Drives and Controls Magazine
Panasonic enters motion controls with fast 32-axis device

Panasonic Industry has entered the motion controls market with a compact controller that combines motion functions with typical PLC functions such as positioning, networking, modular I/Os and a high-frequency counter. The company says that the GM1 controller will save cabinet space and can handle demanding applications with up to 32 axes and response times as low as 0.5ms.

AI-based platform will predict rotating machine failures

The industrial sensing and protection company Sensata Technologies has teamed up with the Canadian-Indian machine health monitoring specialist Nanoprecise to offer a monitoring and predictive maintenance system for rotating machines that allows plant managers to detect early-stage faults and extend the working lives of their machines.

Schneider ‘in talks to sell’ Telemecanique arm for around $1bn

Schneider Electric is talking to several potential buyers of its Telemecanique automation and control activities, according to the Bloomberg news service. It says that the business, which could be sold for around $1bn, has attracted interested from several private equity firms as well as the connectors and sensors manufacturer, Amphenol.

£50m innovation hub will help UK SMEs to go digital

The UK government is providing £20m to help set up a “data innovation hub” at Ulster University that will assist UK manufacturers to accelerate the development of digital technologies. The £50m Smart Manufacturing Data Hub (SMDH) will help small- and medium-size manufacturers to capture their data and use it better, thus boosting their productivity, growth and sustainability.

Motor monitoring tech eliminates on-machine sensors

Schneider Electric has launched a condition-monitoring technology for rotating machines that analyses motor currents rather than relying on traditional vibration-monitoring techniques. It claims that this approach offers several advantages, including accurate prediction of imminent machine failures, the ability to operate in harsh environments, and the ability to provide data that can be used to cut energy consumption and optimise the performance of machinery.

Pipe-crawling robot could revolutionise utility inspections

Robotics experts at the UK’s Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) have developed an autonomous robot vehicle designed to move along underground pipes to carry out inspections. The invention has the potential cut costs cost and improve efficiency for utilities, as well as preventing pipework leaks and reducing human exposure to hazardous environments.

UK manufacturers call for task force to tackle supply chains

Britain’s manufacturers are calling for a cross-industry and Government taskforce to assess the UK’s current and future supply chain resilience and capabilities, and to establish an action plan to protect the economy from future disruptive events.

Automated Coventry EV plant will be basis for global network

An international developer of electric vehicle drive technologies is commissioning a cloud-based robotic assembly plant in Coventry, UK, which it plans to replicate in a network of digitalised manufacturing plants around the world. Israeli-headquartered REE Automotive, expects to produce 40,000 of its REEcorner modules – which combine a powertrain with steering, braking and suspension – at its Coventry Integration Centre this year. One module is needed for each wheel, so this capacity will be enough to power 10,000 commercial vehicles such as delivery vans, buses and recreational vehicles.

First pneumatic cobot will cost less than electric rivals

Festo has previewed what it claims will be the world’s first pneumatic cobot. It says that the device – due to go on sale in 2023 – will be cheaper than electric cobots in the same class, as well as offering other attractions such as a high sensitivity to collisions and a low weight.

Plug-and-play cobot costs €4,970 and carries 2kg

igus has announced a smart cobot (collaborative robot) which costs just €4,970 (£4,230) and can be up and running within days. The plug-and-play cobot – part of the company’s Rebel family of robotic technologies – weighs just 8.2kg. It is claimed to be the lightest of its type, due largely to the fact that around 90% of its mechanical components are made from engineering polymers, including “the world's first industrial-grade cobot gearbox made of plastic”.

Patented regen function simplifies servodrive apps

The American motors and controls manufacturer Teknic has been awarded a US patent for a method for dissipating energy recovered from mechanical loads connected to servomotors during braking. It says that this function – which it calls VRS (vector regen shunt) – will simplify servodrives by eliminating the need for external regenerative circuits and shunts, thus cutting costs, space requirements, wiring and system complexity.

Service identifies motors that could save most energy

ABB has launched a digital service that will help industrial operators to maximise their energy efficiency and boost their sustainability by identifying motor-driven equipment in their facilities with the biggest energy-saving potential. The ABB Ability Digital Powertrain Energy Appraisal service will draw data from fleets of digitally-connected electric motors and VSDs (variable-speed drives) to show where – and how much – energy can be saved by upgrading to the latest high-efficiency technologies. The users can then make data-driven decisions to prioritise their investments.

