Future-proofing machines to automatically detect all IO-link devices

Universal or flexible I/O technology is required to adjust to the increase in manufacturing-on-demand production processes that are so common now. IO-Link is one example of this that is growing in popularity and continues to be at the forefront of digital transformation. But what if there was a tool that could automatically detect all IO-Link devices on a machine? It’d be great if device descriptions (IODD) could be automatically downloaded. And, in the spirit of digital transformation, it’d also be helpful to able to parameterize and monitor IO-Link devices throughout the entire life cycle, regardless of the control system and fieldbus. Now there is a solution that can help with these three features: The FieldEcho from SICK.


The FieldEcho aims to make the handling of IO-Link devices from all manufacturers as simple as possible and to remove anything that could stand in the way of the use of IO-Link devices. The system-independent software tool is always available and closes any existing gaps in integration. The FieldEcho independently integrates into machine HMIs and creates direct access to the process and service data of all IO-Link devices. These are the exact parameter values, diagnostic messages, events, and alarms that are usually not, or only rarely required, in the control program of the machine or plant, but deliver decisive information to MES or cloud applications.

The FieldEcho guarantees complete transparency of device data, supporting commissioning and monitoring during system operation and targeted maintenance measures. The FieldEcho saves development time – the required PLC code consists of only one line – and ensures that PLC cycle times remain unaffected. Control communication via OPC UA or TCP/IP as well as data exchange with IT- or cloud-based applications via REST enables state-of-the-art IO-Link data integration into any digitalization application.

IO-Link: Ideal data channel for smart and future-proof automation 

Digitalization, Industry 4.0, the Smart Factory, or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): Implementation of these mega-trends require one thing above all – data. IO-Link is a point-to-point communication that is vendor-independent, which makes it the ideal channel for providing data, typically measured values, parameter settings, and device information.

There are several reasons for the success of IO-Link. The devices are fieldbus-independent, help minimize costs, and are cost-neutral. It can also reduce the number of different I/O types in a machine to one IO-Link device, transmit data digitally, and provide additional diagnostic information.

Devices can be connected using standard sensor cables and communicate bidirectionally and can be parameterized and read out at runtime. All this opens new and different application functions – be it production in batch size 1, the locking of operating elements or the provision of preprocessed data.

Intelligent sensors can even execute Smart Tasks. For example, counting or measuring lengths, and then provide this information via IO-Link. The popularity of IO-Link is no surprise. More and more field devices, particularly those that do not have Ethernet space, have the interface on board. Several hundred IO-Link devices in a machine line is no longer uncommon.

Making the benefits of IO-Link more accessible and useful

SICK developed the FieldEcho software tool with the aim of closing any existing integration gaps, making the use of IO-Link devices as easy and resource-efficient as possible and providing IO-Link data for digitalization applications using typical IT processes. It offers complete access to all IO-Link device data to call up, observe, or change it via a browser or human machine interface (HMI).

The IODD of the connected IO-Link devices detected by the FieldEcho are automatically downloaded and made available to the ports of the configured IO-Link devices, eliminating the need for manual downloads. Communication is dependent on the system. It can be done via different PLCs, fieldbuses, and IO-Link masters.

The time and effort for development is minimal. The software developer of the machine manufacturer only needs to write a single line of PLC code, with which the function block generated and delivered by the FieldEcho is called up to send read or write requests to the IO-Link devices. Controls from Beckhoff, Mitsubishi, Rockwell Automation, and Siemens are currently supported.

With read and write data access, the FieldEcho communicates with the machine PLC via OPC UA or TCP/IP, both of which are established standards in industrial communication and are sufficiently future proof. A REST API, through which data is sent and received in JSON format, is also sent, and received on board. You can transmit IO-Link device data to ERP and MES systems, as well as cloud-based services in order to use the data in the digital transformation world, such as for data analysis, predictive maintenance, or inventory.

Graphic, web-based, user-friendly

The FieldEcho offers a graphic web-based user interface in a modern, self-explanatory, and appealing design. It can either be opened with a browser or integrated in the HMI of a machine or plant. In the system and IO-Link device overview, it visualizes all configured IO-Link devices and the IO-Link sensors and actuators connected to the respective ports and automatically detected. It also clearly displays the status of all IO-Link devices.

It is also possible to open the software in a device page, which enables the user to look at the device data like with a zoom function. In this view, the device identification is displayed with information such as the serial number or the software version and device name and image. Incoming and outgoing process data is visible immediately.

In addition, the graphic user interface also provides the option of completely parameterizing all IO-Link devices. The FieldEcho ensures unrestricted transparency. The entire IO-Link system is visible for the user on the screen like an open book. The machine manufacturer or system integrator not only saves time, but also relieves its PLC, ensuring that the usual performance of the machines or plants is maintained.

Autonomous, dynamic, and communicative dashboard

With the REST API, the FieldEcho enables integration of IO-Link data into ERP and MES systems as well as into proprietary applications or cloud-based services. Using this REST API, the FieldEcho dashboard offers a complete overview of the status of all IO-Link devices. It also autonomously warns or sends alarms in the event of an anomaly. It automatically connects to the FieldEcho, independently fetches the information on the entire IO-Link system using the REST API and structures the interface dynamically all on its own using the received data. The user does not have to spend time on configuration.

The dashboard features an integrated database to be able to manage a lot of information from many IO-Link devices. This database can be used to access any applications, as an alternative to requesting via REST API, reducing the communication load on the fieldbus and via IO-Link. The dashboard makes it possible to select individual process data and device parameters for observation from the cloud level, which would otherwise require elaborate programming in the PLC without the FieldEcho and dashboard and to set limit values and alarms.

For example, with this function you can do a quality-of-run diagnosis of an optical sensor to identify its detection reliability, if it gets contaminated. A switching threshold is typically defined where the sensor automatically generates a corresponding signal. It is now possible to define and monitor your own contamination limit values in the dashboard independently of this threshold value in the sensor to use them in a predictive maintenance application. Warnings and alarms are visualized, also in the form of test messages. In addition, the dashboard can send corresponding emails to the person responsible for plant operation or the machine service staff.

IO-Link integration easier than ever before

FieldEcho makes IO-Link data accessible and transparent as a manufacturer-dependent integration tool. It enables system-dependent access to parameterization and monitoring of all IO-Link devices in a plant through the entire life cycle. The automated detection of connected IO-Link devices and the automated retrieval of their IODDs minimizes the time needed for and sources of error of engineering and commissioning work. Data between the FieldEcho and the automation system is exchanged via OPC UA or TCP/IP as an alternative. The REST API is used as a communication channel to MES, ERP or cloud applications. The FieldEcho currently is closing any existing IO-Link integration gaps and giving momentum to the dissemination of IO-Link technology in all branches of automation engineering.