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The UK’s robotics lag could worsen after Brexit

The UK’s departure from the European Union could have a further detrimental effect on the uptake of industrial robots in the UK, according to a new report from the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr) and Redwood Software. The report also suggests that investment in robotics offers better long-term value-for-money than investments in financial services, property or transport.

Planar gantry is 30% faster than Cartesian handling systems

Festo has developed a dynamic gantry system that, it claims, is 30% faster than conventional Cartesian handling systems, with initial costs that are comparable. The EXCH planar surface gantry is aimed at high-speed assembly operations where small, light mass-produced items need to be positioned quickly and flexibly.

Wheel-hub motor is the ‘first’ with a built-in transmission

The Japanese bearings manufacturer NSK has demonstrated what it claims is the world's first wheel-hub motor for electric vehicles with a built-in transmission system. It says that the motor can deliver both high torque and high speeds, and predicts that the development will improve the environmental performance, safety and comfort of EVs.

$25m investment brings LV switchgear to North America

ABB has announced a family of low-voltage switchgear, motor control centres and panels which, it says, represent more than $25m of research and development investment to bring its switchgear to the North American market. The launch is an expansion of ABB’s power distribution equipment portfolio, in which all medium- and low-voltage systems are branded as ReliaGear for standard equipment, and SafeGear for arc-resistant equipment.

Easy-to-apply servodrive system uses 9mm-wide cable

At next month’s Hannover Fair, Siemens will unveil an easy-to-commission servodrive system which uses a single-cable connection between the drive and motor which is just 9mm in diameter. The new system, based on the company’s Sinamics S210 converters and new-developed Simotics S-1FK2 servomotors, covers ratings from 50–750W in five sizes.

‘Game-changing’ electric motors could power aircraft

An Australian company is developing a “game-changing” series of high-power-density electric motors that could be used to propel aircraft, and for other applications needing small, powerful motors. Queensland-based magniX has received an A$2.5m (US $1.9m) grant from the Australian Government as part of a A$12m (US $9.1m) collaborative project aimed at developing motors with power densities of more than 5kW/kg – more than twice as high as the best conventional motors. Magnix believes that it could eventually achieve power densities of 25kW/kg­ – three times higher than modern aircraft engines.

Compensation functions optimise winding applications

Siemens has released functions for its Simotion motion controllers that, it says, will improve the speed, reliability and quality of the winding operations used in converting applications such as processing corrugated cardboard or material webs, and manufacturing battery electrodes.

Modular IPCs mark ‘a new era in customised computing’

GE Automation & Controls has announced a range of modular industrial PCs (IPCs) which, it says, usher in “a new era of customised computing platforms”. The new PCs, which will make their debut at the Embedded World exhibition in Germany later this month, allow a higher level of customisation to suit users’ needs. According to GE, they mark the end of the era of maximising standardisation in IPCs.

‘World’s smallest’ SiC inverter for HEVs will free up space

Mitsubishi Electric has developed a working model of an ultra-compact silicon carbide (SiC) inverter for hybrid electrical vehicles (HEVs) that, it believes, is the smallest of its type in the world, with a volume of just five litres. The inverter also is thought to offer the highest power density for two-motor HEVs of 86kVA per litre, thanks to its use of full-SiC power semiconductor modules with a high-heat-dissipation structure that solders the power semiconductor modules to heatsinks.

Modular drum-motors will cut costs and lead times

The Swiss conveyor drives specialist Interroll has announced a new generation of modular drum-motors aimed principally at conveyor belt applications. The motors, offering a choice of synchronous or asynchronous technologies, will be available first in 80mm-diameter formats and will then be rolled out across the rest of the company’s portfolio.

Automation platform will link people, processes and things

Mitsubishi Electric has announced the launch of an open platform for factory automation that is based on edge computing. It says that the FA-IT platform will simplify connections between factories and value chains via the IoT (Internet of Things), enabling the rapid collection, analysis and utilisation of data for smart manufacturing.

