Maxim Doubles Down on Factory Automation With IO-Link Chips and Reference Design

October 28, 2020 by Jake Hertz

In modernized factories, time efficiency is paramount. New designs from Maxim Integrated aim to streamline efficiency by using configurable digital and analog IO.

In modern-day factories, the number of smart sensors and actuators is only growing. From an electrical perspective, these devices are typically controlled using point-to-point serial communication between the sensor/actuator and the controller. In these types of systems, it is often necessary to quickly, and even remotely, adjust a sensor’s electrical characteristics.


IO-Link system example

IO-Link system example. Image used courtesy of RealPars


To handle this task, IO-Link was developed. Now, Maxim Integrated is looking to leverage its line of IO-Link transceivers and configurable analog IO devices to benefit the modern factory.


Maxim Integrated's History With IO-Link

IO-Link is a useful protocol for point-to-point serial communication, which is explicitly meant for communication between controllers and sensors and/or actuators. What's special about this protocol is that it standardizes and facilitates the cohesion of industrial equipment worldwide.

In IO-Link applications, there is a transceiver that acts as a physical layer interface to a microcontroller. The MCU serves to run the data-link layer protocol while supporting up to 24 V digital inputs and outputs.


Maxim's IO-Link reference design

Maxim's IO-Link universal analog IO. Image used courtesy of Maxim Integrated


Maxim Integrated considers itself a leading provider of IO-Link sensor transceivers and master transceiver ICs. The company claims that in order to achieve a field-configurable, universal IO, the programmability of IO-Link must be combined with a software-configurable IO. This way, industrial sensor/actuator OEMs can provide end-users with freedom of design at the factory floor level.

To support this sentiment, Maxim has recently released a reference design compliant with IO-Link standards, showing a versatile system for modern factory use.


A New IO-Link-Compliant Reference Design

The reference design, MAXREFDES177#, is an IO-Link-compliant system meant to integrate software-configurable IO with an IO-Link transceiver. The design consists of a MAX22515 IO-Link device transceiver, an Atmel ATSAM low-power microcontroller (using TMG TE IO-Link device stack), and a MAX22000 software-configurable industrial universal analog IO device.


System block diagram of the new reference design

System block diagram of the new reference design. Image used courtesy of Maxim Integrated


While it’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss the entire reference design in detail, the important thing to note is that the design demonstrates a fully software-configurable analog IO module. The MAX22000 works on the fly, setting analog signals as either inputs or outputs and setting them in voltage or current mode.

It is also notable that the design utilizes a Maxim digital isolator in order to isolate the analog side from the IO-Link side, adding layers of protection to the components. This feature was included to facilitate more reliable factory-level designs, according to Maxim. The complete reference design is said to fit on a 61 mm x 25 mm printed circuit board.


A Path to More Versatile Industrial Designs?

By showing how to create a system that combines IO-Link technology with fully software-configurable analog IOs, Maxim has provided designers with ways of making extremely versatile systems. These systems can be updated anytime and may minimize system downtimes, which in turn increases factory efficiency.

Taking inspiration from this reference design, engineers may be able to build more powerful and more multi-functional systems.