Drives and Controls Magazine
Rockwell buys Danish modular switchboard specialist, Cubic

Rockwell Automation is buying Cubic, a Danish company that produces modular systems for constructing electrical panels. Rockwell says that combining Cubic’s flexible systems with its own intelligent devices and expertise will achieve faster times to market for intelligent motor controls, and help to generate smart data for users. The terms of the transaction have not been revealed.

Scalable motion controls support safety functions

Parker Hannifin has announced a pair of multi-axis motion controllers that combine machine logic, real-time motion control, safety functions and visualisation in a scalable format. The PAC120 and PAC340 controllers offer differing memory capacities, CPU performance, communication options and CNC functions to suit automation projects involving motion, synchronisation or positioning tasks.

UK’s £22m National Robotarium launches with Tata tie-up

The UK’s largest and most advanced r&d facility for robotics and artificial intelligence, the £22.4m National Robotarium, has opened its doors at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. The centre has also announced an applied engineering and research collaboration with the multi-billion dollar company Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), covering joint research across disciplines including soft robotics, field robotics, cobots and tele-operations.

UK manufacturers battle with the City to attract digital skills

UK manufacturers are having to compete with the financial sector and other high-paying parts of the economy to recruit the data specialists that they need to drive the move to digitalisation. A new survey by the British manufacturers’ group Make UK and the accountancy firm Sage reveals that more than a quarter (27%) of UK manufacturers say that they now need data analysts to help them make the transition to the digital era.

ABB takes stake in Dutch machine monitoring specialist

ABB is taking a 10% stake in Samotics, a Dutch specialist in analysing the health of rotating machines, and has entered a long-term strategic partnership with the company to provide enhanced condition-monitoring services. They aim to reach the next level of condition-monitoring by co-developing advanced digital services focused on energy efficiency and operational resilience. As a first step, ABB will integrate Samotics’ plug-and-play monitoring technologies into its portfolio by the end of 2022 as part of its services for rotating equipment.

ABB rebrands AMR line-up following its purchase of Asti

Following its acquisition last year of the Spanish autonomous mobile robot (AMR) manufacturer Asti Mobile Robotics, ABB Robotics is rebranding its AMR portfolio under the Flexley name. The first models to be released, Flexley Tug and Flexley Mover, cover applications such as towing, trolley transportation for loads of up to 2,000kg, as well as lifting and transporting racks, containers, and pallets up to 1,500kg.

AI helps to slash motor design times from days to hours

Two Japanese companies – Mitsubishi Electric and Toshiba Mitsubishi-Electric Industrial Systems Corporation (TMEIC) – have developed an AI-based electric motor design support technology that, they claim, can cut typical motor design times from as long as three days to just three hours. They say that the technique will reduce lead times for future motor developments.

Cross-cutting function run on servodrives reacts faster

The German drives-maker Baumüller has integrated a cross-cutting function into one of its servodrives, thus achieving faster response times and greater precision.

Single-sensor safety positioning system is ‘the world’s first’

Leuze has announced a safety positioning system for applications such as stacker cranes that uses a single sensor to detect positions instead of the two needed previously.

SPS expects 1,100 exhibitors after three-year absence

The SPS (Smart Production Solutions) automation megashow will return to its Nuremberg venue in Germany in November for its first physical show since 2019, with the organisers hoping to attract around 1,100 exhibitors, compared to the 1,585 in 2019. Last year, the exhibition had to be cancelled at the last minute because of soaring Covid rates in Bavaria.

Robots will automate motor assembly at new winding centre

A technology centre due to open next year will help UK companies to deliver the next generation of electric motors. The Winding Centre of Excellence (WCE) is being set up by the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), part of the University of Warwick, and is being partly funded by £4m from UKRI’s (UK Research and Innovation) Driving the Electric Revolution Challenge programme. The WMG High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC) is contributing a further £300,000.

BGEN buys Radway to boost its industrial automation activities

BGEN, the multi-discipline engineering business previously known as Boulting, has acquired Radway Control Systems to stengthen its industrial automation offering. The purchase will support BGEN’s ambition to expand in sectors including renewables and steel, and boost its presence in the automation aftermarket and service sector.

