Drives and Controls Magazine
China aims for robot leadership in new five-year plan

China has released a new five-year plan for its industrial robotics industry, aimed at making it a global leader. Already China has the largest number of installed industrial robots (943,200 in 2020) and is the world’s biggest market for robots, with 168,377 new robots being installed in 2020. But most of these (73%) were from non-Chinese manufacturers, with domestic manufacturers accounting for just 27% of the robots shipped – a total of 45,347.

Hannover Fair is put back by a month and cut to four days

The organisers of the Hannover Messe (Fair) have rescheduled this year’s industrial mega-show from its original dates of 25-29 April to 30 May-2 June. The show is being reduced from five days to four because of existing commitments at the Hannover showground. The organisers say the fair will return to its traditional five-day event in 2023.

Online booking opens for 2022 Drives & Controls Show

Online registration has now opened for visitors wanting to attend the Drives & Controls Show which will take place at Birmingham National Exhibition Centre from 5-7 April. The show is the UK’s leading trade show for the drives, power transmission and motion control sector.

£4.5m competition aims to lift electronics and drives skills

Innovate UK has announced a £4.5m competition aimed at developing skills, talent and training in the UK’s power electronics, machines and drives (PEMD) sector. The competition, run by the Driving the Electric Revolution challenge – part of UK Research and Innovation – will invest up to £4.5m in projects designed to build talent for the future in this sector.

DFA is chosen as media partner for National Manufacturing Summit

DFA Manufacturing Media, the publisher of Drives & Controls, Smart Futures, Plant and Works Engineering and Talking Industry, has been appointed an official media partner of the National Manufacturing Summit which takes place on 8 and 9 February at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry.

SPS will return in November, two weeks earlier than before

The German automation mega-show SPS will be returning to its usual Nuremberg venue from 8–10 November, 2022 – two weeks earlier than its traditional slot in the last week of November. The show’s organiser, Mesago, says that the announcement will give the industry planning certainty.

Radar sensor gauges micron distances in tough locations

A German start-up company called Ondosense has launched a radar-based sensor for measuring distances which, it claims, is the most precise and fastest on the market, with the widest measuring range and the smallest blind range. The OndoSense apex sensor promises accuracies of up to 1µm, a sensing range of 0.1-50m, and high (300Hz) operating frequencies. The lens of has an opening angle of just 4 degrees, ensuring reliable measurements using a tiny measuring spot.

Skills and costs are now the biggest fears for UK manufacturers

More than half of UK manufacturers say that their biggest challenges have changed over the past 12 months. According to a new survey by Make UK and PwC, almost six in ten (58%) now see access to labour seen as being the biggest risk they face, with almost 90% being worried about losing skills not only from their own businesses, but from the entire UK manufacturing sector. Their second-biggest concern is now over inflationary pressures.

Piggyback robots test infotainment systems in Fiat 500 EVs

The Italian car-maker Fiat is using a pair of robots, combined with powerful AI-based software, to automate the testing of infotainment systems in its new all-electric Fiat 500 cars. Testing such systems has traditionally been a repetitive, time-consuming process carried out by human operators at a high cost and with a significant risk of errors.

Delta buys Universal Instruments to boost smart manufacturing

The Taiwanese automation manufacturer Delta Electronics is buying US-based Universal Instruments Corporation and its worldwide operations for around $88.9m. Universal specialises in precision automation systems for applications requiring high accuracy, high-speed handling, assembly and inspection – especially for the electronics industry. Its Advanced Process Lab (APL) platform assists users at every phase of a product’s lifecycle – prototyping, process development, analytics and advanced assembly.

Intel, Moxa and port join forces on wireless TSN over Ethernet

Three companies – the industrial communications specialist Moxa, the chip-maker Intel, and the German software stack developer, port industrial automation – have collaborated to develop and demonstrate a “game-changing” platform that they say is the first application-to-application use of time-sensitive networking (TSN). The platform combines Gigabit bandwidths, high performance, reliability and security, with the potential for wireless communications.