IIC publishes guidance on IIoT interoperability

The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) has published its Industrial Internet Connectivity Framework (IICF) – a reference architecture for evaluating connection technologies when designing IIoT systems. The IIC says it developed the IICF to help unlock data in isolated systems, enabling interoperability between previously closed components and subsystems, and to accelerate the development of new applications within and across industries.

Cloud-based maintenance system acts in real time

Harman Connected Services has joined forces with Intel to offer a predictive maintenance system for rotating equipment that generates predictions based on real-time analyses of machine vibrations, rather than historical data collected over time. The system, called Quick Predict, uses an analysis algorithm originally developed by Intel to cut maintenance in its own plants.

Cyber-secure OS targets control systems

After 14 years of development, the cyber-security specialist Kaspersky Lab has launched a secure operating system for industrial control systems, network devices and the IoT (Internet of Things). Called KasperskyOS, the system has been built from scratch and is designed to minimise the risk of undocumented functions, thus thwarting the threat of cyber-attacks.

Dowding & Mills is now Sulzer Electro Mechanical Services

Sulzer has announced that Dowding & Mills (UK) has changed its legal name to Sulzer Electro Mechanical Services (UK). Its portfolio of electrical services and mechanical repairs will not change, and it will continue to repair and maintain rotating equipment, and provide specialised services for pumps and turbomachinery.

Simulation shows how controls could be hit by ‘ransomware’

Cyber-security researchers in the US have shown how hackers could take control of industrial control systems and hold their operators to ransom. The researchers, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, have demonstrated how attackers could, for example, take control of PLCs in a water treatment plant to shut down valves, increase the amount of chlorine added to water in the plant, and display false readings. They could demand payments to stop the sabotage from happening.

Cyber-security extends from controls to networks and apps

Bedrock Automation, the Californian manufacturer of cyber-secure controls products, has announced a firmware upgrade that extends its cyber-security protection to networks, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and third-party applications.

One-year automation degree aims to help plug the UK skills gap

The University of Salford has joined forces with Siemens to launch a Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) degree in control and automation, to help address the skills shortage affecting UK industry.

Customised linear axes are 3D-printed to order

The engineering plastics specialist igus has launched a service that will 3D-print bespoke carriages and end-blocks for linear axes to customer requirements. The components are printed using a laser sintering process within 48 hours of an order being placed, using a plastic said to be three times more abrasion-resistant than conventional SLS (selective laser sintered) materials.

Real-time Ethernet chip supports a variety of protocols

Yaskawa’s Profichip subsidiary has developed a multi-protocol, real-time Ethernet communications chip that supports Yaskawa’s own Mechatrolink-III master/slave system, as well as Profinet IO RT/IRT, and EtherCat. The Antaios chip also supports Profibus, CANopen, RS-485 and USB, while Ethernet/IP adaptors are being developed.

£9.7m support scheme aims to unlock SME potential

A new £9.7m manufacturing support initiative has been announced to help fill the void left by the axing of the Manufacturing Advisory Service in 2015. The Manufacturing Growth Programme (MGP) will provide access to specialists to help firms grow and improve. It is targeting SME manufacturers in the West Midlands, parts of the East Midlands, East of England and Yorkshire and Humber.

19.9mm-tall robot cuts generator inspections to 6 days

Mitsubishi Electric has developed a 19.9mm-tall robot that can inspect electricity generators by passing through the narrow gap between the rotor and stator. By eliminating the need to remove the rotor for inspections, it cuts the time taken for these inspections – which typically happen once every four years – from around 34 days, to just six days.

Digitalisation will be applied to LV motor production

A group of four German companies and organisations, including Siemens and the Fraunhofer institute, have embarked on a 26-month project aimed at developing technologies, interfaces and infrastructures for implementing digital industrial production. At the end of the project, the partners plan to test the concepts on a line assembling low-voltage motors at a Siemens factory in Nuremberg.

