Smart and Connected Valves: They are Already Here

Last month Duplomatic MS organized the event “Loading the Future”, to present the Lainate plant, which hosts the Hydraulic Systems Business Unit, and to analyse in depth the advantages provided by smart and connected components. Thanks to the partnership with ifm electronics, the company today manufactures both complex systems and simple “IO-Link-tailored” valves.

by Silvia Crespi

Last month Duplomatic Motion Solutions organized, at the Duplomatic Hydraulic Systems plant in Lainate, “Loading the Future”, an event supported by ifm electronic and DIH (Digital Innovation Hub) Lombardy.
This had two objectives: presenting the new plant of the Hydraulic Systems Business Unit, dedicated to the production of complex systems (from the small hydraulic units to the large units for the Energy industry, as well as all sorts of customized solutions) and to analyse in depth the themes linked to the implementation of the IO-Link technology in the construction of these systems. The event was definitely successful; the invitation was accepted by the industry’s trade press and also by at least 100 trade operators, both clients and prospects, who had the opportunity to experience first-hand systems made “smarter” using the IO-Link protocol.

The company’s history: from product supplier to solution provider
The participants were welcomed by Roberto Maddalon, CEO, Duplomatic MS, who recalled the episodes in the company’s history starting from its foundation, in 1952: at the time Duplomatic Oleodinamica dealt with solutions for machine tools, especially hydraulic copiers and successively even other hydraulic components. With a quick leap forward, Maddalon reached 2017, the year of rebranding. Duplomatic Oleodinamica became Duplomatic Motion Solutions, following the market’s trend towards hybrid solutions. “An area – Maddalon stated – in which the company identified the greatest growth opportunities. At the same time we broadened our scope of supply in the Motion Solutions field”.
2019 is the year of the foundation of the Mechatronics Division; Duplomatic MS acquired more and more competence as regards fieldbus technologies and communication protocols, among them IO-Link, and this competence led to the introduction of the IO-Link in the production program. Today Duplomatic MS has a wide range of IO-Link-tailored valves, capable of interacting with the IO-Link system. Maddalon strongly believes in the efforts made in this direction: “We intend being pioneers in the field of the valve/fieldbus communication”.

By using IO-Link the hydraulic power unit becomes dynamic
Renzo Zaltieri, Technical Manager, Duplomatic MS, the expert in the IO-Link field, provided an overview of this technology and Industry 4.0 (IoT). Duplomatic MS has two objectives: the development of smart products and the promotion and development of new technologies.
IO-Link solutions enable the integration of hydraulic valves, both ON-OFF and proportional, in digital communication systems, with a minimum engineering support and limited hardware requirements.
Zaltieri talked about the advantages which derive from turning components and processes into their smart and connected versions. Reference was made to real cases.
One of these, first illustrated during his speech, then experienced first-hand during the tour of the plant, concerns a hydraulic power unit, created by the Hydraulic System Business Unit, which can communicate by means of the IO-Link standard. The power unit is used to manage the supply of power and the movement of a hydraulic plant, but even to analyse the condition of the single valves. A necessary condition to realize an authentic predictive maintenance.

Simplified cabling, more flexible design and aided maintenance
During his presentation Zaltieri compared a traditional power unit with a unit equipped with IO-Link. What stands out immediately is the reduction of the complexity of wiring. In a traditional power unit, components such as sensors, drivers and valves must be wired specifically, while on a power unit with IO-Link technology, wiring may be standard.
“IO-Link is not a communication bus – Zaltieri underlined – but a point-to-point digital communication protocol. Communication occurs by means of a standardized cable and it is possible to have two separate supplies in a single cable, one for logics and one for power”. The reduction of wiring brings about a considerable reduction of the space required within the frame, and therefore an optimization of costs.
Even in terms of design and maintenance the advantages are manifold: the choice of interfaces and components has a strong impact on the design of a traditional power unit, unlike what happens with IO-Link power units, where the types of components have little effect on the system’s structure. In the first case, automation software must envisage all functions from the start: regulation, preventive and productive diagnostics, but this is not the case with an IO-Link unit. Finally, all preventive and predictive maintenance functions also turn out to be more flexible: in a standard unit these are cabled within the software and therefore remain fixed over time, whereas in an IO-Link tailored unit they may be implemented as time goes by. This has advantages even in terms of service optimization.
Zaltieri concluded, “The challenge we need to win is applying the IO-Link technology even to products which are considered “poor”, such as ON/OFF valves, for instance, so that even with these simple valves, predictive maintenance functions may be used”.
The partner of Duplomatic MS along the path towards digitization is ifm electronic, another company in the IO-Link Community. To illustrate the activity of the company, which will turn 50 this year, Maurizio Bardella, Project Leader, immediately underlined that 95% of ifm electronic’s products today already include an IO-Link chip. “This allows – he stated – by means of a simple IO-Link master, to connect to control units by just installing a cable and adding a virtually unlimited number of sensors”.

Increasing the level of “digital maturity” to fully exploit technology
To keep up with new technologies, companies need to innovate not just from a technological standpoint, but also in terms of organization. Giuseppe Linati, director of Lombardy’s Digital Innovation Hub (DIH), summarized the state of the art of companies in Lombardy. Linati illustrated services offered by Confindustria within the framework of the Industry 4.0 Plan and the role of DIH, which is, measuring and evaluating the digital maturity of companies. At the end of the evaluation, which the Digital Innovation Hub offers free of charge to SMEs, a growth process in this domain may be defined.