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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.

Five Things to Know About Comtrol’s Unmanaged RocketLinx® PoE Switches

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Comtrol’s Unmanaged PoE Switches

PoE SwitchesGiven the complexity of the markets, products, and expanding levels of technology at Comtrol, we believe firmly in the words of Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”  This mentality, taken from one of the smartest men to live has led Comtrol to create a new type of data sheet: one that distills the complexity of a RocketLinx Power over Ethernet switch down to five key features.


SERIES: Power over Ethernet Features – Part I

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PoE benefits that you rarely hear about: What do these mean for your next IP surveillance project?

rocketlinx power over ethernet poe industrial ethernet switchAs a security project integrator, you find yourself in the beginning stages of a surveillance project and you have determined that using IP cameras are the way to go.   You sat down with your customer to identify all the security needs, consider what types of IP cameras to use, determine where best to place them, study and select the most feature-rich and easy-to-use VMS (Video Management Software)…and you are ready to go!

Now somewhere in this grossly oversimplified scenario, you and your customer have decided to use PoE powered cameras to make for an easier, more flexible and cost-effective deployment.  No doubt both of you have read some of the information floating around the web that commends the cost saving benefits of deploying a PoE powered network, or you have had past experiences installing PoE cameras and know well enough from those experiences.

Here are some of the lesser known benefits to deploying a PoE network provided you use a managed switch to power your cameras, and more specifically a Comtrol RocketLinx® PoE switch.

Ability to cycle PoE power or use PD (Powered Device) Status Detection to reboot a camera

>>> Fast forward.poe power over ethernet industrial switches

Your customer is thrilled with the increased resolution and all of the other advanced features the IP camera and VMS system are providing after the surveillance system is installed.  You then get a call to hear that the VMS has sent an email alert saying one of the cameras is down.  Let’s say this isn’t your first rodeo, and you know that the VMS you selected will proactively sever the data connection and reconnect in the hopes that it will restore a good connection with the camera. That did not work.

Not to worry, you are a bit more tech savvy and have learned that you can send a reboot command to your IP camera via FTP; however, that too does not work.  Rebooting via FTP fails because using this method requires a communication link with the camera.  During camera failure a link may not be established, therefore leaving FTP communication impossible.

Now what?  You quickly dispatch a tech who drives for a half hour or more, climbs a ladder, pulls and then reinserts the PoE cable on the camera, and the system is operational again.  Crisis averted – but how much money did you just spend sending out that tech?

When a camera is completely non-functioning, reboot methods that rely solely on data communication (VMS and FTP) may not always work.  In these cases, the most effective method may be to cut the power, just as a tech would after yanking the PoE cord.  How can you avoid sending that tech to cycle power?  You can do the same thing with Comtrol’s managed switches remotely.  All of our managed RocketLinx PoE switches give you the ability to either manually or automatically cycle the PoE power per port.  When the PoE power is cycled on a camera it acts as if you just physically unplugged the camera.    The camera completely starts over and refreshes itself, much like holding down the power button on your PC when your initial attempts of pressing CTRL + ALT + DELETE while cussing has proved fruitless.

To cycle the PoE power through our switches per port, all you need to do is log into our switch via the simple web interface, scroll down to the ‘Power over Ethernet’ menu, open the ‘PoE Control’ menu and toggle the switch from ‘Enable’ to ‘Disable.’  That will manually cycle the power to the camera or device connected to that port.

Or better yet, you can set Comtrol’s switches to do this automatically. You will also notice in the ‘PoE Control’ menu that there is a PD status detection menu.  To enable this function when you are creating your network, be sure to put the specific IP address of your camera in the ‘PD Status’ window and set your cycle time to tell the switch how often you want it to check to see if the camera is “alive.” Hit ‘Apply’ and ‘Save settings to flash’ and you are ready to go.

Most basically an “alive check” is just the switch pinging the camera.  If no reply is sent back after three tries, it will automatically try to reboot the device by cycling the PoE power on that given port.  Additionally, you can configure the switch to send you an email stating that it rebooted a particular port (this process will be explained in a future post), or and or be configured with the internal dry contact relay to trigger an event at a local alarm panel upon camera failure.

Now there are some instances where a camera can be pinged and it’s not sending video.  This automatic feature will not attempt to reboot the camera.  In this case it’s likely one of the other fail-safes within the VMS would have caught and corrected that initially, or you will have to still toggle the port power via the manual method outlined above.