Yorkshire raid discovers 1.5 tonnes of fake bearings

Thousands of counterfeit bearings, weighing a total of around 1.5 tonnes, have been seized by the West Yorkshire Trading Standards authority after a raid on a distributor in the county. Industrial and automotive bearings in 170 types and sizes were confiscated.

Fieldbuses fall below 50% of the industrial networking market

Fieldbuses now account for less than half of the global industrial networking market for the first time, according to the latest analysis by the Swedish networking specialist, HMS. During 2016, fieldbuses represented 48% of installed nodes, down from 58% in 2015, while industrial Ethernet technologies accounted for 46%, up from 38%.

Siemens separates off mechanical drives business

Siemens is setting up its Mechanical Drives (MD) business as a separate company, in a move that could lead to its eventual sell-off. Siemens says that the new setup that will enable the business to operate more efficiently and flexibly in implementing its growth plans in a competitive environment.

Chinese firm buys UK’s Trio Motion for £15.5m

The Chinese automation and robotics manufacturer Estun Automation has bought the long-established British motion control specialist Trio Motion Technology for £15.5m in cash.

ABB acquires Spanish 3D inspection pioneer, NUB3D

ABB has acquired a Spanish start-up company called NUB3D, which specialises in white-light 3D sensor technologies, which use digital scanning to optimise inspection and quality assurance in manufacturing. The sensors are said to detect defects in manufactured parts with high levels of accuracy.

Midea takes control of Israeli motion firm, Servotronix

The Chinese appliances giant Midea has taken control of the Israeli motion control specialist Servotronix Motion Control in a transaction that is reported to value Servotronix at $170m. The deal comes shortly after Midea acquired the German robot-maker, Kuka, for €4.5m, and a week after another Chinese company, Estun Automation, bought the UK motion control specialist, Trio Motion Technology, for £15.5m.

‘New approach to automation’ uses robots to control cells

Rethink Robotics, the US company behind the Baxter and Sawyer collaborative robots, has developed a new software platform that, it says, can co-ordinate an entire work-cell from a single robot. A team of about 30 engineers has spent two years developing the Intera 5 platform, which reduces the need for conventional PLCs and for integration, allowing manufacturers to deploy automated work-cells in a matter of hours, rather than weeks.

UK automation firms see no benefits from moving to WTO rules

A survey of 83 member companies of the UK automation trade body Gambica and the electrical trade body Beama, has revealed that they have an almost entirely negative view of the prospects of adopting WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules for future trading between the UK and the European Union.

UK technology will ‘revolutionise’ soft-starter market

A British soft-starter specialist has developed a new technology which, it believes, will revolutionise the global soft-starter market, which is predicted to be worth more than $1.6bn by 2020. Fairford Electronics’ patented technology allows two or more soft-starters to work together to control higher-power motors. It says that the technology, which it calls Fairford Pluss, will result in longer operating lives, cost savings and improved reliability for soft-starter applications.

72mm-wide micro-PLC is ‘fastest on the market’

The German controls manufacturer Vipa has announced a micro-PLC which, it claims, is the fastest on the market. It says that the Micro PLC sets new standards in terms of its size (at 72mm wide, it is up to half the size of other microcontrollers), channel density (it has 30 built-in digital and analogue I/O channels) and status display (users can view essential system information at a glance).

PLC safety concept ‘can save $300,000 a year'

A new concept for safety PLCs can distinguish between a real reaction to a hazard – when the machine must stop – and those that trip a machine during non-critical events. Its developer, ABB, claims that it will cut downtime costs.

The factory of the future could cut costs by up to 40%

Manufacturers who start to implement the factory of the future today will save up to 40% of their conversion costs in ten years. This is the conclusion of a US-German study that quizzed more than 750 production managers in leading industrial companies around the world.