Aussie motor ‘doubles speed record’ and cuts rare-earths

Australian researchers have built a high-speed electric motor that, they claim, is much more robust that other IPMSMs (interior permanent magnet synchronous motors), while using far fewer rare-earth materials and being cheaper. The prototype motor has achieved speeds of 100,000 rpm, more than doubling the previous speed record for laminated IPMSMs, according to the developers.

Smart linear conveyor system sales will hit $1bn by 2026

The global market for “smart” production line conveyor systems – both linear and planar – is outpacing the general manufacturing and machinery market and will expand from $300m in 2021 to almost $1bn by 2026, according to new research by Interact Analysis. Sales grew by 27% in 2021 and are likely to expand by a further 36% this year, it reports. Over the period 2021-206, it expects the linear market to achieve a CAGR of 26.5%.

Firms plan to invest in automation, but training is lagging

An ABB survey of business leaders in Europe and the US has revealed that most are planning to invest in automation and to re-shore their manufacturing operations in the next few years. But another survey, also conducted by ABB, has discovered a lack of investment in the education and training needed to develop the skills needed for the increasingly automated and connected workplaces of the future.

Next-gen CNC system is ten times faster, and offers new drives

The CNC specialist NUM has launched a “radically new” CNC platform that combines CNC and PLC functions in one device, and is it claimed to sets new performance benchmarks for machine control. Compared to the company’s previous Flexium+ CNC system, the new FlexiumPro platform is more than 10 times faster – from boot time and block-per-second execution, to axis control, PLC/CNC data exchange, robot and peripheral I/O interfaces. It is also said to offer significant advances in connectivity and reliability.

Royal Mint plant will be ‘first’ to turn waste PCBs into gold

The Royal Mint is building the world’s first plant designed to recover precious metals, including gold, from discarded electronic devices such as mobile phones. When fully operational in 2023, the plant, at the Mint’s secure site in South Wales, is expected to process up to 90 tonnes of UK-sourced circuit boards every week – producing hundreds of kilograms of gold per year which the Mint can use to produce coins. The venture will support around 40 jobs, helping existing employees to reskill, as well as recruiting new chemists and engineers.

Automatic robot configuration system cuts times by 80%

The Danish robotics developer OnRobot has demonstrated what it describes as the first software platform for configuring robotic applications automatically. It claims that the system, called D:Ploy, can cut the time it takes to deploy robots by up to 80%.

Timken buys GGB Bearings from EnPro for $305m

The Timken Company is buying the metal-polymer plain bearings producer GGB Bearing Technology from EnPro Industries for $305m in cash. Timken says that GGB’s expertise in plain bearing coatings complements its own strong positions in roller and ball bearings. GGB's products are used mainly in industrial applications, including pumps and compressors, HVAC, off-highway, energy, material handling and aerospace.

Routeco takes control of simulation specialist, AutoLogic

The Routeco Group has acquired a majority stake in AutoLogic Systems, the Tetsworth, Oxfordshire-based supplier of simulation products, consulting and related services. AutoLogic’s management team and employees will continue serve its customers and to develop the business further. Details of the deal have not been disclosed.

Convergix buys AGR and Aylesbury Automation

US-based Convergix Automation Solutions has bought AGR Automation, a UK-based automation designer and systems integrator, whose headquarters are in Arbroath, Scotland. AGR also owns Aylesbury Automation in Buckinghamshire and has a factory in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Financial terms of the transaction have not been disclosed.

UK manufacturers see energy prices as threat to existence

Nearly six out of ten UK manufacturers (58%) now fear that soaring energy prices are threatening their businesses – up from 8% just four months ago – according to a survey by Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation. Already, 13% have cut their operating hours or are avoiding production during peak periods, and 7% are stopping production for longer periods, while 12% report that they have already made job cuts as a direct result of higher energy bills. They warn that if expected price hikes of more than 50% occur over the coming 12 months, they will need to take more drastic action such as full shutdowns and wider redundancies.

