Drives and Controls Magazine
Brompton Bicycle is a winner in £3.7m smart factory grants

UK Research and Innovation has awarded grants totalling £3.7m to 11 late-stage robotics and automation collaborative projects aimed at improving productivity, sustainability and resilience. The 9-15-month projects, covering areas such as process control, machine vision and gripper technologies, have each secured £107,000–£535,000. The winning projects involve a total of 30 organisations.

$100bn plan aims to make Saudi Arabia a leader in automation

Saudi Arabia has embarked on an ambitious programme to make it a global leader in robotics and industrial automation. It has set up a company called Alat which has formed a strategic partnership with the Japanese investment group SoftBank to develop “groundbreaking” industrial robots and to create a next-generation industrial automation infrastructure with the aim of establishing 32,000 “leading edge” factories in the Kingdom by 2025. An investment budget of $100bn has been allocated to Alat (which will also be promoting other high-tech activities). The robotics project is predicted to be contributing $1bn to Saudi GDP as soon as 2025.

UK motors start-up emerges from stealth with ‘reinvented’ SRM

A UK start-up has emerged from a period of stealth to announce that it has developed a patented switched reluctance motor (SRM) technology which reduces torque ripple by 50%, making it significantly smoother and quieter than other SRMs. Monumo, based in Cambridge and Coventry, recently raised a £10.5m in seed funding and says it has signed NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) with numerous tier one engineering companies and OEMs.

‘Smart’ bearings warn as they wear, avoiding breakdowns

The German engineering plastics specialist igus is developing a new generation of flange bearings with built-in miniature wireless sensors that allow their state of wear to be monitored and predictive maintenance to be implemented to help prevent machine breakdowns.

Siemens buys visual inspection start-up offering ‘instant QA’

Siemens has bought the German visual inspection start-up Inspekto from its venture capitalist owner, D11Z Ventures, for an undisclosed sum. Inspekto has developed an AI-driven, machine-vision-based QA (quality assurance) technology that can be installed “within minutes” without needing systems integrators or the lengthy processes usually associated with setting up QA systems.

E-machine simulation software reduces reliance on prototypes

Siemens Digital Industries has announced simulation software that helps developers of electric vehicles (EVs) and their supply chains to predict the performance of e-machines, including axial-flux drives. The Simcenter E-Machine Design software brings together electromagnetic and thermal simulation, helping to reduce reliance on physical prototypes, and to accelerating innovation.

UK motor-maker abandons Sunderland production line plans

The British electric motor developer and manufacturer, Saietta, has abandoned plans to manufacture electrical steering pumps at a former ZF Automotive plant in Sunderland. It says it has been unable to reach commercial agreement on a contract to manufacture the pumps for a customer and that it has received a £600,000 offer for the production line. Following the news, Saietta’s share price fell by more than half.

Free AR app helps to avoid robot hazards without a headset

The German robot-maker Kuka has developed an AR (augmented reality) app that visualises robot cells live on a smartphone or tablet, helping to achieve fast, safe start-ups. The free KUKA.MixedReality Assistant app does not need an AR headset or other dedicated hardware.

North American robot sales dropped by 30% in 2023

Following record orders in both 2021 and 2022, sales of industrial robots fell by 30% in North America during 2023, according to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3). North American companies bought a total of 31,159 robots in 2023, compared to the 44,196 they ordered in 2022, and 39,708 in 2021.

Liquid-cooled SynRM IE5 motors combine efficiency with output

ABB has launched a liquid-cooled version of its SynRM (synchronous reluctance) motor, combining the benefits of IE5 energy efficiency with effective cooling. The motors, which were first previewed at the SPS exhibition in 2022, can save energy and cut emissions in new projects or as drop-in replacements for less efficient motors.

Generative AI takes maintenance to the next level

Senseye, the UK-based condition monitoring specialist acquired by Siemens in 2022, has added a generative AI (artificial intelligence) function to its predictive maintenance Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), making it more conversational and intuitive to use. Siemens says the development will make human-machine interactions and predictive maintenance faster and more efficient by enhancing proven machine-learning capabilities with generative AI.

Schneider, Intel and Red Hat join forces on open automation

Schneider Electric has collaborated with Intel and the open-source software developer Red Hat to release a Distributed Control Node (DCN) software framework that, they say, will help to drive open automation. The framework, an extension of Schneider’s EcoStruxure Automation Expert, will allow industrial companies to migrate from vendor-specific hardware to a software-defined, plug-and-produce model, allowing them to enhance their operations, ensure quality, reduce complexity, and optimise costs.