AI-based edge app could raise drives availabilities by 30%

At the 2022 Hannover Fair, Siemens will unveil an AI-based edge app that defects in drive systems before they can affect production. The app will allow users to avoid unplanned downtime and to schedule maintenance times in good time, raising plant availability by up to 30%. Siemens says that by scheduling maintenance and servicing activities based on actual demand, companies will be able to boost their productivity by up to 10%.

‘Breakthrough’ robot software delivers a 70% speed boost

ABB Robotics has launched a software package which, it claims, will boost the speed of six-axis robots by 70% and their accuracy by 50%, significantly reducing time-to-market, while improving accuracy levels.

Slotless motor maker ThinGap merges with Allied Motion

ThinGap, the Californian manufacturer of zero-cogging slotless motors, is merging with Allied Motion Technologies, the US group that designs and produces precision motion products for the global market. The terms of the merger have not been revealed.

Plug-and-play conveyor improves productivity

Interroll has launched a platform-based material-flow system that, it says, will boost the productivity of manufacturing processes “significantly”. The modular, plug-and-play LCP (light conveyor platform) system allows integrators to implement scalable belt conveyor sections quickly to satisfy the automated material-flow requirements of individual customers.

PI invests $60m to boost production and ease supply chains

The precision motion control specialist PI (Physik Instrumente) is investing almost $60m in locations around the world to boost productivity, expand production capacity and optimise its supply chains. The German-headquartered company is focussing on growth markets such as industrial automation, semiconductors, photonics and life sciences.

Micro-PLCs optimise smart machine design and programming

Rockwell Automation has announced a pair of micro-PLCs that, it claims, will allow machine-builders to design and program machines more efficiently. As well as releasing the Allen-Bradley Micro850 and Micro870 2080-Lx0E controllers, Rockwell has also updated its Connected Components Workbench software which, it says, will simplify the development of machines using the microcontrollers and cut development times by boosting upload data transfer rates by 23%, and download rates by 40%

Global survey reveals industry plans to invest in efficiency

Almost two thirds (65%) of industrial companies around the world are planning to upgrade the efficiency of their equipment to best-in-class technologies such as high-efficiency motors and variable-speed drives as they attempt to move towards net-zero emissions, according to a new survey carried out in 13 countries for ABB.

Open-source OS is a low-cost alternative to Windows for IPCs

Beckhoff is offering a new operating system for some of its industrial PCs as a lower-cost alternative to full Microsoft Windows packages.

Manchester centre will design AI-enhanced robots

The University of Manchester has launched a centre of excellence which will design next-generation robots, supported by AI (artificial intelligence) technologies. The Manchester Centre for Robotics and AI will pull together experts and projects from different disciplines to work on robotic technologies.

On-line market links buyers and sellers of industrial spares

A British start-up is helping companies to sell items from their stock of surplus spares to others who are looking for particular components. The Web-based business, called Machine Compare Marketplace, is operating globally to link sellers and buyers of surplus stock including industrial controls, sensors, relays, connectors, switches and mechanical components such as bearings, brakes, gears and couplings.

Timken buys Spinea to boost robotics and automation portfolio

The US bearings and power transmission manufacturer The Timken Company is buying the Slovakian company Spinea, which manufactures cycloidal reduction gears and actuators aimed at precision automation and robotics applications. Details of the transaction have not been released.

SKF and Amazon join forces to ‘re-invent’ machine reliability

SKF and Amazon Web Services (AWS) have announced a collaboration to “re-invent” the field of industrial machine reliability and predictive maintenance. They plan to deliver an easy-to-use and easy-to-scale condition-monitoring and analysis package that will make the ability to collect and analyse data using ML (machine learning) technologies available to more applications and users.

Amazon makes creating digital twins ‘faster and easier’

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced a service that, it says, will make it faster and easier for anyone to create digital twins of real-world systems such as factories, industrial equipment and production lines. Digital twins are virtual representations of physical systems that use real-world data to mimic the structure, state and behaviour of the objects they represent, and can be updated with new data as conditions change.

Multi-axis servodrive is ‘most competitive’ up to 750W

Trio Motion Technology used the recent Drives & Controls Show to launch a multi-axis servodrive designed to provide precision motion coordination for space-critical applications up to 750W. The DX5 servodrive is aimed at machine-builders who need multi-axis EtherCat control in a compact format with no gaps between the drives.

First bearings with bioplastic cages cut emissions by 91%

NSK has announced what it claims are the world’s first rolling bearings to have cages made of a bioplastic material derived from renewable biomass sources – mainly plants. It says that the cages will cut lifecycle CO2 emissions by 91% compared to conventional plastics made from fossil fuels. Unlike other bioplastic materials that have problems in high temperatures, tests have shown that the new cage material can withstand temperatures of up 120°C.

