serial card have seen that the card provides reliable monitoring between substations of electricity generation, and efficient communication between all intelligent electrical devices (IEDs).

Becoming more efficient in the way we harvest energy helps to preserve resources and allows us to successfully distribute every portion of that usable energy with minimal loss. Comtrol is committed to providing high-performance and quality communication, data transmission and connectivity devices for these processes

Spotlight on Comtrol’s RocketPort Products

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Comtrol’s RocketPort multiport serial card products make high-performance device connectivity reliable, cost-effective, and easy. We offer a wide variety of port densities, interfaces, surge protection, and rack mount options to fit an array networking needs.

RocketPort EXPRESS is Comtrol’s next generation multi-port serial adapters, upgraded from previous PCI BUS technology. Available in 4-port, 8-port, 16-port, and 32-port densities, with quadcable and octacable fanout cables, these advanced PCIe cards can now be connected via PCIe BUS with increased speed. The EXPRESS design takes advantage of the increased performance of Comtrol’s exclusive Unity ASIC chip.

Every RocketPort serial card features the high-performance RocketPort processor chip, consisting of a dedicated 44MHz core that minimizes host CPU utilization and optimizes data transmission via larger transmit and- receive buffers than those of 16550 UART chips, commonly used in standard PC serial ports and low-end serial cards.


Comtrol in the Broadcast Industry

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Broadcast 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.

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.

Comtrol Releases IO-Link Master 4-EIP

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IO-Link Master 4-EIP Worldwide Release

Comtrol Corporation has released their newest product, the IO-Link Master 4-EIP for industrial sensor connectivity. The IO-Link Master 4 EIP connects IO-Link sensors to EtherNet/IP and Modbus industrial networks, providing access to IO-Link sensor process, event, and service data.

IO-Link Master 4-EIP

“Comtrol is excited to extend its device communication expertise to digital IO sensors via the IO-Link standard. With our new IO-Link Master products, we can provide factory sensors a direct connection to ERP software systems such as SAP. This direct connection to SAP achieves the goals of Industrie 4.0, or Industrial Internet of Things, for global factory visibility,” says Comtrol’s President Bradford Beale, “Industrial sensor customers will also benefit from using our IO-Link Master due to Comtrol’s support for the widest variety of device manufacturers, whose sensors and actuators can be auto-recognized by our IO-Link Master.”

Read the full release HERE

RocketPort Allows for Versatility in Toll Booths

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Tolling Versatility - RocketPort

A tolling company in New Jersey was looking for a new way to connect peripheral devices in their toll booths to the main computer at each booth. They needed a serial port card with faster speeds and a large variety of ports available so that each peripheral device could be connected.



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After a complex design and product development phase, Comtrol has officially released the IO-Link Master 4-EIP! It is easily integrated into a system network, and is compatible with existing and new industrial Ethernet installations.  Designed for harsh environments and supporting a wide operating temperature from 0° to 55°C, its machine-mount design uses industrial grade components.



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