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Field controller simplifies upgrades of DC motor systems

Users of DC motors can upgrade their installations to modern systems with digital communications, without needing complex external devices, using a new DC field controller released by Rockwell Automation. The Allen-Bradley PowerFlex controller will help them to gather data on their DC installations via digital networks.

Vision sensors help robots to pick parts from belts or bins

At the recent Automatica exhibition in Germany, the German sensor-maker Sick showcased a series of 2D and 3D vision-guided parts-locating technologies for quick and easy set-up of robots picking items from a belts or bins. Various sensing options are available – including streaming cameras, vision sensors, and smart cameras – offering a choice of measuring ranges, fields of view, and resolutions to suit particular tasks.

Robot grippers are inspired by geckos’ feet

A gripper technology inspired by the feet of geckos was one of the technologies demonstrated by the newly-formed robot peripherals company OnRobot when it made its public debut at the recent Automatic exhibition in Germany.

Industrial automation market will approach $210bn in 2018

The global market for industrial automation equipment was worth an estimated $202.2bn in 2017, and is predicted to grow by 3.8% this year to reach $209.8bn, and by a further 4% during 2019 to hit $218.2bn, according to the latest analysis by IHS Markit. It says that the growth is being driven by the strong global economy, and by the expanding production of increasingly automated machines.

Compact cobot ‘can be programmed by anyone’

Kuka has developed a lightweight collaborative robot (cobot) designed to be easy to program, even by non-experts. The LBR iisy cobot, which can handle payloads up to 3kg, adapts to the user’s knowledge of robotics – offering a choice of programming techniques from simple teaching of the arm using manual guidance, through to Java programming of complex activities.

Scara robots are ‘first’ with EtherCat and condition monitoring

Omron has announced a new generation of Scara robots which, it claims, are the first with a built-in condition monitoring and the ability to indicate when they need attention. It also says that they are the first with built-in EtherCat controls and communications, allowing them to synchronise their operation with other automation devices to perform fast, accurate assembly, insertion and mounting operations with high throughputs.

Pilz enters robot market with open, modular family

The German industrial safety specialist Pilz has entered the robotics market with a portfolio of modular products including a six-axis robot arm, a control module incorporating drive technology, and an operator module. The products made their debut at the recent Automatica exhibition in Germany, where Pilz was also demonstrating a prototype two-arm robot.

Next-generation cobots save time and improve accuracy

The collaborative robot (cobot) pioneer Universal Robots has announced a new flagship series of cobot arms with built-in torque/force sensors, easier programming, a high-speed system bus and extra safety functions. The new e-Series cobots look similar to the previous UR machines (which will continue to be available), offering a higher-specification alternative for applications that need improved performance.

Lightweight plastic parts will lead to low-cost robots

Igus, the German engineering plastics specialist, is expanding increasingly into robotics and had two new developments on show at the recent Hannover Fair and Automatica shows in Germany.

Chinese motors giant buys GE small motors business for $160m

China’s largest electric motor manufacturer, Wolong Electric, has bought GE’s Small Industrial Motors (SIM) business for $160m in cash. The deal covers the design, development, manufacturing and sales of low-voltage and TEFC (totally enclosed fan-cooled) medium-voltage motors up to 1,750hp (1.3MW), as well as an agreement that will allow Wolong to sell SIM products carrying the GE brand in the American market for ten years.

Digital manufacturing projects win £11.4m of EPSRC funding

The UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has awarded £11.4m in funding to seven projects aimed at creating novel digital tools, techniques and processes to support the use of digital technologies in the manufacturing sector. The projects will bring together academics and industrial partners.

Investment in PP Control puts it on track to hit £40m

PP Control & Automation, the UK company that specialises in manufacturing outsourcing, has received a “significant” investment from the Canadian corporate investor, Ardenton Capital Corporation, which now owns a majority stake in the business. Under the deal, aimed at boosting PP’s business to £40m within five years, managing director Tony Hague has become a significant shareholder and will become CEO, while founder David Fox will continue in the role of chairman.