If none of this works, then it’s time to send out the tech! However, simply utilizing our switches’ ability to cycle the PoE power remotely in your next deployment could more than make up for the cost of sending out a tech once to do the same thing manually.

SERIES: Linux Support at Comtrol – Part II

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Linux Virtualization with Comtrol Products: Extending hardware to serve a wider purpose

Comtrol products work very well in a Linux virtual machine / Hypervisor environment. Below I will outline how some of our customers are extending the use of a DeviceMaster® or a RocketPort® uPCI / RocketPort® Infinity / RocketPort® Express by using a virtual machine solution called Xen.

– Nick Thompson

Xen PCI Pass Through and the advantages offered to our uPCI / PCIe offerings:
Xen is by far the most simple Linux virutualization solution regarding PCI Pass Through. PCI Pass Through comes in handy in that we are able to offer the PCI bus of the ‘Bare Metal’ Hypervisor  /  O/S install up to the Virtual Machines running on the Hypervisor. This allows us a lot of possibilities.

One of these possibilities, and one that we’ve had customers use before, is the ability to give 4 machine 4 serial ports each off of a 16 port card, or 8 machine 4 ports off of a 32 port card, etc. This, in the end, allows you a very large number of virtual machines; who all may be in need of a serial port or four (or more) to connect to whatever serial devices you may be using.

Xen working with the DeviceMaster: Simple, yet elegant:
Xen allows internal to the Hypervisor network traffic to communicate on virtual network interface cards inside of the Hypervisor itself. That traffic is then allowed to communicate into what is essentially a virtual switch which allows this traffic out to the real world network interface card, thus allowing traffic from a virtual machine with no physical network interface to communicate with a DeviceMaster which is on a switch connected to the physical, bare metal PC – and all with ease.

Effectively using all your resources: Xen and Comtrol
By making use of Xen, a company is able to stretch not only the use of one PC and its CPU power to make what are essentially multiple PCs – but also to stretch the number of ports on a DeviceMaster or RocketPort product out to multiple virtual machines. This is largely important as far as making full use of a company’s hardware, and I find that customers make good use of resources once a situation like this has been planned out and set up.

Xen in pictures: Understanding the basics of Virtualization with Xen:
Below you’ll see the Host Hardware (bare metal machine / PC) with its ram, hard drives and pieces of real hardware—its PCI bus and Network Interface Card, etc. These are ‘exported’ via the Hypervisor layer to the various virtual machines. (vm0, vm1, vmN, etc.) The control domain is there to handle the Virtual Machines themselves.

Xen and Comtrol hardware go well together, and can be leveraged to save money and make the best use of a companies hardware; to squeeze out extra performance enough from resources that are being unused to create Virtual Machines that wouldn’t have existed without this setup. This is a huge leap in cost effectiveness of hardware, and we will continue to see Virtualization shape the map of resource usage in the future. Comtrol will be here to help you manage your resources in the best manner possible.

If you have any questions whatsoever regarding Linux support, please contact Nick Thompson with Technical Support at or (763) 957.6138.

Tunnel Traffic Monitoring System – Nevada DOT

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The Nevada Department of Transportation (DOT) needed to expand their traffic monitoring system along Interstate 80, about 250 miles northeast of Reno.

During this expansion project, the Nevada DOT chose Comtrol’s RocketLinx® ES8510-XT switch to enable data transmission from their traffic cameras to server room monitoring stations, eventually showing up on live feeds at the DOT monitoring station.

One of the monitoring systems involved installing two traffic cameras to monitor the traffic flow going both east and west through the Carlin Tunnel, just West of Elko, NV.  Both cameras are connected to one RocketLinx ES8510-XT industrial Ethernet switch, which directs information wirelessly through a point-to-point wireless link to another RocketLinx ES8510-XT switch installed on a nearby mountain.  The data is then routed down to Elko’s server room.  Additional information from switch-camera installations of similar configurations near Elko is also routed to the server room, which sends all of the information to the DOT control center in Reno.industrial ethernet switches network traffic transportation rocketlinx

The Nevada DOT decided to implement Comtrol’s switches into their system as a cost-effective, easily-configurable solution for their needs.  The RocketLinx ES8510-XT was chosen over the competition for the addition of an extra fiber port as well as for its maneuverability within the DOT’s system structures.  The switch is also NEMA TS2 compliant, allowing for reliable operation in extreme temperatures ranging from -40° to +74°C.

