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UK manufacturers ‘aren't ready for new industrial revolution’

More than four in ten UK manufacturers (42%) say they have a good handle on what the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) will entail. But according to a new report from the manufacturers’ organisation, EEF, and Oracle, just one in ten (11%) believe that the UK is geared up for this crucial next industrial age. This suggests that in terms of being ‘4IR ready’, there is still some way to go.

Free app could save manufacturers more than $1m a year

Rockwell Automation has released a free app for mobile devices such as smartphones that will allow engineering teams to collaborate and share knowledge, view live production statistics, interact with machine alarms and troubleshoot machines. Rockwell estimates that each team member using the FactoryTalk TeamOne app could save 1% of their workday, or 33 seconds per shift – equivalent to an annual saving of more than $1.4m for a manufacturer with about 2,000 production staff.

Next-generation motion engineering system is unveiled

At the recent SPS IPC Drives show in Germany, SEW-Eurodrive unveiled the first elements in a next-generation modular motion engineering system that will encompass all elements from controls, software and inverters, to motors. The new Movi-C products will be programmed using a single engineering software package, called Movisuite, that combines planning, configuration and diagnostics functions and will be used to set up everything from single inverters to complete machines.

45mm-wide twin-axis servodrive is ‘world’s thinnest’

The German motion engineer Stober has developed what it claims is the world’s narrowest multi-axis servodrive. The modular, rack-based SI6 system includes double-axis modules (2 x 5A) that are 45mm wide, resulting in six-axis systems that are 18cm wide, and 20-axis systems that are less than 50cm wide, including power supplies. The drives have a position, speed and current cycle time of 62.5µs.

Energy-saving VSD targets fans, pumps and compressors

At last week’s SPS IPC Drives exhibition in Germany, ABB unveiled a new general-purpose variable-speed drive designed to optimise pump, fan and compressor operations, efficiently and simply. The compact ACS480 drive – which is available in ratings from 0.75–11kW, 380–480V – is said to offer users all of the functions they will need to control standard applications easily and intuitively.

Automation giants back OPC UA TSN to unify comms

More than ten leading automation suppliers have joined forces to back OPC UA over Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) as a unifying communication system for use between industrial controllers and to the cloud. The companies – which include ABB, Bosch Rexroth, B&R, Cisco, General Electric, Kuka, National Instruments (NI), Parker Hannifin, Schneider Electric, SEW-Eurodrive and TTTech – intend to support OPC UA TSN in their future products.

Danfoss enters MV drives market with novel kit-based design

Danfoss Drives has entered the $2.5bn medium-voltage drives market with a novel modular design that allows system integrators (SIs) and OEMs to customise their drives and to fit them more easily into tight spaces, such as on board ships. The Vacon 3000 drives will initially cover voltage ratings from 3.3–4.16kV, and power ratings up to 6MW. The range will probably be extended upwards at a later stage.

Private equity firm buys troubled Brammer for £221.5m

The industrial distributor Brammer has been bought by the private equity firm Advent International for £221.5m. The deal follows a turbulent period for the MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) distributor, whose share value halved after it issued a profit warning in October. Brammer’s shares have plummeted in value by 80% since hitting a 16-year high in June 2014. 

Tiny industrial PC ‘will open up new applications’

The German automation manufacturer Beckhoff has developed a tiny industrial PC (IPC) that, it predicts, will open up new applications for IPCs, especially where there are cost or space limitations, or where expensive customised motherboards would have been needed before.

I/O board will allow Raspberry Pi to control motors

The Californian industrial automation manufacturer Opto 22 has developed a digital I/O board for the low-cost Raspberry Pi computer that will allow the Pi to monitor, control, and automate devices that were previously beyond the capabilities of its built-in 3.3V DC GPIO sensing and control connector. The new Digital I/O Carrier Board can be used to sense or switch up to 16 electrical loads up to 3A, 2.5–280V AC/DC, allowing it to monitor and control electrical loads such as motors, pumps, and sensors.

Lafert expands to boost sales by more than 50% by 2020

The Italian motor-maker Lafert is investing around €4.5m to expand its main production site near Venice by 5,000m2, adding to the existing 23,000m2 of floorspace. The expansion is part of a programme aimed at raising the company’s revenues from €143m this year to at least €220m by 2020. Production logistics are being improved to allow the company to meet demand, which has been expanding by about 10% a year recently. Turnover at the family-owned company has almost doubled during the past six years.