Sensor skin adds safety to six-axis collaborative robot

Bosch Rexroth has entered the world of collaborative robots (cobots) with a six-axis arm, based on a Kuka design, which uses a capacitive sensor skin to avoid collisions, without needing to make physical contact with an object. Equipped with more than 120 sensors, the skin allows the robot to stop automatically at a safe speed of 0.5m/s with a typical secure switching distance of 50mm.

ABB finalises $2.6bn acquisition of GE Industrial Solutions

ABB has completed its $2.6bn acquisition of GE Industrial Solutions (GEIS), GE’s global electrification solutions business, to strengthen its position as global number two in this sector, behind Schneider Electric. The transaction, announced in September 2017, is expected to produce growth opportunities from combining ABB’s digital offering, ABB Ability, with GEIS’ installed base, and is forecast to deliver about $200m of annual cost synergies by year five.

JC-Electronics acquires UK-US spares supplier, Dax

JC-Electronics, a Dutch company that specialises in refurbishing industrial electronics, has acquired Dax Automation, the UK-based supplier of new, refurbished and obsolete industrial automation electronics, which also has an operation the US. The financial terms of the deal have not been released.

Conveyor belts: lease, don’t buy?

The German conveyor belt manufacturer Continental believes that technology is changing the way that we will buy and maintain conveyor belts in future. At the Hannover Fair earlier this year, it was demonstrating how sensors can now monitor the condition of belts in real time and transmit this information to the manufacturer for analysis, allowing belts to be serviced before they fail and cause downtime. Continental believes that, in future, belts will be leased as a “service”, rather than being bought outright.

Conveyor roller-drive is ‘the first to offer digital feedback’

SEW-Eurodrive claims to be offering the first conveyor roller-drive that can be monitored constantly using a digital feedback system. It says that other roller-drives are controlled by analogue signals, providing no feedback on the motor’s temperature or speed, and making it difficult to isolate the cause of any errors.

Novanta buys UK encoder-maker, Zettlex

The US-based high-tech component supplier Novanta has acquired Zettlex, the British manufacturer of inductive encoders, for an undisclosed sum. Novanta – which specialises in precision motion, vision and photonics technologies – will integrate Zettlex into its Celera Motion business, which supplies motion control components and subsystems, including encoders, motors and customised mechatronic systems, to industrial and medical OEMs.

Hannover Fair 2018 exclusive show report

Edge computing, the cloud and digital twins were among the dominant themes at this year’s Hannover Fair, the world’s largest industrial exhibition. But despite the show being bigger than ever with the addition of the CeMat logistics show, visitor numbers dipped slightly.

Modular PLCs combine redundancy and safety

Mitsubishi has announced that its Melsec iQ-R modular PLCs are now available as redundant pairs of controllers for extra reliability. The PLCs also include functions for monitoring and managing safety.

UK automation sector grew by a ‘record’ 14% during 2017

The UK’s industrial automation sector achieved record growth during 2017, with a 14% improvement over the previous year, according to figures issued by Gambica, the trade body that represents the sector. This growth, recorded by members of Gambica’s automation division, has returned the sector to the level that it would have been at without a downturn in 2015 that was thought to be due largely to political and economic uncertainty.

Next generation of industrial robots heralds ‘a new era’

ABB is launching a new generation of industrial robots designed to provide users with more flexibility and a better return on investment. The new machines, due to be released over the next two to three years, will replace most of ABB’s existing portfolio, and will double the size of the company’s range.

Europe’s largest MRO firm, IPH Brammer, is reborn as Rubix

UPDATED: Europe’s largest supplier of industrial maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) products and services, IPH Brammer, has been renamed Rubix. The group was created last year when the venture capital firm Advent International, which already owned Brammer, bought the European industrial supplies distributor, IPH, and combined the businesses.

1Gbit I/O modules boost productivity and flexibility

Rockwell Automation has announced a new generation of I/O modules that support real-time, intelligent process control. It says that the Allen-Bradley Flex 5000 I/O platform will lead to smarter, more productive and more flexible industrial control systems.

Global robot sales soar by 29% to hit a new record

Global sales of industrial robots soared by 29% last year to hit a new record of 380,550, according to preliminary statistics released by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) at the Automatica show in Germany. The 2017 sales were worth around $50bn.