TE Connectivity acquires Phoenix Contact safety relays

TE Connectivity has acquired Phoenix Contact’s force-guided narrow safety relay (NSR) technology as part of a long-term partnership agreement between the companies. TE will assume responsibility for manufacturing and marketing the PSRmini single-pole NSR relays, as part of its focus on bringing miniaturised systems and advanced safety technologies to the market, especially for robot, PLC, elevator and servodrive applications.

Multi-role signalling light towers ‘will define the future’

The German signal tower manufacturer Werma has announced a new generation of towers that, it believes, will define the future of such systems. The whole cylindrical surface of the eSign towers is made up of multi-colour LEDs and can be programmed to perform a variety of roles including alarm signalling, access control, fill level displays, faults, stock information and building security alerts. Various signalling modes can be produced using multiple colours, brightness levels and lighting effects. The towers can also optionally produce acoustic warnings using 10 different tones.

€33.7m project will develop digital motor production methods

A consortium of 17 German companies and research organisations has embarked on a €33.7m Government-backed project to develop a digitalised system for producing innovative electric motors. The AgiloDrive2 project is being led by Schaeffler, with other participants including Siemens, Kuka, Schunk and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

Porsche will use 5G to control robots in real time without cables

Porsche is installing a 5G network at it Macan body shop in Leipzig, Germany, which will allow it to control robots in real time without using cables. The installation – Porsche’s first private 5G network – is part of a research partnership between the high-performance car-maker and the communications specialist Ericsson, aimed at cutting production times and costs, improving quality, and increasing worker safety.

Invertek invests £10m to boost capacity and create 85 jobs

The Welsh drives-maker Invertek Drives is investing £10m to expand the manufacturing and distribution facilities at its global headquarters in Welshpool, and to develop a new application centre. The investment will create 85 new jobs over the coming year, adding to the 280 who already work at the site, and follows a recruitment drive over the past year to expand the company’s production and r&d departments.

High-efficiency motors pioneer David Walters has died

The death has been announced of Professor David Walters OBE, former technical director the motor manufacturer Brook Crompton, who was a pioneer of high-efficiency motors and led the development of Brook’s World Series (W) motors which won a Queens Award for Industry.

UK robot density rises by 77% in 5 years, as the world doubles

The UK’s industrial robot density – the number of installed robots per 10,000 manufacturing workers – climbed from 71 in 2015 to 101 in 2020, according to figures released by the International Federation of Robotics. Although this represents a growth rate of 77% over the five years, it is far behind the global average, which almost doubled from 66 to 126 over the same period. It puts the UK in 24th position in the global league of robot densities, behind countries including Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Modular multidrive’s footprint is up to half the size of rivals

Inovance Technology Europe – the European arm of one of China’s largest drives manufacturers – has announced an AC multidrive system designed to meet the needs of European OEMs for flexible, scalable multidrives in a compact footprint. The modular MD800 system can supply up to eight drives from one rack with a single rectifier, sharing energy through a common DC bus. Innovance claims that its footprint is up to 50% smaller than traditional single-drive modules.

Multi-role wireless passive sensor is ‘the world’s smallest’

A Slovak company claims to have come up with the world’s smallest passive wirelesss sensor technology, which can directly measure variables such as pressure, temperature and magnetic field strength, as well as derived quantities such as torsion, stress and flow, without making contact or needing a direct power supply.

EU AI and machinery plans ‘will disrupt manufacturing’

Four organisations representing the robotics and automation industry have attacked the European Commission's plans to place limitations on AI (artificial intelligence) and to update its machinery regulations, warning the proposed changes would disrupt manufacturing, cause severe damage to small businesses and robotics companies, and stifle innovation.

Wavepower devices use ballscrews to drive generators

A Swedish start-up has developed an innovative wave power technology that uses heavy-duty ballscrews to convert the linear up-and-down motion of sea swells into rotational motion that drives a generator.