The RocketLinx ES8510-XT is housed in a rugged aluminum enclosure that features an excellent heat dispersing mechanical design.  The embedded software supports full Layer 2 management features, multi-form ring redundancy, network control, monitoring, security and notification.  The RocketLinx ES8510-XT also provides a built-in watchdog timer and digital input and relay output to avoid undetected problems, providing the perfect foundation for building an industrial Ethernet infrastructure.


A&E Specifications Released for RocketLinx® Switches

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As system developers and integrators know, Architectural & Engineering specs created for specific products are convenient and save time when writing a full project design spec. Comtrol has released A&E spec sheets for the following RocketLinx switches – and more are scheduled to appear on our site soon!

power over ethernet, ethernet switches, security, a&e, architecture and engineering

RocketLinx ES7105
RocketLinx ES7106-VB (voltage boost)
RocketLinx ES7110
RocketLinx ES7110-VB (voltage boost)

RocketLinx ES7510

Worldwide Release: RocketLinx® ES7510-XT

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RocketLinx PoE power over Ethernet switch extended temperature rugged industrial ethernet MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota – October 17, 2012

Comtrol Corporation, a leading manufacturer of industrial device connectivity products, today announced the release of the RocketLinx ES7510-XT switch to its Power over Ethernet switch product line.  The RocketLinx ES7510-XT is a fully managed industrial-grade rack mount switch equipped with eight 10/100BASE-TX PoE Plus ports and two Gigabit Ethernet RJ45/SFP combo ports. Featuring a rugged design for harsh environments, intuitive web, CLI, SNMP management options, power scheduling and eight fully-compliant IEEE 802.3at PoE injector ports, the ES7510-XT is easily installed in industrial settings and traffic cabinets supporting even the most power intensive devices such as IP cameras with heaters and PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) controls.

The Comtrol RocketLinx ES7510-XT is designed to meet the high power and advanced management needs of critical traffic applications such as real-time IP video surveillance and wireless communication utilizing outdoor rated IP cameras and high power IEEE 802.11 access points. In addition to functioning as a PoE power source, the ES7510-XT includes advanced device controls, ensuring that power consumption does not exceed parameters defined by the user.  The switch also features a wide -40° to +74°C operating temperature and NEMA TS2 rating, making the switch an ideal solution for use in traffic applications.


License Plate Recognition System Connectivity

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As criminals are using more sophisticated tactics to implement attacks and escape punishment, security is becoming increasingly important for our law enforcement officers. Staying one step ahead of offenders requires consistent technological and intelligence innovation, and our officers continue to look for ways to keep this innovation moving forward to streamline security and law enforcement systems.

A license plate recognition (LPR) software company has introduced one such system innovation which aids officers in vehicle and criminal identification.  This LPR software uses advanced optical character recognition to read any plate that passes in front of an integrated video camera, and instantly compares that information to crime databases for active warrants or other alerts.  If the software receives a positive hit, it alerts the officer, adds vehicle information to an internal database and instructs the camera to store the video.  The officer then has identification information for the vehicle and is able to take immediate action.  In the past, LPR systems have required more space, cost, time and equipment than a software-only solution.  This specific software operates efficiently with any Windows PC system and IP camera(s), as long as the camera records a quality image. 

license plate recognition power over ethernet switch voltage boostA particular customer’s LPR system contained specific high-power IP cameras installed in its police cars, posing a problem and potential risk.  The cars provided a significantly low initial voltage input (12VDC), which likely meant extra equipment was necessary.  The LPR software company then discovered Comtrol’s RocketLinx® ES7106-VB (voltage boost) PoE (Power over Ethernet) switch, which used the 12VDC input power from the police cars’ cigarette lighter receptacles and converted or “boosted” output power to 48VDC – sufficient voltage to power the cameras.  Installing the switch eliminated risk of potential power inverter overheating problems, and the configuration needed no extra cabling, power supply or conversion/inversion of power between the source and the switch.  The company had previously found these extra components necessary when recommending select hardware to customers. 

Comtrol’s RocketLinx ES7106-VB switch was chosen not only for simplification, but for its durability, rugged housing and reputable name.  It is equipped with four 10/100BASE-TX PoE injector ports, with each port delivering power up to 15.4W, and two 10/100/1000BASE-TX (Gigabit) Ethernet uplink ports for transferring ddata to the network.  The switch also supports QoS, which ensures high-quality video traffic transmission by adjusting the data transfer priority.  The RocketLinx ES7106-VB is an IEEE 802.3af compliant PoE switch designed for connecting a wide range of industrial PoE equipment such as IP surveillance cameras, wireless access points and other devices utilizing 12/24V vehicle power sources or 24V standard industrial power. 

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