Motortronics buys UK soft-start pioneer, Fairford Electronics

Fairford Electronics, the UK pioneer of soft-starter technology, has been bought by Motortronics, a manufacturer of solid-state AC motor controls and motor protection products, with headquarters in Florida, and operations in the British West Indies, Korea and China. Financial details of the deal have not been disclosed.

Control Techniques goes back to its roots to rebuild

Six months after he was appointed president of the Welsh drives-maker, Control Techniques, Tony Pickering is not mincing words. The company is half the size it was before its previous owner, Emerson, acquired it in 1994. CT which, in its heyday, held more than 30% of the UK drives market, is now down to around 2%. “People are asking: are you still in business?,” Pickering reports.

Edge system closes gap between local processing and cloud

Siemens was one of several companies at the recent Hannover Fair to unveil edge computing technologies. It says that its Industrial Edge system closes the gap between local data-processing and cloud-based services. By pre-processing large amounts of data locally, only relevant data is transferred to cloud or IT applications, saving memory and transfer costs.

Surge protection in I/O connectors saves space and costs

Voltage transients in control circuits can have a devastating impact on plant operation. Even relatively small peaks can cause catastrophic damage to some electronic components.

Drives & Controls’ circulation is now fully requested

Every copy of Drives & Controls is now going to someone who asked for it. The latest figures published by the independent Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) show that 87% of the 20,004 copies printed of each issue are going to people who have asked for their own individual copies, with the rest going to companies or organisations who have asked to subscribe.

Welsh IP66 drives make their debut at the Hannover Fair

One of a handful of UK automation companies at the recent Hannover Fair was the Welsh drives-maker Invertek, which launched a range of IP66-protected, outdoor-rated VSDs, as well as a pair of tools for its Optidrive family.

€120m investment applies Industry 4.0 to building enclosures

Rittal is investing €120m to build a new plant to manufacture large enclosures at its Rittershausen site in Germany, based on Industry 4.0 principles. It is also installing high-tech lines at a greenfield site in Haiger to produce its new VX25 generation of large enclosures.

Software helps OEMs to track, monitor and fix machines remotely

Schneider Electric has announced a software platform that lets OEM machine-builders track, monitor and fix their machines remotely, and pass on the benefits to their customers. The EcoStruxure Machine Advisor software is designed to turn data into key insights.

Service offers free support to users of larger drives

ABB has launched a service for users of its medium- and high-power drives, giving them complimentary access to a series of support functions during a VSD’s warranty period. After registering a drive to activate the service – called ABB Initial Care – they will receive access to on-site repairs, rapid exchange of faulty parts, telephone support during office hours, and technical query escalation.

£7.5m advanced manufacturing facility opens in Belfast

Queen’s University Belfast has opened a £7.5m advanced manufacturing technology facility, as part of a new Centre for Intelligent Autonomous Manufacturing Systems (i-AMS), which will lead innovation in new technologies for advanced manufacturing. Researchers spanning the disciplines of engineering, computer science, applied mathematics and psychology, will work together in i-AMS to tackle challenges faced by industry and to help make Industry 4.0 a reality.

Tool will help OEM machine-builders to sell extended services

Lenze believes it has spotted a gap in the market that will help machine-builders to take advantage of developments such as predictive maintenance and improved productivity, and to market them as services, rather than simply selling hardware. This model requires a secure location where data on machine components can be collected.

Remote monitoring system helps to cut downtime

Eriks has announced an Industry 4.0-compatible condition-monitoring system for remote access to, and predictive maintenance of, critical industrial assets. Called e-Connect, it monitors and gathers data on crucial assets to provide insights into their condition, behaviour and performance. This information can be used to cut the downtime and costs associated with unexpected maintenance and repairs.

Now, a bionic cuttlefish takes to the water

Just two months after it unveiled bionic spiders and fruit bats at the Hannover Fair, Festo has come up with another one of its mechatronic creatures – this time, a 370mm-long cuttlefish that was swimming through a transparent pipe filled with water at the Achema process industry show in Germany.

