With the new Balluff Engineering Tool, Balluff is implementing standardized software for commissioning and configuration of IO-Link devices according to the IO-Link standard for sensors and actuators, irrespective of manufacturer.
IO-Link has been established as a communication system for connecting intelligent sensors and actuators. The IO-Link sensors have many different functions and, in addition to process data, provide valuable status data. In order for the functions to be used correctly in the application, the IO-Link devices must be parameterized and configured. With the steadily increasing number of networked devices, the effort required for commissioning is also constantly increasing. The more IO-Link devices there are in a plant, the more parameters have to be checked or changed as a result. At the same time, diagnosis and troubleshooting become more complex for each machine. This is exactly where the Balluff Engineering Tool comes in. “For the development of suitable software, it is extremely important to understand the challenges of our customers from the various industries. It is true that we could still develop powerful technologies even without this understanding. But then we could not guarantee that the customer’s problem would actually be solved”, explains Balluff Product Manager Heiko Mahr. “The BET is a real problem solver: the software saves time in commissioning the IO-Link sensors, makes it easier and replaces a large number of individual solutions.”
Fast, simple and error-free
The new Balluff Engineering Tool facilitates the centralized commissioning, parameterization and diagnosis of IO-Link devices, irrespective of manufacturer, via easy-to-use software. It provides an overview of the status of all IO-Link devices in the network and automatically sends notifications in the event of errors. The user can easily document the current status of the network and – without a programmable controller (PLC) – test inputs and outputs.
In addition, device settings and IO-Link parameters can be saved and reused with the Balluff Engineering Tool. This simplifies commissioning and helps with troubleshooting. “With the BET, there is now one software program to handle all of the settings of IO-Link devices. All in all, this saves time and money – during commissioning, updating and also when training employees”, says Mahr.
United software expertise
The initial ideas for the BET, which is part of Balluff’s Smart Automation and Monitoring System, came about in 2018. The Balluff Software House took over development of it. This is not an actual “house” in the physical sense: it’s simply the place where Balluff concentrates its software development activities. “We rely on the principles of agile software development and close integration between the development team, product management and customers,” explains Mahr.
Focus on the core function
The first prototype – known as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – was ready in April 2020. This was a functional product, but with only the truly essential functions that are important for the user. “This allows us to work in a very focused manner, without becoming distracted by an ever-growing list of requirements,” explains Mahr. The goal, he explained, is to test the core function with real-life users as quickly as possible. “After positive feedback from the first customers, the software was then successively developed further based on a roadmap and adapted to their wishes. Customers then tested the software under real-life conditions in an alpha and beta test phase. The BET went live for all customers in March 2021.”
The major difference of this development method compared to conventional product development is that the software is continuously being developed further and is never actually considered finished. Further functions for BET will continue to be developed with customers in the future. When prioritizing new features, the developers pay attention to either increasing usability and benefit for the user or addressing new requirements from other customer groups. In the meantime, the Balluff Software House with its pure focus on software development will be expanded further. “Hardware will continue to be a big part of our business. The BET also shows that we can support our customers even better if we can offer good software in and for the products”, explains an enthusiastic Managing Director Florian Hermle. The demand for licenses for the Balluff Engineering Tool speaks for itself.