LV AC drives sales hit $14bn in 2023, but growth is slowing

More than 20 million low-voltage AC drives, worth more than $14bn, were shipped globally during 2023 as the market continued to expand, new data from Interact Analysis shows. But the pace of growth slowed during the year and is expected to continue to do so in 2024, before steady growth returns to the market in 2025. IA is predicting a CAGR of 4% over the period to 2028, in line with expectations for the manufacturing economy as a whole.

Tool helps to assess careers in controls, drives and machines

An online tool that helps people assess their prospects for a career in drives, controls, power electronics and machines, has been launched by the Electric Revolution Skills (ERS) Hub – the UK Government-backed platform that provides a national skills resource to help attract people into the “electrification” sector.

€145 controller uses AI to generate code within seconds

A Greek automation start-up has announced an IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) controller that can be programmed and monitored via a smartphone, and avoids the need for programming expertise. Erqos says that the €145 EQSP32 controller can be used for industrial or home automation applications, as well as for instrumentation and for remote monitoring and control.

AI tool analyses production line tasks up to 99% faster

Mitsubishi Electric has developed an AI tool that analyses manual tasks on production lines in a few minutes and visualises how the tasks could be performed more efficiently to improve productivity. The company says that tool can cut the time needed to analyse such tasks by up to 99%.

Cyberattacks soar to 13 per second – with OT a key target

There were more than 420 million cyberattacks on the world’s critical infrastructure last year – equivalent to 13 attacks every second, and a 30% increase on 2022 – according to a new report by the cyber-research organisation, Forescout Research.

Low-cost servodrives will create “a small revolution”

Aerotech has launched a series of slimline single- and multi-axis digital PWM servodrives for use with its Automation1 motion control platform, at a lower cost than its higher performance drives. The two-axis XA4 and the single-axis iXA4 drives are both cost less than €2,000. Both versions are available either as standalone motion controllers or as part of PC-based systems with I/O expansion options. A four-axis version will follow later this year, as well as I/O expansion and DC motor supply input for the entire series.

US firm developing tech to recycle drives wins $30,000 prize

A US company, Molg, which is developing robotic microfactories that can autonomously assemble and disassemble complex electronic products such as variable-speed drives, is one of three winners of ABB’s 2023 Accelerating Circularity Startup Challenge. The competition attracted entries from more than 100 start-ups from around the world. Each winner receives $30,000 to develop their concept in collaboration with ABB.

Magnetic powder could be used to 3D-print motor parts

A European project has developed an iron silicon powder which can be used to 3D-print components for electric motors. This could increase their efficiencies and reduce the consumption of materials compared to the standard practice of cutting and moulding sheet metal to create motors. The powder, produced using a laser-based bed fusion technology, could also cut motor weights “significantly”, without affecting their performance.

VSD is first product to win US certification using digital twins

A variable-speed drive is the first industrial product to be certified for use in the US after some of the required tests were conducted using digital simulation. The simulation was verified and validated with physical testing.

Siemens and Sony unveil immersive engineering tech

Siemens and Sony are joining forces to combine a new head-mounted display with Siemens software to create a new technology that will allow designers and engineers to create and explore design concepts in borderless immersive workspaces. The development was unveiled at CES – the Consumer Electronics Show – in Las Vegas this month, where Siemens also announced partnerships with Amazon Web Services (AWS) Red Bull Racing and others, aimed at propelling its vision of the industrial metaverse.

Next-gen air-core motor cuts weight and raises efficiency

The US motor-maker Infinitum has unveiled the next generation of its Aircore EC high-efficiency motor system with the claim that it is 20% lighter than the previous version, and is easier to install and service. The motor, which has a built-in variable-frequency drive, delivers system efficiencies upwards of 93%, as well as “class-leading” power and torque density in a low-footprint package.

Per cycle energy monitoring is built into servodrives

The German drive and automation specialist Baumüller has developed a smart energy monitoring function which can be incorporated into its servodrives, allowing users to analyse energy consumption per cycle without needing external hardware, thus saving both space and costs of wiring and hardware.