€50m centre will include flexible motor production plant

Schaeffler is investing €50m in a new centre of excellence for electrified mobility at its Automotive Technologies headquarters in Bühl, Germany. The new complex will consist of two buildings connected by a bridge. It will cover a floor area of 15,000m2, providing space for around 400 employees to work collaboratively on customer projects and develop new systems for electric powertrains.

UK manufacturing drop is steepest since first Covid lockdown

UK manufacturing production suffered its steepest decline in August since May 2020. Companies experienced a sharp reversal in new orders, with demand from domestic and overseas clients contracting sharply. This led to a near stalling of jobs growth and drop in business optimism, according to the latest Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for UK manufacturing produced by S&P Global and the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS).

Brammer Buck & Hickman becomes Rubix

The UK industrial supplies specialist Brammer Buck & Hickman is changing its name to Rubix – the group that has owned it since 2018. Brammer Buck & Hickman was formed in 2011 when the MRO distributor Brammer merged with Buck & Hickman, a supplier of tools and health and safety products. It currently has more than 1,100 employees working at more than 40 branches across the UK.

Vision sensor has a 1km range – ‘the world’s longest’

A Californian company has announced a machine vision sensor that, it claims, can operate over a range of more than 1km – further than any other device of its type. SiLC Technologies says that its “4D+” Eyeonic vision sensor can perceive, identify and avoid objects over long distances, with potential applications including robotics, autonomous vehicles, biometrics, security, industrial automation, warehousing and drones.

Magnax raises €20m to boost development of axial-flux motors

The Belgian axial-flux motor developer Magnax has raised a further €20m of funding which it plans to use to accelerate product development, expand its engineering team, and enhance support for its customers and partners. The latest funding, from two new investors, brings the total capital raised by Magnax to date to €36m.

‘Tripadvisor for industrial technology’ attracts €1m of funds

A Belgian start-up which calls itself the “Tripadvisor for industrial technology” has attracted €1m of capital from three investment funds to help roll out its online review site for industrial automation equipment. Called Qviro, the search platform helps industrial users to make informed purchasing decisions based on reviews from other users.

Four-year project delivers Ethernet-APL for process users

After almost four years of collaboration, four industrial communications organisations – FieldComm Group, ODVA, OPC Foundation, and Profibus & Profinet International (PI) – have announced the availability a two-wire, IS (intrinsically safe) physical communications layer for process applications called Ethernet-APL (Advanced Physical Layer), capable of transmitting at speeds of up to 10Mbit. The development tackles numerous barriers that have previous limited the deployment of high-speed Ethernet in hazardous process automation facilities.

Hybrid ball-bearing extracts more power from smaller motors

SKF has developed a low-friction deep-groove ball-bearing for electric motors that supports high rotational speeds and enables higher power densities, leading to higher power outputs from the same-size motor. The high-speed hybrid bearing is aimed at applications such as electric machines and drives, as well as railway traction motors.

Distribution centre is one of the largest warehouses in US

Digi-Key Electronics, the US-based distributor which claims to offer the world’s largest selection of automation products and electronic components in stock for immediate shipment, has opened an 2.2 million square feet (204,000m2) expansion to its Product Distribution Centre, taking its total area to more than 3 million square feet (278,000m2). The $400m facility – one of the 10 largest warehouses in North America – will allow the company to pick, pack and ship nearly three times its previous daily average of 27,000 packages to customers in more than 180 countries around the world.

Electric craft will ‘fly’ a few metres above the waves

A US company called Regent is pioneering a new category of electrically-powered vehicle called the seaglider that uses the ground effect to fly on a cushion of air a few metres above bodies of water. Regent says that the vehicle will dramatically cut the time and cost of moving people and goods between coastal locations.

Cogging-free PCB motor helps to control cameras remotely

A Los Angeles company that develops equipment for the film industry has used a motor with a stator formed from a PCB (printed circuit board) to solve a problem with hand-wheel systems used to operate film cameras remotely.

Baker Hughes buys Brush machinery arm to extend portfolio

The US energy technology company Baker Hughes is buying the Power Generation division of Brush Group from its private equity owner, One Equity Partners, for an undisclosed sum. Baker Hughes says that the division – which manufactures synchronous motors as well as generators, condensers and control systems – will enhance its turbomachinery portfolio, as well as optimising its supply chain using Brush Power Generation’s manufacturing base and expanding its capacity for projects in both the industrial and energy sectors.

