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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The bearings manufacturer NSK is investing almost €17.5m to build a new European Distribution Centre (EDC), 4km from its existing site at Tilburg in the Netherlands. It says that the 17,357m² facility, due to be completed by July, will allow it to stock more, to operate more efficiently, and to make faster deliveries to customers.
A Scottish company claims to have developed world’s smallest high-pressure, low-vibration clean-air compressor. Edinburgh-based Vert Rotors adds that its tiny device is the first real innovation in micro-compressor technology for a century.
At the recent SPS IPC Drives show in Germany, the Taiwanese automation manufacturer Delta announced a range of IP55-protected vector control variable-speed drives for fan, pump and water treatment applications. The CFP2000 VSDs span ratings from 0.75–90kW and come with built-in EMC filters, DC chokes, real-time clocks and 10,000-step PLCs.
Plymouth-based Applied Automation is expanding its machine-building division, creating ten new posts, including two managers and eight mechanical and controls fitters, taking its total number of employees to 160.
Following two years of contraction, the global automation market will return to growth this year, according to the market analyst, IHS Markit, which has published a list of what it thinks will be the top seven manufacturing trends during 2017.
The motion control and nanopositioning systems specialist PI (Physik Instrumente) has acquired 80% of ACS Motion Control, the Israeli developer and manufacturer of controllers and drives for multi-axis systems. The financial terms have not been disclosed.
A new version of the low-cost Raspberry Pi computer has been announced which is targeted at engineers developing embedded control systems. The Raspberry Pi 3 Compute Module (CM3) is based on the latest Raspberry Pi 3 architecture, with an ARM quad-core processor running at up to 1.2GHz, 1GB of LPDDR2 RAM and 4GB of on-board eMMC Flash storage. It has the same pin-out as the original Compute Module (CM1).
The German miniature servomotor specialist Wittenstein cyber motor has come up with a “unique” servomotor design which has a screw drive built into its housing. The motor, spindle drive, linear guide and encoder system form a ready-to-mount integrated linear actuator system suitable for use as a dynamic positioning axis, especially where space is limited. When combined with servo controls, the motors can form servo axes with multiple fieldbus interfaces.
The Japanese automation and robotics manufacturer Yaskawa is investing around €25m to expand its production facilities in Europe and to open a new robot manufacturing plant and European robotics development centre in Slovenia, creating around 200 jobs in the process.
At the recent SPS IPC Drives show in Germany, WEG unveiled a family of high-end soft-starters with built-in PLC functions that provide programmable control of induction motors. The soft-PLC allows the output torque to be adapted to the load, and start-up currents to be minimised.
Once again, the SPS IPC Drives automation and motion engineering mega-show, held every November in Nuremberg, Germany, proved to be a bellwether for the state of the sector – especially in Germany – and an indicator of the trends that are driving the industry. One noticeable theme was the number of collaborative efforts being set up by companies and organisations that might normally be considered rivals.
Mitsubishi Electric is the latest automation supplier to announce a linear transfer system for production lines. It has teamed up with the German production technology specialist, APT Automation, to develop a system called Smart Carriage that “uniquely” provides 240V AC and 24VC supplies on board its carriages, which can be used to power sensors, grippers and actuators, and to collect and store data.
At the recent SPS IPC Drives show in Germany, Murrelektronik announced a modular current-monitoring system that can be adapted to suit an application. The Mico Pro system monitors control and load currents, identifies critical conditions, signals limit loads, and switches faulty channels off in a targeted way. A patented tripping process ensures that trips occur as late as possible, but as early as is necessary.
US researchers, led by scientists and engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, are developing gears made out of special materials that that can act both as a metal and as a glass. The materials can operate efficiently without lubricants in extremely cold conditions, such as those found on the surface of planets and moons. They could also slash the cost of strain-wave gears used in applications such as robotics.