Elevator drives eliminate the need for contactors

The Brazilian motors and drives manufacturer WEG has announced a new series of lift drives that, it says, “redefine elevator technology”. The ADL500 drives use a technology called EBC500 (Electronic Brake Control) that eliminates the need for contactors in what WEG calls a “zero contactors concept”.

ABB takes control of Bosnian developer to create AI R&D hub

ABB is buying a majority stake in the Bosnian software service provider Meshmind to expand its R&D capabilities in AI, industrial IoT and machine vision. Financial details of the deal have not been released.

Large mobile robot opens up new options for flexible assembly

German researchers are developing a large mobile robot that, they believe, could bring much more flexibility to industrial applications than conventional fixed-base robot systems. The mobile platform, built by the German firm Broetje-Automation, carries a six-axis Comau robot arm with a 150kg load capacity.

Upgraded servodrives open up new applications

Siemens has upgraded the hardware and software of its Sinamics S210 servodrives, making them more suitable for applications with high dynamics – such as packaging and pick-and-place machines – with ratings from 50W-7kW. The new-generation drives have a second encoder interface, making it easier to control individual axes, and they can connect to direct-measuring systems to compensate for mechanical looseness and tolerances. This increases precision, says Siemens, opening up new applications.

Encoder with built-in vibration analysis avoids downtime

The German encoder specialist Heidenhain has developed a rotary encoder with a built-in accelerometer that allows position measurements and vibration analysis to be performed by a single component, thus simplifying condition monitoring and maintenance planning in high-wear automated systems.

Motor-monitoring device checks 400 parameters

Omron has launched a motor condition-monitoring device that automates the detection of abnormalities in servomotors or induction motors that change speed or load rapidly. By analysing more than 400 parameters derived from current and voltage measurements, the K7DD-PQ device can detect failure modes such as worn blades, chip entanglement, or deteriorating bearings. It eliminates the need to rely on the experience and senses of skilled workers, reduces inspection efforts, and avoids unexpected equipment failures.

LV AC motor sales likely to decline further in 2024

Growth in the global market for low-voltage AC motors market slowed from 16.4% in 2022 to 4.2% in 2023, and will fall back even further in 2024, according to a report by Interact Analysis. It expects worldwide revenues to reach almost $16.6bn this year, with average sales prices for motors increasing by 1.2%.

Southern Manufacturing has a new owner

Easyfairs, which describes itself as the world’s largest privately owned exhibition organiser, is buying European Trade & Exhibition Services (Etes), which organises the UK’s annual Southern Manufacturing & Electronics exhibition. The 2024 event, which takes place at the Farnborough International Exhibition Centre from 6–8 February, will be run by Etes, but Easyfairs will take over after that. The details of the transaction have not been revelaed.

ABB buys Swiss AI navigation firm to boost AMR presence

ABB is buying the Swiss AI-based AMR navigation specialist Sevensense, for an undisclosed sum. ABB, which has had a minority stake in Sevensense since 2021, says that the acquisition makes it the leader in next-generation AMRs (autonomous mobile robots) that integrate Visual Slam (simultaneous localisation and mapping) technology with hardware and software. In 2021, ABB bought the Spanish AMR developer, ASTI Mobile Robotics.

‘Breakthrough’ in calculations could double bearing lives

The Japanese bearings-maker NSK claims that it can revise the basic dynamic load rating of many of its rolling bearings to double their rolling contact fatigue life without any changes to their design or materials, following a “breakthrough” in the way bearing lives are calculated – the first significant change to these calculations in more than 60 years. The development will help end-users to improve productivity, cut the frequency with which they need to replace their bearings, and reduce waste.

Edwin James buys ACS to boost SI and digitalisation services

The Scottish engineering services provider Edwin James Group has bought Burton-on-Trent-based Automated Control Solutions Holdings and its subsidiaries Automated Control Solutions and ACS Electrical Engineering (together trading as ACS), for an undisclosed sum.

Manufacturers see UK becoming a more competitive base

British manufacturers are viewing the UK as a more competitive place to locate their activities than they did 12 months ago, with an growing number believing they are moving ahead of their European rivals. However, they remain wary of the threats posed by the US, India and China.

AI tool will simplify the use of hazardous area standards

The Association of Electrical and Mechanical Trades (AEMT) is working with the British Standards Institute (BSI) and Innovate UK’s Driving the Electric Revolution Challenge, to develop an AI-powered tool to help electromechanical repairers ensure that they repair hazardous area motors to the correct standard.