UK manufacturers want more support to help SMEs to grow

Britain’s manufacturers are calling on the Government to improve access to funding for small and medium-sized firms to help them to boost their productivity and to expand. New research published by Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation, shows that UK economy could be boosted by £270bn if the 75% of the SMEs with lower productivity had a similar output to the top 25%.

Wireless power and data is ‘quantum leap’ for production lines

The German automation giant Beckhoff claims to have achieved a “quantum leap” in production line flexibility by developing a technology that transmits power and data wirelessly to and from “movers” on its the XTS production transport system. It says that development will open up many new possibilities such as the ability to handle, process, measure and weigh items on the movers.

Research centre aims to advance smart manufacturing in UK

A new national robotics research centre is being set up to advance smart manufacturing in the UK by eliminating barriers and accelerating the widespread use of smart collaborative robotics technologies. The aim of the Made Smarter Innovation Research Centre for Smart, Collaborative Industrial Robotics is to unlock the potential of the UK industry in terms of productivity, quality and adaptability.

AI optimises factory automation processes in real time

Mitsubishi Electric and Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) say they have developed an AI (artificial intelligence) technology that makes real-time adjustments to factory automation (FA) equipment while it is running. As well as eliminating the need for time-consuming manual adjustments, the AI estimates the confidence level of inferences regarding factors such as machining errors, and then controls the FA equipment based on suitable levels of confidence.

Portal will act as one-stop shop for smart technologies

DFA Manufacturing Media, the publisher of Drives & Controls, has launched an online portal and social media information resource called Smart Futures that will cover developments in smart technologies across a wide range of sectors, including manufacturing, medical, building, agriculture, energy, security, transport and materials.

Pocket-sized tool is ‘first’ for testing live fibre optics

Fluke has announced what it claims is the first handheld tool for performing live tests on fibre optics and identifying polarity issues and failed transceivers. The FiberLert tool detects invisible near-infrared (850-1625nm) wavelengths used in fibre-optic communications to troubleshoot cables, ports, polarity and transceiver issues.

Tim Marks wins lifetime award for AEMT contributions

Tim Marks, former secretary and president of the AEMT (the Association of Electrical and Mechanical Trades), has been presented with a lifetime contribution award at the Association’s annual award ceremony, held recently in Coventry, UK. He was described as “the person who has probably put more work into the AEMT than anyone else in the history of the organisation, except maybe the founders”.

Square-flange M12 connectors simplify sensor connections

Binder is offering two-piece M12 panel-mount circular connectors, with square-flange housings and multi-position, lockable A-coding, that simplify secure sensor/actuator connections in factory automation and robotics applications.

Rockwell names Åsa Arvidsson as vp for UK and its region

Rockwell Automation has appointed Åsa Arvidsson as vice-president for its Emea North Region which covers the UK, the Nordic countries, Ireland and Russia. She succeeds Mark Bottomley who has a new role as Emea vice-president for strategic accounts and sales specialists. Christian Reuter has been named as Emea regional vice-president for market access.

Open industrial edge app store works like a consumer store

Siemens has launched a vendor-independent app store for industrial buyers. As well as Siemens’ own Industrial Edge apps for the discrete and machine tool industries, the store will offer apps from third-party suppliers that support the platform such as Braincube, Cybus, SeioTec and Tosibox.

Scara robots combine motion control with machine automation

The UK motion controls developer Trio Motion Technology has launched a range of Scara robots that combine motion functions and machine automation in one package. The company says that the robots will cut development times and increase reliability for machine applications that require robotic integration.

Multi-turn inductive encoders are wear- and maintenance-free

Celera Motion has announced a multi-turn inductive angle encoder that performs precise, reliable absolute angle measurements over multiple revolutions, even in harsh environments. The non-contact Multiturn IncOder has no gears or bearings, making it wear- and maintenance-free. It does not need a battery backup and the number of turns is retained in non-volatile memory, even if power is lost.

‘Revolutionary’ system turns controls into cabinets

UPDATED:  Beckhoff has announced “a revolution in control cabinet construction” in which an industrial controller becomes, in effect, a modular control cabinet, avoiding the need for conventional enclosures. The company believes that its “flexible, space-optimised and intelligent” MX system will change the way we design and build both control cabinets and automation systems in general.