Synthetic images ‘revolutionise’ vision system training

Siemens has launched a service that uses AI (artificial intelligence) to generate synthetic images of objects from CAD files. These images can then be used to simplify the training of machine vision systems to identify the objects.

Nidec invests $80m to take lead in strainwave gears

The Japanese motion engineering giant Nidec is investing 10 billion yen (around $80m) to double the size of a manufacturing facility in the Philippines where it produces gear reducers – especially, strainwave gears. It is aiming to double its sales of these products to 100 billion yen ($800m) by 2025, thus overtaking the current global market-leader in these technologies, Harmonic Drive Systems, which is also based in Japan.

Cobot sales set to surge as ROIs come down to 2-3 years

Sales of collaborative robots (cobots) will grow by 20–30% a year in the period to 2025/2026 – faster than previously predicted – according to new projections by Interact Analysis. It also reports that the average ROI (return on investment) on cobots has come down from five years to just two to three.

McComb succeeds Squirrell after 29 years as chairman of PIUK

Chris McComb, managing director of the Manchester-based systems integrator iTech, has succeeded Bob Squirrell as chairman of PIUK, the UK operation of the Profibus Group. Squirrel has retired after almost 30 years in the post.

Selfridges robot 3D-prints items using recycled plastics

Visitors to Selfridges department store in London this month will be able to see an industrial robot 3D printing a variety of objects using recycled plastic recovered from the sea. A Nagami plastic extruder attached to an ABB IRB 6700 robot is creating printed furniture, homeware and other objects chosen by customers via a screen.

On-machine drives cut time and costs, and simplify set-ups

Rockwell Automation has released a series of machine-mounting AC variable-frequency drives designed for quick installation, simple commissioning and predictive maintenance. The Allen-Bradley Armor PowerFlex drives, available in standard or safety versions, replace multiple components for easier integration into automation systems.

First NFC microdrive can be programmed inside its box

At the recent Drives & Controls Show in Birmingham, UK, Nidec Control Techniques unveiled a microdrive that it believes is the first in the world to provide programming, commissioning, diagnostics and other functions using a built-in NFC (near-field communications) capability.

UK motor developer brings production back from China

The British electric motor developer Saietta is bringing production of its axial-flux motors back from China to the UK. The company has originally planned to establish a UK pilot production line by 2024, but is now taking over a motor manufacturing facility in Sunderland previously operated by ZF Automotive UK, which closed the factory last year. Saietta plans to take on many of ZF’s 110 former employees.

Airbus and Roche join digital twin project for industrial plants

A group of European technology companies including Airbus, the pharmaceuticals giant Roche and Capgemini Engineering, have joined forces to develop and industrialise a digital ecosystem for industrial and manufacturing environments. The Vims (Virtual IoT Manufacturing System) will deliver detailed visualisations of manufacturing processes from single production lines to complete factories.

Large robots target EV production and other complex tasks

ABB has announced two new families of large industrial robots for complex manufacturing applications such as EV (electric vehicle) manufacturing, foundries, forging, rubber, plastics and metal fabrication. The IRB 5710 and 5720 robots are designed to boost productivity, performance and uptime by delivering enhanced speed, accuracy, flexibility, and a more robust design with integrated cabling.

Danfoss-Semikron merger creates power electronics giant

The power semiconductor manufacturers Semikron and Danfoss Silicon Power are merging to create a joint business focusing on power semiconductor modules for use in variable-speed drives and other applications such as electric vehicle chargers and renewable energy power converters. With a workforce of more than 3,500, the new Semikron-Danfoss will be owned by the current owner-families of Semikron and the Danfoss Group, with Danfoss being the majority shareholder. They say they plan to invest “significantly” in innovation, technology, and capacity with the aim of at least doubling the size of the business within five years.

Boston Dynamics’ box-shifting robot Stretch goes on sale

Boston Dynamics has announced that its autonomous box-shifting robot called Stretch is now commercially available. The robot, designed to automate loading processes in warehouses and distribution centres, is sold out for 2022, and Boston Dynamics is accepting reservations for deliveries in 2023 and 2024.

3D digital twin tool will speed production plant designs

Mitsubishi Electric has developed a 3D simulation tool that helps to design and construct production plants. The Melsoft Gemini digital twin tool can simulate the operation of these facilities before they are actually installed and operated.