‘Revolutionary’ plastic gearbox ‘will out-perform metal boxes’

Genesis Robotics claims to have developed the world’s first plastic gearbox that can outperform metal gearboxes. The backlash-free box – which it calls the Reflex torque amplifier – has four times more engaged teeth than a conventional planetary gearbox, allowing it to achieve a similar torque-to-weight ratio. And because its parts can be injection-moulded, it should be easier and cheaper to manufacture.

Even machine beds are now becoming ‘smart’

At the recent Hannover Fair, Bosch Rexroth demonstrated a machine bed fitted with sensors designed to help optimise the performance of the machinery built on top of the bed. The “smart” machine bed – developed in conjunction with the machine-bed manufacturer, Rampf Machine Systems, and the sensor-makers Balluff and Sick – sends temperature, pressure and vibration data to the machine controller which can compensate for changes in these variables in real time.

ABB and Rittal link up to offer industrial data centres

Rittal and ABB have announced a global strategic alliance to supply edge data centre systems to industrial customers wanting to deploy robust IT capacity close to their operations. The alliance, based on an existing UPS (uninterruptible power supply) partnership, will cover areas such as secure edge data centre systems with fire protection, edge data centres for OEM manufacturers, scalable modular data centres, as well as power container systems.

Rockwell invests $1bn in PTC to form a strategic partnership

Rockwell Automation has entered a strategic partnership with the US software developer PTC, including a $1bn equity investment which gives Rockwell an 8.4% stake in PTC. The agreement is expected to accelerate growth for both companies who plan to target potential customers around the world wanting to transform their physical operations with digital technology.

Cobot trio merge to create a specialist in end-of-arm tooling

Three companies specialising in end-of-arm tooling for collaborative robots (cobots) have merged to create a market-leader in this rapidly-growing market which, they say, is currently “under-served”. US-based Perception Robotics, Hungary-based OptoForce and Denmark-based On Robot, have joined forces to create OnRobot, which will drive innovation and ease-of-use for robotic end-of-arm tooling.

Omron and Cisco join forces to enhance factory security

Omron and Cisco Systems have agreed to collaborate by integrating Cisco’s networking and security technology into Omron PLCs (programmable logic controllers) to enhance the security of manufacturing sites with IoT, and to help manufacturers to achieve safe and secure manufacturing.

Soft-switching boosts drive efficiencies and cuts size and costs

A Californian company has developed a technology which, it claims, effectively eliminates transistor switching losses in hard-switched architectures for almost any power converter topology. Pre-Switch says that its soft-switching technology will dramatically reduce the cost, size and weight of converters used in motor drive, renewable energy, electric vehicle, traction and server applications, while increasing efficiency and reliability. The reduction in switching losses is claimed to be 70–90% for any type of solid-state switch and any converter topology.

SIG and GE link up to drive ‘new era for food and bev plants’

SIG, the Swiss packaging giant, has formed a strategic partnership with GE Digital to deliver digital innovation in food and beverage packaging. Starting in July, SIG will deploy GE’s Predix Asset Performance Management (APM) and Predix ServiceMax applications in more than 400 customer factories worldwide to drive new levels of efficiency, add intelligence and enable new possibilities for its customers. A full global rollout is expected to start in January 2019.

Push-in terminals ‘halve wiring times and simplify panels’

Rockwell Automation has announced a family of terminal blocks that, it claims, will improve connections and simplify panel designs. It adds that the Allen-Bradley Bulletin 1492-P push-in terminal blocks will halve wiring times, reduce maintenance and increase the reliability of the connections.

Sumitomo buys Italy’s Lafert for €172m to boost its motors arm

Japan’s Sumitomo Heavy Industries (SHI) is buying the Italian electric motor manufacturer Lafert for €172.65m to reinforce its position in the motors market, to expand its product portfolio, and to reach a wider range of customers. Lafert will join SHI’s Power Transmission and Controls (PTC) division – which uses the Sumitomo Drives Technologies brand – and will become its r&d competence centre for motors.

Technology integrates electrical and process data in one view

Rockwell Automation has announced a technology that gives plant operators a single, integrated view of process and electrical system data. Called the IntelliCenter Integration Unit, it combines intelligent electrical distribution devices with a process automation environment. Integrating these elements into a single control and software platform is said to avoid the need for a separate electrical Scada system and to give process and electrical operators a single, unified view of their data.

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