Automation platform brings entire lines under one controller

Yamaha has announced in Japan that it has developed a robotic automation platform that, it says, will allow automated production lines to be built quickly at low costs. The platform includes a wide range of components – including controllers, Scara robots, linear conveyor modules, single-axis robots and “smart” cameras – that together form a portfolio of 91 components and 202 variants that will go on sale on 1 December.

Engineers warn that Brexit must not limit access to EU skills

An alliance of engineering organisations representing more than 450,000 UK engineers, has published a report warning that Brexit must not restrict access to the engineering skills from across Europe.

X-Y gantry has an axis that rotates through 20 degrees

The US motion engineer Intellidrives has developed a large-area X-Y gantry in which one of the axes can be rotated through more than 20 degrees. This novel approach to kinematics allows large relative motions of independent (X1 and X2) parallel axes to control orthogonality in the X-Y plane, or to introduce large theta rotation of the Y-axis about the X1 and X2 axes, as well as rotating the Y-axis around a virtual programmable point.

Motor breakers combine two forms of protection

The Italian controls manufacturer Lovato has announced a new generation of motor protection circuit-breakers spanning ratings from 0.1–100A. The SM breakers provide both short-circuit and thermal protection, reducing the need for thermal overload relays and fuses, and saving space and wiring time.

£1.2m project aims to turn waste heat into electricity

A UK consortium has embarked on a three-year research programme to explore the potential for converting low-temperature waste heat into useful electrical power. The project, led by steam engineering specialist Spirax Sarco, has received a £1.24m grant from the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.

Gateway connects devices to CC-Link IE Field

The Swedish industrial communications specialist HMS Industrial Networks has extended its Anybus CompactCom 40-series family of communication interfaces with a new version that allows any automation device to communicate on the CC-Link IE Field network. HMS says it now offers both embedded and stand-alone gateway systems for all of CC-Link’s communication formats.

Tesla buys German automation firm to boost output six-fold

The US electric car-maker Tesla is buying a German automation specialist, Grohmann Engineering, to help it boost output from around 80,000 vehicles a year at present, to 500,000 by 2018. Grohmann will be renamed Tesla Grohmann Automation and its workforce is expected to expand from around 700 to more than 1,000 over the next two years. Grohmann’s site in Prüm will also serve as the initial base for Tesla Advanced Automation Germany, with other locations to follow.

Dyson will pay students while they study for BEng degree

Sir James Dyson is investing £15m to set up a Dyson Institute of Technology in Wiltshire, which will train engineers to help double his engineering workforce to 6,000 by 2020. He has joined forces with the Warwick Manufacturing Group, at the University of Warwick, to develop a bespoke four-year Bachelor of Engineering degree. Students will spend part of their time working alongside Dyson engineers and will be paid. They will not pany any tuition fees.

Wireless IoT gateway is ‘smallest and most flexible’

The Canadian wireless IoT specialist, Sierra Wireless, claims to have developed the world’s smallest, most flexible and rugged programmable cellular gateway. The FX30 gateway provides an integrated embedded platform that will connect any machine to any IoT application or cloud, enabling fast, scalable and global deployment of IoT systems.

Precision-geared sales slowed in 2015, but will rebound

The global market for precision-geared products slowed to around $1.9bn in 2015, with 2.2 billion units being shipped, according to the analyst, IHS Markit. Revenue growth in US dollars fell by 0.8% compared to 2014, due mainly to the depreciation of the euro and Japanese yen against the US dollar, as well as a sluggish Asian market. But the analyst expects the market to recover in 2016.

Vision system ‘speeds up with each camera added’

The machine vision market-leader, Cognex has announced a family of smart vision systems for multi-camera applications which, it claims, gets faster with each camera added.

Schaeffler cuts 500 jobs in industrial division to save €60m

The German bearings manufacturer Schaeffler has announced plans to cut around 500 jobs from its industrial division over the next three years. The cutbacks, which are intended to revitalise the division and to improve its profitability by about €60m, follow a 5.3% drop in revenue for business during the first nine months of 2016, which Schaeffler blames on “a weak economic market environment”.

System drives use new technology to boost performance

At its annual Automation Fair in the US, Rockwell Automation has announced a family of modular system drives that use a new field-oriented control technology called TotalForce which, it claims, will deliver superior motor control through precise, adaptive control of velocity, torque and position. The technology incorporates several patented functions designed to optimise the operation of systems and to boost productivity.

3D smart glasses help to cut maintenance workloads

Mitsubishi Electric has developed a technology that allows maintenance technicians wearing 3D augmented reality (AR) glasses to confirm the order of an inspection and then enter the results by voice. It says that the technology will cut workloads and help to avoid entry errors because information can be entered reliably, even in noisy environments.