ABB buys Siemens’ LV Nema motors arm to boost growth

ABB has agreed to buy Siemens’ low-voltage Nema motors operation for an undisclosed sum. The business, which has manufacturing operations in Guadalajara, Mexico, produces motors mainly for the North America market. It employs about 600 people and last year generated revenues of around $63m.

Novel two-part ball bearings cut noise, even at high speeds

The German engineering plastics specialist igus has developed a plastic ball bearing that unusually combines two materials to make it wear-resistant and dimensionally stable and quiet, even at high speeds. This design makes the xiros 2K bearing suitable for use in applications such as fans and blowers.

Motion control sales rose by 21.6% in 2021, and prices too

The global market for motion controls – including servomotors, drives and controls – expanded by 21.6% during 2021 and will grow by a further 9.1% in 2022, according new research by Interact Analysis. This growth will continue until 2026, but at a slower pace, with a CAGR of 5.5%, according to Interact.

Delta robot is ‘fastest in its class’ and can be set up in hours

ABB has announced a five-axis delta robot which, it claims, is the fastest in its class for handling lightweight packaged products such as chocolates, small bottles and parcels. The five-axis IRB 365 robot has a 1.5kg payload, and is suitable for a variety of picking and packing applications in the food and beverage, pharmaceuticals and consumer goods markets, where high production line speeds and adaptability are needed.

WEG buys Gefran drives for €23m to boost EU capacity

The Brazilian motion engineering and automation company WEG is buying the Motion Control business of the Italian automation and sensors manufacturer Gefran for around €23m.

Sick-Aeva deal brings 4D Lidar sensing to industrial apps

The German sensor-maker Sick has entered a multi-year collaboration with the US-based sensing technology specialist Aeva to bring its 4D Lidar technology to industrial sensing applications including long-range position and velocity sensing. The Aeries II technology is predicted to boost the reliability and efficiency of 3D measurements in demanding applications.

£13m extension will offer robotics training to apprentices

Construction has started on a £13m extension to the Oxfordshire Advanced Skills (OAS) training centre which will be used for new apprenticeship programmes in areas including robotics, data science, cybersecurity, energy storage, power engineering and space. The OAS team is also developing a curriculum for a new automation and controls level 4 apprenticeship programme, which it expects to deliver from September 2023.

Rare-earth-free 15MW generator ‘eliminates risks’

A UK wind turbine specialist has teamed up with a US developer of high-performance rare-earth-free magnets to design a 15MW generator for use in offshore wind turbines. Middlesborough-based GreenSpur Wind and Minneaopolis-based Niron Magnetics say that the high-efficiency low-mass generator will generate power without needing costly and environmentally-dubious rare-earth magnets. Their claims have been backed by the ORE Catapult, the UK’s technology innovation and research centre for offshore renewable energy.

New ballscrew technology could double service lives

NSK has developed a ballscrew technology that, it claims, can double service lives compared to standard ballscrews in some applications. The new ballscrews are aimed, in particular, at high-load applications such as injection moulding machines and servo presses which are switching from hydraulic to electric drive operation using servomotors and ballscrews to save energy.

Soaring steel costs are hitting motor prices and lead times

Mushrooming demand for electrical steels for use in EV (electric vehicle) motors is pushing up prices and lengthening lead times for industrial and commercial motors, a market analyst is warning. The price of cold-rolled electrical steels – which represent about 20% of the material costs of a motor – has soared by more by 400% since January 2016, according to Interact Analysis. This has contributed to a 35-40% increase in the average selling price of motors since January 2020 and further rises could be on the way.

€23.5m motors factory in Portugal will include test lab

The Brazilian motor manufacturer, WEG, has revealed more details of the new factory that it is building in Portugal at a cost of €23.5m, which will double the size of its manufacturing operation in the town of Santo Tirso. The factory, due to be fully operational by 2024, will boost WEG’s workforce by 100 people, as well as creating what WEG is calling “Europe’s most complete testing laboratory” for MV (medium voltage) and HV (high voltage) motors and drives.

