Create smarter, more data driven process operations with universal I/O
Traditionally, control systems have been commissioned with a set number and type of I/O cards, but increasingly process plants are embracing universal I/O, which allows different I/O types to land on one I/O card.
- Learn how Universal I/O can simplify field wiring.
- Learn how Universal I/O can save engineers unnecessary effort and planning.
- Learn how engineers can reduce programming needs with Universal I/O.
Universal I/O insights
- Also known as electronic marshalling, universal input/output (I/O) provides greater flexibility by allowing operators to choose I/O to meet their specific operational needs.
- A universal I/O module that is tightly integrated with an instruction set in the distributed control system (DCS) also help engineers work more efficiently by reducing programming demands.
Today’s smart sensors and instruments can give process plant personnel deeper insights into their processes and advance warning of potential problems to help them optimize operations and reduce unplanned downtime. In order for this to happen, process operators need to answer a key question: How are they going to enable their control systems to accept all the new data from these devices?
Traditionally, control systems have been commissioned with a set number and type of input/output (I/O) cards. Making any changes to this I/O card layout, such as to accept data from new sensors or instruments, has only been made possible by leaving spare space in an enclosure and stocking up on different I/O card types. However, this approach can be expensive and risky because it can impact how quickly a system can recover from a failure or even something as routine as scheduled maintenance.
To get around these challenges, process plants are embracing universal I/O, which allows different I/O types to land on one I/O card. With universal I/O, manufacturers can speed set up time while simplifying field wiring, reducing spare module requirements, easing maintenance and realizing other benefits.
Understanding universal I/O
Also known as electronic marshalling, universal I/O provides greater flexibility by allowing operators to choose I/O to meet their specific operational needs. A universal I/O module can be configured per channel as analog input or output — including HART-capable — or discrete input or output. Universal I/O modules can also be configured in simplex or duplex. This flexibility gives process operators a wide range of benefits throughout their system’s life cycle.
Universal I/O also can simplify field wiring. Revisions and changes are often made to a system as needs evolve during both commissioning and the life of the system. A universal I/O module that allows for various field wiring types can accommodate such changes. This can reduce total installation cost and help engineers work more efficiently during early design without impacting panel costs.
When a system starts with a universal I/O layout, its power needs, cabling layouts and termination assemblies all can stay the same, even if the I/O type changes later. This also can help save effort and planning.
Universal I/O also helps ease long-term system management. Operators no longer need to hold on to different I/O card types for when they need to replace a card for maintenance purposes or add a card as part of a system change. Instead, they carry a single card they can configure by channel as analog or digital.
Picking the right technology
Universal I/O modules are growing in popularity, but it’s important to remember they’re not all the same.
For example, some universal I/O modules can use remote software configuration. This allows a remote operator to dynamically change I/O types without being local to the I/O card.
Consider a scenario where an engineer discovers an I/O channel was mistakenly configured as analog input instead of analog output during the commissioning process. Universal I/O allows the engineer to identify the I/O module from their laptop, select its channel assignments and switch the incorrect channel from input to output — all in a matter of seconds and without opening or even being near the control panel.
A universal I/O module tightly integrated with an instruction set in the distributed control system (DCS) can also help engineers work more efficiently by reducing programming demands. And a universal I/O with high-availability applications can reduce unexpected downtime. If the I/O card fails, the controller can switch over to the redundant card without requiring any custom code.
More in store
Universal I/O technology will only continue to improve and deliver more value to facilities over time. In the future, for example, universal I/O modules will allow both integrated safety I/O and base process control I/O to be mounted in the same rack. This will help reduce hardware complexity and overall system cost.
But even without these advances, the value of universal I/O is clear—it provides a pathway to smart process control that’s simpler and causes fewer headaches than traditional I/O.
Armand Prezioso, product manager, Rockwell Automation. Edited by David Miller, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keywords: Universal I/O, Electronic Marshalling
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