The US Department of Energy has announced nearly $25m of funding for 13 projects aimed at advancing technologies for high-efficiency electric motors. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE) Next Generation Electric Machines projects will address the limitations of traditional materials and designs by enhancing their efficiency, improving their performance, and reducing their weight.
Mitsubishi Electric used the recent SPS IPC Drives show in Germany to preview a new inverter with a built-in Web server and Ethernet TCP/IP connections. The FR-A800-E drive, which is based on the existing FR-A800, will provide enhanced functions for remote monitoring and parameter adjustment, as well as easier integration into networks. Mitsubishi says that single drive could control an entire machine or process, saving time and money for SIs and OEMs.
At the recent SPS IPC Drives show, Phoenix Contact unveiled a “future-proof” open control platform, called PLCnext, that will allow engineers from different disciplines to work together simultaneously on projects, each in their preferred development environments. They can continue to use their chosen programming tools – such as Visual Studio, Eclipse and Matlab Simulink – and to link their program code, saving time and reducing the risk of errors.
Schneider Electric has developed a drive system for servomotors that, it claims, could cut the need for space in control cabinets by up to 90% compared to conventional servo amplifiers, as well as reducing energy consumption by up to 40%. It unveiled the Lexium 62 ILD system at the recent SPS IPC Drives exhibition in Germany.
A new report from Transparency Market Research predicts that the global market for industrial automation equipment will expand from $183bn in 2015 to reach $352bn by the end of 2024 – a CAGR of 6.6% over the period. Part of this growth will be driven by manufacturing industry revolutionising the way that it operates. Another driving factor is said to be a strong growth in demand for CNC technologies.
Six UK universities are to receive £60m of government funding to help establish research hubs aimed at improving manufacturing processes. A further £87.5m will be contributed by partners, academia and industry.
CLPA – the CC-Link Partner Association – has announced an addition to its CC-Link IE protocol that will allow device vendors to add CC-Link IE compatibility to any product with a 100Mbit Ethernet port. The new version, known as CC-Link IE Field Network Basic – or “Basic Mode” – can be implemented on devices or master controllers using software alone, allowing it to be added to existing products without making any hardware modifications. CLPA says that this will reduce the cost of development and time-to-market “significantly”.
Ritttal used the recent SPS IPC Drives exhibition to preview its vision of the future where enclosures will have built-in cooling systems, avoiding the need to assemble cooling systems on enclosure roofs or side panels. It showed two prototypes: one with the cooling system at the top; the other at the side.
The US vehicle technologies supplier Dana Incorporated is acquiring the power transmission and fluid power businesses of the Italian Brevini Group in a deal that values the group at €325m, including the assumption of about €100m of debt. Dana plans initially to buy an 80% share in the Brevini businesses, with an option to acquire the remaining 20% by 2020.
At the recent SPS IPC Drives show in Germany, Sick launched a camera that captures images and video sequences taken immediately before and after an event, to reveal the causes of plant malfunctions – such as safety barriers being ignored or items being removed from production lines. The camera can transmit event-controlled video sequences directly to the cloud, as well as storing them locally on an SD memory card.
New from Bosch Rexroth is a gateway that links new or existing plants to the Internet of Things (IoT) without affecting the automation logic. The Linux-based IoT gateway uses Java apps and open interfaces. Configuration is Web-based, and needs no programming.
Siemens has updated its Simotion motion control software, equipping it with object-oriented programming (OOP) and communications via OPC UA.
The automotive and industrial supplier Schaeffler is buying a 51% stake in Compact Dynamcs, the German manufacturer of high-performance motors currently owned by the power semiconductor specialist, Semikron. Under the deal, which gives Schaeffler the option of acquiring the remaining shares in 2018, it will also cooperate with Semikron in the development of power electronic systems and the integration of power electronic components. Financial details have not been released.
A new US company, spun off from GE’s Global Research Center, claims to have re-invented the electronic switch, with a device that can handle kilowatts of power, yet offers the size, speed, cost, and reliability attractions of solid-state devices.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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-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.
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 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.
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.