Human Factors and Their Influence on I/O Modules

End users are always looking for ways to make work easier and save money. These needs are driving I/O vendors to improve their products and are, in turn, weakening the bond between I/O modules and controllers as a result of the I/O advances being made.

Lenard Huang, IHS Analyst
Lenard Huang, IHS Analyst

There’s no doubt that the industrial I/O market has going through some difficult times. But for individual I/O vendors, opportunities remain in specific regions or industry sectors. 

A major opportunity lies in the importance of the human factor. Customers keep asking for ways to make work easier and less time consuming as well as to save money. These needs continuously drive I/O vendors to improve their products. For instance, to reduce the working time needed, I/O modules need to be easy to install, use and maintain. These capabilities, in turn, drive growth in demand for remotely used I/O modules—not only for those applications where remote I/Os are necessary, but also to move the I/O modules closer to field devices. Such a move can save wiring costs, with fewer sensor cables and wiring work hours needed. Proximity to field devices also makes diagnosis and maintenance easier, saving time and money, which likewise enhance reliability and availability of the system.

Meanwhile, the increasing number of remote applications will drive more use of I/O modules that feature high Ingress Protection (IP) levels, as exposure of such modules to harsher environments will be more likely if they are more remote.

Another trend driven various human factors are smaller I/O modules. Why? Because the closer to field devices, the fewer I/O points you may need for each I/O station. When close enough, I/O points are more distributed, and one I/O module can do the job. Given this, different combinations of digital and analog I/Os need to be supported—usually by one module. To meet these demands, I/O vendors are providing digital I/O modules as well as sensor interfaces to transform various kinds of signals into, or from, digital signals. All-digital I/O plus sensor interfaces can make things easier for design and planning, installation and maintenance, and simplifying the management of spares.

Overall, I see more remote application use for I/O, as well as the need for higher protection levels and more distributed I/O allocations. These trends are not sudden, overwhelming trends for the I/O industry, but they are beginning to weaken the bond between I/O modules and controllers. This will provide an array of new opportunities and challenges to the market, ranging from vendors of large systems to those of specific components. Customers will benefit from a more highly competitive market.

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