Rolls-Royce plane smashes records for electric aircraft

Rolls-Royce claims to have smashed the world speed record for electrically-powered aircraft with its Spirit of Innovation plane which recently hit a top speed of 555.9 km/h (345.4 mph) over a distance of 3km – 213.04 km/h (132mph) faster than the previous record set by a Siemens-powered plane in 2017. The Rolls aircraft also recorded 532.1km/h (330 mph) over 15km – 292.8km/h (182mph) faster than the previous record – and broke the fastest time to climb to 3,000m by 60 seconds with a time of 202 seconds. Rolls-Royce has submitted the data for verification to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) which controls and certifies aeronautical records.

UK manufacturers announce their first net-zero roadmap

Make UK, the organisation that represents British manufacturers, has released the first roadmap to achieving net-zero in the UK manufacturing sector. UK manufacturers are committing to cut direct emissions generated by manufacturing processes and by indirect emissions from purchased energy by 67% by the end of this decade, putting them in line with the 1.5°C Paris Agreement goal. They also believe they can achieve net-zero by 2050, as long as they have the support and help to create the right business environment.

Food-industry cable will survive 30 years in harsh conditions

The Japanese cable-maker OKI Electric Cable has developed a chemical-resistant cable for the food industry that, it says, has survived accelerated testing equivalent to 30 years of continuous operation with “almost no physical degradation”. The OH cable incorporates a special elastomer with a high resistance to the detergents and disinfectants used in cleaning, as well as the machine oils used in the drive components of food manufacturing equipment. It also resists the oils and fats generated during food processing.

ABB invests in 3D navigation start-up to guide future AMRs

ABB is taking a stake in a Swiss start-up that has developed a technology that allows mobile robots to navigate autonomously through complex, dynamic indoor and outdoor environments close to people and other objects. The company, Sevensense Robotics, founded in 2018 as a spin-off from the ETH Zurich university, uses AI (artificial intelligence) and 3D mapping technologies that are claimed to be more accurate than today’s 2D systems, and resulting in navigation that is more cost-effective than systems based on laser scanners.

SPS show is cancelled as Bavaria tightens Covid restrictions

The SPS automation show, which was due to take place next week in Nuremberg, Germany, has been cancelled following the announcement by the Bavarian prime minister Dr Markus Söder of strict new measures in an attempt to limit the spread of the Covid-19 in the region.

Mercedes to build UK-designed axial-flux motors in Berlin

Mercedes-Benz has announced plans to start building high-performance axial-flux electric motors designed by its UK subsidiary Yasa in Berlin, as it prepares to go all-electric by 2030.

Siemens and ABB quit SPS as German Covid cases soar

With Covid-19 infection rates hitting an all-time high in Germany, several major exhibitors at next week’s SPS automation show in Nuremberg – including Siemens, ABB, Beckhoff, Schneider Electric, Rittal, Wago, Pilz, Lenze, Sick, Weidmüller, Bosch Rexroth, B&R Automation, TE Connectivity and Harting – have decided to pull out of a physical presence at the show, although many will still take part in online activities that are running in parallel.

Controller makes mass personalisation a reality

Omron has developed what it describes as the world’s first automation architecture for personalisation at scale. It says that its Robotic Integrated Controller (RIC) will make made-to-order mass production commercially viable for FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) businesses for the first time.

Roller bearings 'will last ten times longer than rivals'

SKF has developed a seal for mounted tapered roller bearings that allows them to operate in contaminated environments for at least 600 hours – claimed to be 10 times longer than any rival product.

Automation centre will help to design future factories

Omron has upgraded its Barcelona-based Automation Centre where visitors from across the Emea region can collaborate with the company’s engineers to develop industrial automation systems, including robotics, vision, quality control, flexible manufacturing and AI. Covering more than 800m2 of floor space, the Centre allows customers to experience the benefits of connected, intelligent factories before making an investment.