Project aims to offer a second life to motor components

A consortium of German organisations, led by Schaeffler, is developing techniques that will allow electric motor components to be re-used at the end of the motor’s life, rather than being shredded and recycled, as happens at present.

Low-cost bionic hand gives cobots human-like capabilities

The German engineering plastics specialist igus has developed a humanoid hand gripper that allows its ReBeL family of low-cost collaborative robots (cobots) to take on human-like tasks. The hand, made of lubrication-free plastics, has been designed to imitate human hand movements, and costs from £2,668 ($3,367) in the UK.

Motor-maker Parvalux opens new £30m HQ in Poole

The UK motors and gearboxes manufacturer, Parvalux, has officially opened a new £30m headquarters building in Poole, Dorset, which brings together operations which were previously spread across three sites. The company, which was acquired by the Swiss motor-maker maxon in 2018, is hoping to double in size by 2030.

UK start-up says it can boost drive efficiencies

A UK power semiconductor developer is one of two winners of a competition organised by ABB to find start-up companies that are pushing the boundaries of drives and motors technologies. Cambridge-based Quantum Power Transformation (QPT) is developing a power semiconductor technology based on gallium nitride (GaN) that, it believes, could deliver substantial energy and size savings compared to other technologies in variable-speed drives and other applications.

1,300 robots will help Volvo to cut its energy use by 20%

Volvo Cars to is buying more than 1,300 robots and functional packages from ABB to build its next generation of electric vehicles. The robots, which will be deployed at sites in Sweden and China, will help the car-maker to achieve its sustainability targets by cutting its energy consumption by up to 20% through the use of regenerative braking on the robots and efficient power electronics in their controllers.

Pumping station upgrade wins AEMT project of the year

A project which solved frequent tripping problems at a water company pumping station has been chosen as project of the year in the annual AEMT (Association of Electrical and Mechanical Trades) awards, which were presented recently at ceremony in Coventry.

‘Smallest’ radar distance sensor offers high accuracy

The German sensor-maker OndoSense has developed what it claims is the world’s smallest radar-based distance sensor. The reach sensor combines millimetre accuracy with high measuring speeds and a wide measuring range, to perform distance measurement, object detection and positioning applications.

Next-generation laser distance sensor ‘raises the bar’

The German sensor-maker Sick has announced a next-generation laser-based distance sensor which, it claims, raises the bar for mid- to long-range distance sensing. Using a time-of-flight measuring technology, the DT80 1D sensor is said to achieve an accuracy of ±2mm and a resolution of 0.1mm over ranges of up to 80m.

75% of industry hit by ransomware attacks in past year

A global poll of 1,100 IT and OT (operational technology) security professionals working in the industrial sectors has found that 75% of them were targets of ransomware attacks in the past year. The independent poll, conducted for the cybersecurity firm Claroty, also found that 69% of the targeted organisations had paid the ransom, and that more than half (54%) of those who paid suffered financial ramifications worth $100,000 or more.

HMS Networks buys Red Lion Controls to boost its US presence

The Swedish industrial communications specialist HMS Networks is buying the US-based automation supplier Red Lion Controls from its UK owner, Spectris Group Holdings, for a cash sum of $345m, on a cash- and debt-free basis. The deal will strengthen HMS’ presence in North America and enable cross-selling of both HMS’ and Red Lion’s products.

Yaskawa moves UK HQ to EV hotspot in Sunderland

Yaskawa, the Japanese manufacturer of drives, motion controls and robotics, is moving to a new 35,000ft2 (3,250m2) UK headquarters and manufacturing facility in Sunderland. The site, at Hillthorn Park, is next to Nissan UK and the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP).

ABB and UK firm will use gravity to store energy in old mines

ABB has signed an agreement with the UK-based gravity energy storage firm Gravitricity to explore how hoist technologies could accelerate the development and implementation of gravity-based energy storage systems operating in former mines.

PPMA is reborn as Automate UK, making automation central

The PPMA (Processing & Packaging Machinery Association) Group of Associations is changing its name to Automate UK to better represent the needs of its membership and their customers. The move follows the PPMA’s publication of a Manifesto for Automation earlier in the year, which set out its goals and commitment to make the UK more productive. It also set out the central role that automation has to play in the UK manufacturing sector.