Ease of use, support, and communications top wish list

With headlines dominated by controllers and software, interface hardware often is overlooked. Users and manufacturers, however, know the importance of these devices.To discover what users think about Input/Output devices and terminal blocks, Control Engineering surveyed 1,500 readers. Of the 330 responses, 66% work in process industries while 24% identified their application as discrete...

By Staff June 1, 1998
  • Easier to use

  • More functions

  • Fieldbus communications

  • Shrinking size

With headlines dominated by controllers and software, interface hardware often is overlooked. Users and manufacturers, however, know the importance of these devices.

To discover what users think about Input/Output devices and terminal blocks, Control Engineering surveyed 1,500 readers. Of the 330 responses, 66% work in process industries while 24% identified their application as discrete product manufacturing.

Most of those responding specify, recommend, and/or purchase I/O devices for in-plant requirements (75%). Another 20% are involved in OEM (original equipment manufacturing) applications, while the remaining 5% are involved in both in-plant and OEM requirements.

Ease of use wanted

Ease of use was the characteristic most desired. Over 77% of the responses rated this category very important or important. Availability of stock and technical support were cited in 70% of the responses.

These characteristics are all related to the fact that engineers have less time. They want products that work and answers to questions if there is a problem.

Meeting installation requirements was cited on 67% of the responses. This characteristic fits with the others as important for getting a machine or process up sooner. Cost rated only sixth out of eight characteristics.

Greg Matthews, Wieland Electric’s (Burgaw, N.C.) engineering manager, says, “Products [in this category] today need to be compatible with multiple types of fieldbus protocols, to be able to do more, and be plug and play.”

Jerry Sgrignoli, rail products product marketing manager at Phoenix Contact (Harrisburg, Pa.), notes that I/O modules and terminal blocks are getting smaller and more functional.

John R. Nussbaum, Square D (Palatine, Ill.) staff product specialist, adds, “Customers want elecronics in the terminal blocks; for instance, relays, diodes, and LEDs.”

Innovation in terminal blocks

Think that innovation isn’t possible in something like a terminal block anymore? Tim Hohmann, PLCDirect (Cumming, Ga.) company captain, says that a lot of work is going into combining the functions of different types of blocks into a single block, such as a multi-tier block with fusing.

Another combination is constructing a terminal block I/O system. Graham Harris, Allen-Bradley I/O business manager, Rockwell Automation (Milwaukee, Wis.), states that terminal block-based I/O systems can shrink control cabinets. It is possible to reduce the number of termination points from as high as 20 terminations per field device to as little as four.

Modicon gets Momentum

Modicon Momentum is actually a set of control products. Its open architecture allows it to fill roles in many automation strategies. The modular design consists of products which interchangably snap together to form different control elements.

According to Dave Chapman, Momentum product manager for Schneider Automation (North Andover, Mass.), there are three major trends at work. First is a constant pressure on pricing. This is partly responsible for the second trend which is the movement from big PLC systems seen in the popularity of microPLCs. The third trend also introduces uncertainty. Networking is in great demand, but there are many networks from which to choose.

Schneider Automation’s Momentum is adaptable to many popular fieldbuses and networks. Modbus Plus, FIP, Profibus DP, Interbus, DeviceNet, ControlNet, and Ethernet are all supported now. Following will be adaptors for Echelon, Seriplex, ASi, and Sercos.

The product consists of a panel- or DIN-rail-mount base, controller, communications interfaces, and I/O modules. Discrete and analog modules are offered, as well as such specialty modules as stepper drive, PID, and high speed counter.

For further information visit www.controleng.com/info .

Distributed I/O System

Charlottesville, Va. —VersaMax I/O system is a universal distributed I/O structure that spans PLC, DCS, and PC-based architectures. It provides a common, flexible I/O structure for local and remote control applications requiring up to 256 points per node. The 70-mm depth and small, DIN-rail-mounted footprint enables space-saving mounting. VersaMax has automatic addressing and connects to a wide variety of controllers through DeviceNet, Profibus, and Genius. For greater uptime, a hot insertion feature enables addition and replacement of I/O modules while a machine or process is running without affecting field wiring.

GE Fanuc Automation Inc.

Prewired PLC system

Palatine, Ill. —Telemecanique Telefast 2 reduces wiring time and costs by replacing multiple wires with a single prewired cable. An enhanced terminal block for parallel connection of programmable controller I/O signals, Telefast 2 reduces panel space requirements, provides I/O point protection, contact amplification, and increased marking area. Available in modular units with 8-, 12-, or 16-channel configurations, Telefast 2 connects to most PLCs with high-density cards.

Square D Co.

Terminal blocks in color

Cumming, Ga. —DINnectors terminal block now come in seven colors. The red, yellow, orange, green, blue, grey, and black blocks offer a quick method for circuit identification. These UL, CSA, and CE-approved 600 Vac, 30 ampere blocks are available in 18- to 10-AWG terminal size.


I/O points in small increments

Mayfield Heights, O. —Flex Integra I/O platform integrates terminal base and four-point discrete I/O modules to allow additions of I/O points in smaller increments. Flex Integra offers the choice of spring clamp or screw connections. It aligns LED numeric status displays with the termination so that it is easier to troubleshoot problems. Flex Integra is classified for Class I, Division 2 use and is compatible with the Allen-Bradley Flex I/O system.

Rockwell Automation/Allen-Bradley

High temperature headers

Gilford, N.H. —Series 86 and 87 Eurostyle PCB headers utilize an advanced polymer and unique construction to achieve a 250 °C process temperature rating. They are designed to be compatible with “pin and paste” and intrusive reflow techniques, eliminating the need for wave soldering and reducing component assembly time.