Automation could boost UK productivity ‘dramatically’

Speeding up the adoption of industrial automation and robotics could lead to dramatic improvements in the UK’s manufacturing productivity, according to a major new report produced by the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) and Loughborough University’s Industrial Policy Research Centre (IPRC).

Saietta speeds plans by buying e-Traction from Evergrande

The UK motor manufacturer Saietta has bought the Netherlands-based drivetrain developer e-Traction from Evergrande New Energy Vehicle Group (NEVG), which is owned by the troubled Chinese property giant Evergrande. This is the second UK acquisition of part of NEVG, following Bedeo’s purchase of the in-wheel motor pioneer Protean Electric earlier this month.

Rockwell sets up cybersecurity centre and adds partners

Rockwell Automation has set up a Cybersecurity Operations Center in Israel to deliver remote cybersecurity services to customers around the world. The centre is one of several moves that that Rockwell has announced to bolster its cybersecurity activities, including partnerships with the cybersecurity specialists Dragos and CrowdStrike.

Linear actuator expands uses via on-board drive and I/O

The intelligent motion control specialist Columbus McKinnon has announced a linear actuator with an on-board variable-frequency drive (VFD) and I/O, allowing users to program movement patterns with variable speeds, and expanding its range of applications to include synchronising lifting tables, balancing loads on AGVs (automated guided vehicles), and timing critical steps in manufacturing processes.

Allied buys Alio and Ormec to boost its precision portfolio

The motion controls manufacturer Allied Motion Technologies has bought two US-based businesses: the nano-precision linear and rotary motion specialist, Alio Industries; and the electromechanical automation system and motion controls manufacturer, Ormec Systems. Allied is paying $20m for Alio, consisting of $15m in cash and $5 million stock. The financial terms of the Ormec acquisition have not been revealed.

Laser shaft alignment system ‘saves energy and cuts downtime’

Schaeffler has announced a tool for aligning rotating shafts which, it says, is particularly easy to use and results in precise shaft alignments. Unlike other laser-based alignment tools which need two laser beams to be aligned with each other, the new Laser-Equilign2 tool uses only one laser/sensor device and a reflector. The single laser is simply aligned with the reflector, making it easier to use, saving time and resulting in precise measurements.

Bedeo buys in-wheel pioneer Protean from troubled Evergrande

Bedeo, a UK company specialising in transport electrification technologies, has acquired the in-wheel motor (IWM) pioneer Protean Electric from National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS), a subsidiary of Evergrande New Energy Vehicle Group – itself owned by the troubled Chinese property giant, Evergrande. The financial terms of the transaction have not been disclosed.

Consortium backs Schneider’s open automation vision

A group of more than 25 automation companies and other organisations has be formed to develop, and campaign for, a common software layer that will work on automation technologies of any brand. The founder members of (UAO) include Advantech, Belden, Hirschmann, Intel, Jetter, Phoenix Contact, ProsSoft, Shell, Wood and Yokogawa.

£20m smart factory r&d competition targets sustainability

The Made Smarter Innovation programme has launched a collaborative research and development competition with a focus on sustainable smart factories. Consortia of UK-registered business and organisations will be able to apply for a share of up to £20m for digital innovation projects designed to reduce the carbon emissions of manufacturing processes.

Power quality analysers grab more than 500 parameters

Fluke has announced a series of three-phase power quality analysers that, it says, will eliminate the complexities of power quality (PQ) logging, troubleshooting and analysis by offering automatic measurements, easy set-ups, best-in-class specifications, and simple reporting.

Modular machine-tending cells can cut labour costs by 90%

ABB has launched a family of modular, robotic machine-tending cells for the metals industry that offer a variety of ways of loading and unloading machines, based on the size, shapes and number of workpieces being handled. It claims that the FlexLoader M cells will cut labour costs for machine-tending processes by up to 90%, with one operator able to handle up to 10 cells simultaneously. The automated system is also said to deliver machine utilisation of more than 97%, compared to 40-60% for manually operated machines.