Cobot pallet-mover could boost throughput by 45%

Two US companies – the material-handling automation specialist Vecna Robotics and the pedestrian lift truck manufacturer Big Joe Forklifts – have joined forces to develop a cobot (collaborative robot) pallet mover that will bring human-assisted robotics to smaller warehouses and manufacturing sites with labour-intensive workflows that, they say, have previously been ignored by other forms of robotic automation. The partners claim that simulations and field tests have shown improvements in throughput of up to 45% over relying on human workers alone.

IE5 synchronous reluctance motors promise lowest TCOs

The French motor manufacturer Nidec Leroy-Somer has developed a range of super-premium efficiency permanent magnet-assisted synchronous reluctance motors which, it says, combine the easy set-up of induction motors with the high performance of synchronous permanent magnet technologies, as well as offering “significant advances” in terms of their use with smart drives.

Mitsubishi announces plans for $110m automation plant

Mitsubishi Electric has announced plans to invest about 13 billion yen ($110m) to build a new factory to produce FA (factory automation) products in Japan. It has acquired 42,000m2 site in Owariasahi City, near its main FA plant in Nagoya, for the new factory which is due to come on stream in April 2025.

Software is ‘first’ to predict OT failures and spot cyber risks

An Israeli cybersecurity specialist claims to have created the world’s first software that combines predictions of possible OT (operational technology) failures with cybersecurity detection in a single user-friendly package. IXDen’s patented technology analyses data from sensors and industrial equipment to spot anomalies in data transactions that could signal possible cyberattacks or OT failures.

Spot the robot dog could ‘revolutionise’ farming

UK researchers have developed an autonomous robot with potential to revolutionise agriculture. Based on Spot, the four-legged robotic “dog” developed by Boston Dynamics, the mobile platform combines robotics, automation, artificial intelligence and vision systems to inspect crops for ripeness and quality, and to detect diseases and pests.

War in Ukraine could hit prices of electric motors and drives

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is likely to push up prices of electric motors and variable-speed drives, according to the analyst, Interact Analysis. Russia is a key supplier of copper and aluminium which together represent around 16% of the cost of manufacturing a motor, while Ukraine produces about half of the world’s supply of neon gas – a key ingredient in the production of semiconductor components, which could affect the prices of equipment containing these components, such as VSDs and other automation equipment.

Beckhoff’s sales soar by 28% to exceed €1bn for first time

Beckhoff Automation’s global sales climbed by 28% last year to exceed €1bn for the first time in its 42-year history, despite the challenges of component shortages and the Covid-19 pandemic. Owner Hans Beckhoff describes the 2021 sales figure of €1.18bn as “a great result that we are incredibly proud of. We could definitely have seen even more growth last year, but the shortage of components, along with the limits on our own capacities, held us back in some areas.”

Rexroth takes control of Danish 7-axis cobot-maker

Bosch Rexroth is taking a majority stake in Kassow Robots, a Danish manufacturer of seven-axis collaborative robots (cobots). The companies have agreed not to disclose the purchase price.

Schneider teams up with NTT to drive industrial uses of 5G

Schneider Electric has joined forces with the global telecommunications giant NTT to implement private 5G (P5G) – a private on-premises networking and digitisation-enabling platform designed to advance digital technologies in manufacturing environments. The two companies are building on an existing long-term partnership to use 5G to power IoT environments.

Standardised box PCs will end proprietary design limitations

A consortium of industrial PC specialists is developing a specification for a standardised modular box PC that will guarantee interoperability of PCs from different suppliers, while offering cost-sensitive integrated designs.

Take-up of smart manufacturing soared by 50% during 2021

Adoption of smart manufacturing technologies grew by 50% during 2021, according to a new global survey of more than 300 manufacturers operating in a wide variety of industries. Two out of three manufacturers, it reports, are now turning to some form of smart technology to overcome the challenges they face, while making their processes faster and more effective.

Raspberry Pi-based controller will have built-in touchscreen

An industrial computing specialist has announced a pair of controllers based on the low-cost Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 (CM4) platform, which is aimed at industrial applications. OnLogic says that one of the controllers will have built-in touchscreen to provide status updates and system control.

ProfiSafe module links safety sensors to controls via IO-Link

ifm electronic has announced a device that allows users to operate standard safety sensors and actuators via IO-Link. The AL200S module uses a special ProfiSafe telegram to provide “tunnelled” communication with a safety controller. This allows it to meet SIL3 and PLe safety requirements.