Beau Interconnect

Intelligent I/O system

Austin, Tex. —FieldPoint is an intelligent, distributed, and modular I/O system. It includes isolated analog and digital I/O modules, terminal base options, and network modules. Users can remove and replace I/O modules while the modules are under power without rewiring field I/O signals. The onboard processors maintain system predictability and provide fault and error detection.

National Instruments

Profibus I/O module

Alpharetta, Ga. —Simatic ET200B remote Profibus I/O module has a small footprint and flat design for installation in tight locations. Users can directly install devices without an intermediate terminal block. Electronic module can be replaced without disturbing existing wiring. Both analog and discrete modules are available with densities of up to 32 I/O points.

Siemens Energy and Automation

Multifunction analog converter

Irving, Tex. —Analog Converter accepts a wide range of voltages, currents, temperature, and resistance inputs, and supplies two simultaneous voltage and current outputs. Modules are 22.5-mm wide, mount on DIN-rail, and feature 1,500 or 2,000 Vrms isolation (depending on model). Calibration is accomplished with built-in offset and gain potentiometers.

Entrelec Inc.

Mix-and-match modules

LaGrange, Ill. —OpenDAC is a family of remote I/O interfaces for Optomux, Modbus ASCII, Modbus RTU, and Profibus DPnetworks. Each OpenDAC slave controller monitors or controls the status of 2 to 32 analog or digital I/O points. Modules snap together with OpenDAC I/O racks on panel or DIN-rail. Each rack can accomodate up to eight snap-in dual channel analog or digital modules in any combination.

Grayhill Inc.

Intelligent I/O block

Columbus, O. —DN50 intelligent I/O block allows devices without a CAN (Controller Area Network) chip to communicate in the DeviceNet network. Users can troubleshoot, set attributes, and gather diagnostic information through the control system’s PC or PLC.


Sensor block simplifies wiring

Harrisburg, Pa. —Sensor Actuator Blocks provide a power distribution bus and a common return bus. Plus and minus leads from the power supply are connected to the DIKD block. Adjoining DIK blocks tap into the DIKD return and power bus with an interlocking bridge bar reducing wiring by 33% for each sensor. Sensor Actuator system also comes in a NEMA 4, IP-67 box for flexible field wiring.

Phoenix Contact Inc.

I/O system adds diagnostics

Burgaw, N.C. —Wieland’s “ricos” open architecture fieldbus I/O system has diagnostics for easier installation and trouble-shooting. A four-digit, seven-segment display shows the bus address assigned to each installation. The diagnostics module enables modification of input and/or output status even without a fieldbus connection. Test points are provided at each terminal.

Wieland Electric Inc.

Connect to different field buses

Charlotte, N.C. —Diocom makes it possible to connect sensors and actuators to a variety of field buses. One bus coupling module is required for connection to the field bus. The modules also contain either eight inputs or outputs. Up to 11 eight-channel I/O modules can be added to the control module. Networks supported include Profibus, Interbus, CAN, DeviceNet, ControlNet, and Sercos.

Lutze Inc.

Printed circuit board blocks

Harrisburg, Pa. —Termi-Blok is a new entry in the printed circuit board arena. Termi-Blok uses a rising cage clamp design to terminate wires. This European-style clamp utilizes nickel-plated brass screws with contacts nickel underplated with tin-plating over top for use in corrosive environments. Double captive screws prevent screw loss due to vibration.

Amp Inc.

Fast I/O for PC-based control

Temecula, Calif. —Snap-B6 is a high-speed, addressable brain board that remotely controls analog and digital I/O modules using the Pamux protocol. Used with the Snap “B series” I/O, its capacity is 32 analog channels or 16 analog with 32 digital channels. Snap-B6 includes dual-port RAM used by both the local controller and the host computer. The host computer is connected to the Snap-B6 through the Pamux bus.

Opto 22

Analog data to DeviceNet

Schaumburg, Ill. —DRT1-TS04T/TS04P terminals connect temperature sensors to DeviceNet. Each model supports four isolated inputs and wire burnout detection. The -TS04P is a platinum resistance thermometer (RTD) model, and theTS04T is a thermocouple model. Conversion time is 250 ms/4 channels. DRT1-AD04H is a 16-bit analog to DeviceNet terminal handling both voltage and current inputs.

Omron Electronics Inc.

Open network I/O system

Richmond, Va. —WINbloc I/O system places I/O points remotely from a controller communicating via one of several industrial networks. A Network Communications Bridge serves as a network cable feedthrough and termination point. It contains isolated power supplies and has connections for I/O module power distribution. It communicates over Profibus DP, Interbus, CANopen, and DeviceNet. Field wiring base elements provide field wiring connections. A variety of I/O modules are available including 8, 16, and 32 point digital, 4-channel analog, thermocouple, and RTD.

Weidmuller Inc.

Interface modules

Peabody, Mass. —CSI, the Control Systems Interconnect Division of PCD Inc., announces a new line of standard and custom DIN-rail mounted terminal interface modules. CSI’s breakout modules provide a transition from multi-pin connectors to screw-actuated fixed or pluggable terminal blocks. The modules incorporate passive wiring and standard or custom interface circuitry.

Control Systems Interconnect Division

Field configurable signal conditioners

San Diego, Calif. —AC ActionI/Q is a family of signal conditioners and limit alarms with TouchCal technology. All models are field configurable for specific inputs (dc, temperature, frequency). ActionI/Qs provide isolated, conditioned dc voltage and current and relay outputs. TouchCal technology replaces mechanical potentiometers with digital circuitry.

Action Instruments