Linear axes are set up via a Web browser ‘in less than a minute’

The German motion plastics specialist igus has developed an easy-to-use, Web-based system for programming the movement of linear axes, that avoids the need for special software or apps.

Single-beam safety light barriers are ‘world’s smallest’

The German machine safety specialist Schmersal claims to have developed the world’s smallest safety light barriers with built-in evaluation functions. The single-beam SLB 240/440/450 barriers measure 28 x 32 x 72mm (or 91mm long for versions with connector sockets), and can be mounted quickly in confined spaces.

Cyber-flaws in Schneider HMIs could allow attacks

Cyber-security researchers have found vulnerabilities in Schneider Electric’s Magelis HMIs (human-machine interfaces) that could allow attackers to “freeze” the panels remotely and prevent them from communicating with PLCs and other devices, potentially affecting the operation of industrial plants.

More efficient motors ‘could cut global electricity use by 7%’

Global electricity consumption could be cut by around 7% by using more efficient electric motors and related systems, according to the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN). The Centre has calculated that such measures could save more than 1,350TWh of electricity and would mean that 17% less coal-fired generating capacity would be needed, avoiding the need to build around 200 new power plants and saving around $375bn in the process.

Cognex buys two European 3D machine vision firms

Cognex has bought the German 3D vision sensor specialist EnShape. This follows its earlier acquisition of AQSense, a Spanish developer of 3D vision software, which sells a library of 3D vision tools and configuration software that simplifies the setting up of 3D vision applications.

Industrial Ethernet sales growth rate set to halve in 2016

After expanding by 10.1% in 2015, global revenues from industrial Ethernet infrastructure components are likely to grow by just 4.5% this year, according to the analyst, IHS Markit. However, the horizon looks brighter for 2017 and beyond.

Pepperl+Fuchs buys explosion-protected phone pioneer

Pepperl+Fuchs, the German intrinsic safety and industrial sensing specialist, has acquired ecom instruments, which it describes as the global market-leader in mobile phones and tablets for use in hazardous areas. Details of the deal have not been revealed.

200 FA devices support CC-Link IE Field Network Basic

Mitsubishi Electric has announced in Japan that it is releasing more than 200 factory automation (FA) devices that support the CC-Link IE Field Network Basic open field network, which uses standard 100Mbps Ethernet communications. The devices will include programmable controllers, servo amplifiers, HMIs and inverters.

Compact VSD gets wireless comms option

Siemens has added a wireless commissioning and operating option to its Sinamics V20 range of variable-speed drives (VSD) which, it claims, are the smallest of their type on the market. A Web-server module mounted on the VSD allows users to access the drive from a laptop or mobile device via a secure WiFi connection.

Schneider denies that it is looking to buy Rockwell

UPDATED: Schneider Electric has denied a suggestion by a US financial analyst that it is looking to buy Rockwell Automation in a deal that could value the US automation giant at around $18bn. Rockwell’s share price surged by 6.9% on the rumour, before dropping back to a 4.2% gain for the day (21 October). It closed at $122.99 – its highest price since July 2015. Following Schneider's denial, the stock price dropped back below $120.

Current-limiting MCCBs react ‘up to three times faster’

Rockwell Automation has announced a new line of current-limiting, moulded-case circuit-breakers (MCCBs) which, it says, react to circuit overloads two to three times faster than standard breakers. The Allen-Bradley Bulletin 140G breakers protect against overloads, short-circuits and ground-fault conditions.

Altra buys GKN’s Stromag brake and clutch unit for €184m

Altra Industrial Motion is buying the brake, clutch and couplings manufacturer Stromag from GKN for around €184m (£164m). GKN says the sale will allow it to redeploy capital into its core aerospace and automotive businesses. The deal includes the transfer of debt-like obligations of around €14m (£13 million) for a total enterprise value of €198 million (£177 million).

Space-saving motor protection relays are Atex-certified

Siemens has announced a new generation of motor-protection relays designed to protect motors against overheating by measuring the temperatures at points at risk of overheating in a motor using PTC (positive temperature coefficient) thermistors integrated into the windings. The Sirius 3RN2 relays replace the earlier 3RN1 series and, with widths of 17.5 and 22.5mm, need less space in control cabinets.

Tuning-free VSD promises a 6% efficiency boost

Yaskawa has released a new range of general-purpose variable-speed drives that can control induction, permanent magnet (PM) or synchronous-reluctance motors without needing any tuning. The GA700 drives, which were previewed at the 2015 SPS IPC Drives Show in Germany, incorporate a “smart power saver” function claimed to boost the efficiency of induction motors by 6% at 20% speed, as well as improving the efficiency of PM motors by up to about 2%. Another function, called MPTA (maximum torque per ampere), minimises the current drawn, according to the load.