Single radar level sensor suits almost any application

The German level and pressure instrumentation specialist Vega has developed a radar-based level sensor that, it claims, can be used for almost any level-sensing application involving liquids or solids. Until now, choosing a radar-based level has been a laborious process, requiring application details such as temperature and pressure ranges, to be matched to a wide choice of radar frequencies, antenna designs, parts numbers and options. Up to 15 parameters needed to be specified.

Industrial software sales will overtake hardware in 2022

This year will be “a turning point” for industrial automation, with the average manufacturer spending more on industrial software than on automation hardware for the first time ever, according to new research by IoT Analytics. It says that just five years ago, the industrial software market was about 40% smaller than the hardware OT (operational technology) market, but manufacturing is increasingly becoming software-based and five years from now, the industrial software market will be twice the size of the hardware market.

£20m manufacturing r&d centre aims to keep UK ahead

A £20m applied research and development facility intended to help the UK’s advanced manufacturing sector to stay at the forefront of global developments, has been inaugurated in Preston, Lancashire. The AMRC North West facility will have r&d expertise in areas such as digital manufacturing, 5G, robotics, additive manufacturing, autonomous manufacturing, batteries and low-carbon technologies.

‘Reinvented’ switch could slash industrial costs by $7 trillion

A Californian company claims to have reinvented the switch with a device that offers all of the benefits of mechanical relays and semiconductor switches, without any compromises. Menlo Micro says that its Ideal Switch is tiny, fast, reliable, can handle thousands of Watts, has extremely low losses, can withstand extreme temperatures, and is manufactured using standard semiconductor techniques. The company has just raised $150m of Series C funding, taking its total backing to date to $225m.

Energy-saving VSDs will make their debut at Drives Show

The Brazilian drives and automation manufacturer WEG is launching a new generation of simple, space-saving, high-performance VSDs with advanced energy-saving, overload and safety functions. The CFW900 drives, which can be used with either induction or PM (permanent magnet) motors, will make their first large-scale public debut at the Drives & Controls Show in Birmingham, UK, in April.

Global platform links users of CAE systems to suppliers

The German engineering software specialist Eplan has launched a global service that brings together users of its CAE (computer-aided engineering) software with service providers such as panel-builders and consultants. Called the Eplan Marketplace, the Web-based platform allows Eplan users to search for providers that offer services related to their applications.

Low-cost Scara robot brings automation to new sectors

Igus has added a Scara (selective compliance articulated robot arm) robot to its Low Cost Automation (LCA) family of robots and other devices that are designed to boost the productivity of tasks such as electronic assembly and laboratory work, while keeping costs down. The drylin Scara robot, priced upwards of £3,000, joins the existing delta, multi-axis and gantry linear robots in the LCA range, designed to perform basic high-speed, low-payload automated tasks.

New-generation VSDs support output frequencies to 599Hz

Fuji Electric has launched a VSD (variable-speed drive) with a maximum output frequency of up to 599Hz, supporting applications that need high-speed rotation and minimal speed and torque variations. The Frenic-Mega G2 drives have autotuning functions that allow them to be used with almost any type of induction or synchronous motor, using sensor-based or sensorless vector control.

WEG invests €23.5m to build new motors factory in Portugal

The Brazilian motor and automation manufacturer WEG is investing €23.5m to build a 22,680m² electric motors factory in Santo Tirso, Portugal, where it already has a 16,300m² low-voltage motor factory. The new plant will expand WEG’s production of large electric motors. Operations from an existing factory in Maia, 24km away, will be transferred to the new facility, centralising manufacturing at a single site.

ICS vulnerability discoveries soar by 110% in four years

The number of cyber-vulnerabilities discovered in industrial control systems (ICSs) soared by 110% over the past four years, with a 25% increase (to 797) in the second half of 2021 alone, compared to the previous six months, according to new research from the security company, Claroty. Almost all (87%) of the vulnerabilities were rated as “low complexity”, meaning they don’t need special conditions and that attackers exploiting them could expect to be successful every time.

Nema index compares VSDs to maximise energy savings

The US-based National Electrical Manufacturers Association (Nema) has published a procedure that allows variable-speed drives to be compared to optimise their energy savings. The organisation has also produced a guide that defines a process for validating digital models for predicting the efficiency of electric motors.

Six-pulse VSD brings smart functions to more applications

Rockwell Automation has announced its first six-pulse drive to support its TotalForce technology, which combines high-performance motor control, advanced self-monitoring and a digital platform to deliver faster, more precise and more responsive AC drives. The technology has been incorporated in the new PowerFlex 755TS drives which, Rockwell claims, will help to cut unplanned downtime and to get motors running faster.