Linear motors with magnet-free tracks cut costs

UK-based Motion Control Products (MCP) has announced what it claims are the first linear motors that do not have any magnets in their tracks, thus reducing the need for rare-earth materials and cutting costs, especially for long travel lengths. The motors are also said to be easier and safer to assemble, without the usual strong magnetic attraction between the track and the moving forcer.

Schaeffler buys Ewellix for €582m, to boost its linear range

Schaeffler is buying the Ewellix Group – formerly SKF’s linear technology arm – for around €582m. This amount does not include transaction costs, nor Ewellix’s net debt of around €120m which Schaeffler will take on.

Transformer maker expands in response to growing demand

The Stoke-on-Trent transformer manufacturer Electro-Wind has expanded its manufacturing premises across two sites and taken on extra staff in response to a growing demand for both its standard and custom-built products over the past couple of years.

Talking Industry Webinars are now available as podcasts

The Talking Industry series of online panel discussions are now available in a convenient podcast format. As well as audio recordings of the Webinars, DFA Manufacturing Media – which organises the online discussions and publishes Drives & Controls – is also planning to publish original podcasts both as one-off editions such as interviews with industry personalities, and as series of related programmes.

Siemens UK VSD plant will be carbon-neutral 8 years early

Siemens’ variable-speed drives factory in Cheshire, UK, is on track to achieve carbon neutrality this year – eight years ahead of its original target. The Congleton site, which manufactures more than 1.2m controls and drives every year, has achieved this goal by deploying a range of sustainable technologies for energy generation and demand, including generating 75kW of renewable energy from a hydro-electric plant on the nearby river Dane, and using carbon-neutral biogas to power an on-site gas engine. These measures alone are saving the company £250,000 a year and have taken the 80% power-independent factory off the grid.

First motor-driven energy-chain can travel more than 1km

Igus claims to have produced the world’s first driven energy chain, almost eliminating limits on travel distances, which can stretch to well over 1km. The technology also delivers high dynamics and long running times because there are hardly any push/pull forces acting on the chain.

Entries are about to close for 2022/23 Buyer’s Guide

The July/August edition of Drives & Controls magazine will contain our annual Buyer’s Guide for Drives, Automation, Power Transmission and Motion Control. For more than 35 years, this has been an essential tool for buyers and users of these products, offering easy-to access information on who makes and sells what, and how to contact them. There is nothing else like it in the UK market.

€100m machine automation campus will train 4,000 a year

ABB has opened a €100m global innovation and training campus at the headquarters of its Austrian machine and factory automation subsidiary, B&R. The campus, located in Eggelsberg, will create up to 1,000 high-tech jobs. It includes r&d labs, as well as facilities for training up to 4,000 people from around the world every year in collaboration with universities.

Project slashes cost of OT cybersecurity for UK SMEs

A Welsh cybersecurity software developer has joined forces with Siemens to offer a low-cost OT (operational technology) security system for manufacturing SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) in the UK. They say that the managed security system will protect any networked, Internet-connected technology with pricetags starting from £10,000, rather than the hundreds of thousands of pounds normally needed to set up and maintain security operations centres.

SKF and ABB boost collaboration on industrial automation

SKF and ABB have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to explore possibilities for collaborating on the automation of manufacturing processes. They plan to identify and evaluate ideas for improving manufacturing capabilities and improving production efficiencies, potentially leading to future strategic collaborations.

Control Techniques co-founder Trevor Wheatley dies at 79

Trevor Wheatley, the co-founder and former chairman of Control Techniques, and a pioneer in the variable-speed drives industry, has died at the age of 79.

‘Industrial metaverse’ heralds a new era in automation

Siemens has launched an open industrial platform that, it says, will make digital transformation easier, faster and scalable. The Xcelerator platform includes IoT (Internet of Things) enabled hardware, software and digital services from Siemens, and from more than 50 certified third parties. Siemens plans to transform its entire portfolio of hardware and software to become modular, cloud-connected and built on standard application programming interfaces (APIs).