UK engineering firms: graduates don't have the right skills

Engineering graduates don’t have the right skills for today’s workplace, according to 62% of the 400 engineering employers across the UK quizzed by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) for its 2016 Skills and Demand in Industry report.

Bottomley succeeds Nicholl as Rockwell’s UK sales director

Rockwell Automation has appointed Mark Bottomley as its new UK sales director, succeeding Dave Nicholl, who has become CEO of Philips Lighting for the UK and Ireland. Bottomley will be responsible for overseeing the continued growth of Rockwell Automation products, solutions and services in the UK, and for leading the expansion of Connected Enterprise principles and solutions.

Industrial security appliance 'overcomes firewall limitations'

Rockwell Automation has announced an industrial security appliance incorporating new security technologies designed to protect plant-floor systems. It says that the Allen-Bradley Stratix 5950 overcomes limitations of most IT firewalls, which cannot protect against threats to industrial network traffic.

US and EU motor-makers join forces on system efficiency

Electric motor manufacturers in North America and Europe are working together to develop efficiency standards for complete motor-driven systems, rather than focusing on motors in isolation.

Mobile robots use AI to deliver materials, avoiding obstacles

Omron Adept Technologies has developed a free-roaming mobile robot with on-board artificial intelligence (AI) that allows it to transport materials weighing up to 130kg to a target location, calculating the optimal route and avoiding humans and obstacles en route. The Mobile Robot LD Platform is aimed at industrial applications such as transporting car parts, electronics, foods and pharmaceuticals. It is also suitable for use in warehouses and research facilities.

Low-cost HV SiC switches could enhance drives

Researchers in the US have created a high-voltage, high-frequency silicon carbide (SiC) power switch that could cost about half as much as conventional HV SiC power switches. They say that their device could help to cuts the costs and boost the performance of applications such as medium-voltage drives, solid-state transformers, HV transmission systems and circuit-breakers.

AI collaboration will let robots think for themselves

The Japanese robot-maker Fanuc has teamed up with the computer technology specialist Nvidia to apply artificial intelligence (AI) to robotics to boost productivity and to bring new capabilities to automated factories.

Global PLC sales slump by 11.5%, but 'will rebound'

The global market for PLCs (programmable logic controllers) shrank by 11.5% in 2015, and is continuing to contract this year, according to analysis by IHS Markit. It attributes the decline to a combination of factors, including the unfavourable economic climate in emerging economies, China’s economic slowdown, over-capacity in heavy industries, as well as the end of the commodity super-cycle.

ABB unveils Robotics & Motion division and ties up with Microsoft

ABB’s Discrete Automation and Motion division is being reborn as Robotics and Motion in the latest stage in its Next Level Strategy designed “to unlock value for customers and shareholders”. The former Process Automation division is being renamed Industrial Automation.

VSD control algorithms protect gas compressors

ABB has released what it claims is the first variable-speed drive (VSD) control software that uses Model Predictive Control to regulate torque.

15,583 products include ‘fastest' small machine controller

Omron in Japan has announced a total of 15,583 controls products, in seven categories, forming a second wave of factory automation control devices built on a common design platform for unified product specifications. The products include many items for use in control panels – such as relays, switch-mode power supplies, pushbutton switches and terminal blocks, and power monitors – as well as a compact machine controller which executes Ladder Diagram (LD) instructions in 3.3ns, said to be the fastest in its class.

Rockwell buys leading US systems integrator, Maverick

Rockwell Automation has acquired North America’s largest independent systems integrator, Maverick Technologies, to help it to deliver control and information systems to customers in industries such as chemicals, food and beverage, and oil and gas. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

Yaskawa’s The Switch buys Wärtsilä marine drives business

The Switch, the Finnish specialist in advanced drivetrain technology which is owned by Yaskawa, is buying Wärtsilä’s marine drives business which produces Megawatt-scale drives for marine applications. The deal will give The Switch a stronger foothold in the growing marine drives sector and allow it to offer drivetrain components for marine applications, while Wärtsilä’s Norwegian Electrical and Automation (E&A) business will be able to focus on system-level offerings.

Control system offers ‘next-gen platform for Industrial Internet’

GE Automation & Controls has announced a modular control technology that integrates with the industrial Internet to deliver what it claims are new levels of productivity. It says that early adopters of the Industrial Internet Control System (IICS) have reported 7% gains in asset performance and 22% increases in efficiency. It also expects the IICS to cut maintenance costs by around 40%.

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