Nidec completes $1.2bn takeover of Emerson units

UPDATED: The Japanese motor manufacturer Nidec has completed its $1.2bn purchase of Emerson Electric’s motors, drives and power generation businesses – principally, the Welsh drives-maker Control Techniques and the French motor manufacturer, Leroy-Somer. Nidec predicts that the deal will accelerate its growth and help it to meet a mid-term goal of achieving two trillion yen ($17.6bn) in sales by the year ending March 2021.

ABB picks Melling to run UK drives and controls business

ABB has appointed Stuart Melling to lead its variable-speed drives and controls business in the UK following the promotion of Neil Ritchie to a role in global service management.

Holistic approach delivers predictive maintenance

At the recent SPS IPC Drives show in Germany, Mitsubishi Electric demonstrated a condition-monitoring technology for rotating machines that combines and interprets data from smart sensors to provide an overview of the health of assets across an entire plant. The Smart Condition Monitoring (SCM) system integrates the smart sensors with an intelligent controller for a more "holistic" approach to condition monitoring and predictive maintenance.

Redesigned drives shrink by 73% to become ‘world's smallest’

Danfoss Drives claims to have produced the world’s smallest air-cooled, standalone drives, with the highest power density, by redesigning the E-sized enclosures for its VLT drives, and making then 73% smaller. As well as saving space, the new design is said to be easier to install, commission and service.

Mclennan takes on stepper drives after SmartDrive enters liquidation

The Cambridgeshire motion control specialist SmartDrive has gone into liquidation after more than 30 years of business. The rights to its stepper drive designs have been acquired by Surrey-based Mclennan.

Minimum motor efficiencies in EU now extend down to 750W

The latest phase of the EU’s motor efficiency regulations came into force last month, requiring most new single-speed, three-phase induction motors from 750W up to 375kW either to have an IE3 (“premium efficiency”) efficiency rating, or to be IE2 (“high efficiency”) and used with a variable-speed drive.

Italy’s ESA Automation buys drive-maker Selema

Italy’s ESA Automation has acquired the drives-maker Selema for an undisclosed sum. Selema, founded in 1978 and based near Bologna, produces drives with current ratings from 0.5–60A, to control brushless, linear and torque motors, among others.

Safety technology will allow changes with no reprogramming

The Austrian company B&R Automation is working on a technology that, it says, will provide seamless safety for production lines. It will allow machines or individual components to be added or removed from a machine network without having to reprogram the safety application.

Invertek sells its millionth VSD and prepares to expand

The Welsh drives-maker Invertek Drives has achieved the milestone of selling more than one million variable-frequency drives worldwide since its was founded in 1998 by a group of former Control Techniques employees. The company is currently producing more than 160,000 drives per year at its headquarters in Welshpool, with output growing by more than 20% each year.

All-in-one MV drives use LV components to cut costs

At the recent SPS IPC Drives show in Germany, WEG unveiled a new range of medium-voltage drives which it plans to sell as complete systems integrated into cabinets, along with isolators, fuses, and multi-level feed transformers. This means that purchasers of the MVW3000 drives will not need to buy additional MV switchgear.

Siemens links with Microsoft on cloud-based IoT platform

At the recent SPS IPC Drives exhibition in Germany, Siemens announced plans to make its MindSphere Internet-of-Things ecosystem available on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform during 2017. MindSphere allows industrial enterprises to improve the efficiency of their plants by acquiring and analysing large amounts of production data.

Maintenance system ‘spots 99% of potential problems’

Bosch Rexroth has developed a predictive maintenance technology that, it claims, will detect 99% of potential issues, compared to 43% for experts using traditional condition-monitoring techniques. The technology, called ODiN, uses machine learning to generate knowledge about the health of equipment from sensor data, and to produce reliable predictions about likely times to failure.

VSD service will predict future maintenance needs

ABB has announced a new service which will analyse the operating conditions of its installed drives to predict their future maintenance needs and to optimise their operation. Engineers will analyse the performance and condition of drives on-site and provide detailed diagnostics and maintenance recommendations for the user.

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