Drives and Controls Magazine
How OEMs can improve the efficiency of their machines

Schneider Electric is offering a White Paper called On the road to green machines: How OEMs can improve the energy efficiency of machines.

Wireless monitor warns when wipes clog pumps

A Californian IoT specialist, myDevices, has teamed up with a French electronics developer, éolane, to offer a wireless predictive maintenance system that could help water companies to monitor pumping stations that are increasingly being clogged by the large numbers of people who are flushing disinfectant wipes, paper towels and napkins down their toilets during Coronavirus lockdowns.

ABB makes digital services free to help maintain production

ABB’s Robotics and Discrete Automation business has announced that it will make key software services available free-of-charge to its customers until the end of 2020, to help them keep production lines going and to continue to function while many of their staff are working from home.

Wireless mesh sensors monitor rotating machines

SKF has announced a compact vibration and temperature sensor that monitors the condition of rotating parts on heavy industrial machinery automatically. It says that the SKF Enlight Collect IMx-1 sensor will allow users to cut both unplanned downtime and maintenance costs. They will also be able to collect data more frequently – over hours and days, instead of weeks and months – from locations that were previously inaccessible, using fewer technicians.

Hannover Fair is now cancelled, not postponed

The organisers of the Hannover Fair have now cancelled the 2020 event after the regional government issued a decree prohibiting the staging of the world’s biggest industrial trade show in the light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Record-setting power converter boosts densities eight-fold

Mitsubishi Electric has developed a new technology that integrates power semiconductor devices, passive devices, sensors and other components in the same substrate, and has used the technology build a 100kW (continuous) bidirectional DC-DC converter with a power density of 136kW per litre – making it the world’s most power-dense converter, with a density eight times higher than conventional converters. The company predicts that the technology will result in much smaller power electronics equipment.

GE offers free remote software to engineers working from home

GE Digital is offering free Web-based remote monitoring and control licences to users of its industrial HMI/Scada software, allowing them to work remotely to ensure business continuity if they having to work from home as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. The 90-day licences will be available to the 20,000 automation software customers that use GE’s iFix and Cimplicity products.

Cloud-connected logic module will be ‘a paradigm shifter’

Siemens has announced a “paradigm-shifting” new version of its Logo! logic module that connects directly to the cloud, opening up a wide range of new control and monitoring possibilities – such as energy management and predictive maintenance – and simplifying networking. The new version (8.3) is due to be launched at the Hannover Fair (recently postponed until July) and is planned to be available in late 2020.

Dual-output proximity sensor saves time

Japan’s Azbil Corporation – previously known as Yamatake – has developed an adjustable proximity sensor with two outputs that allows operators to configure and check settings remotely from a computer, thus saving the time usually needed to set up multiple sensors.

Revamped micro gearheads boost efficiencies by 30%

By redesigning the internal layout of its micro planetary gearheads, maxon motor says it has been able to boost their efficiencies by around 30%, as well as increasing their torque outputs, improving their feedback, and extending their service lives by up to 11 times compared to some rivals.

Drives & Controls Show is postponed until January 2021

DFA Media, organiser of Drives & Controls Exhibition and the other shows that were due to take place at the Birmingham NEC in April, has decided to postpone the events because of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Encoders are first to support CIP Safety over EtherNet/IP

Rockwell Automation has developed what it claims are the first encoders to support the CIP Safety over EtherNet/IP protocol for safety applications up to SIL 3 / PLe. The Allen-Bradley 843ES absolute encoders are aimed at safety applications that need speed, direction or position-monitoring functions.

ABB forms AI partnership to create e-commerce robots

ABB has formed a partnership with an American AI (artificial intelligence) start-up called Covariant, to bring AI-enabled robotics technologies to market, starting with autonomous systems for fulfilling warehouse orders. Their joint vision is to develop and offer AI-enabled robots that will work alongside humans in dynamic environments, learning and improving as they perform their tasks.

‘Revolutionary’ edge automation platform adapts to its use

The US communications, monitoring and controls manufacturer, Red Lion, has announced a “revolutionary” edge automation platform that, it says, brings a new degree of versatility to edge computing, while its simple point-and-click operation will boost productivity and efficiency.

MTA moves Mach to 2021 in response to Coronavirus

The Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA), which owns and runs the UK’s largest manufacturing trade event, the Mach exhibition, has announced that it is rescheduling the show from April 2020 to January 2021, in response to the Coronavirus outbreak.

UK's £9m 5G manufacturing project is the largest

The UK government has announced its biggest investment in using 5G for manufacturing to date – a £9m ($11.7m) project that will install a private 5G network at the National Composites Centre (NCC) in Bristol. The multi-partner project, called 5G-Encode, will explore new business models for private 5G networks in industrial settings and test new 5G technologies, such as network splicing and slicing, in a real working environments. It will also examine the practical application of 5G wireless technologies to improve composite design and production processes.

Integrated EtherCat servodrives can be mounted on machines

The German controls manufacturer Beckhoff has announced an integrated machine-mounting servodrive for implementing automation outside of control cabinets. The AMI812x servodrive combines a servomotor, output stage and fieldbus connection in a space-saving design that is available in ratings up to 400W.

Linking drives to the edge could lead to new business models

At the now-postponed Hannover Fair, Siemens is planning to unveil a concept study that will demonstrate a Sinamics drive system integrated with its Industrial Edge platform. In future, it says, it will be possible to perform high-frequency data exchange in drives using edge devices and to perform complex analyses of drivetrains. The result will be more intelligent drive systems that could lead to new business models.

Cooling technique could boost motor lives and efficiencies

Researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK have embarked on a two-year project aimed at developing a novel liquid cooling technology for electrical machines that could cut end-winding temperatures by more than 30°C compared to forced-air-cooled machines with rotor-mounted fans. The technique could boost machine efficiencies and prolong their lives.

Reconfigurable UK robot targets SME batch applications

A British start-up company is developing a modular collaborative robot (cobot) that can be adapted, by adding or removing extension modules, to handle a variety of payloads and reaches. Guildford-based Inovo Robotics is targeting, in particular, SME (small and medium size enterprise) manufacturers with limited production runs, which may need to reconfigure their robotic systems from one production run to another.

Gateway marries IO-Link with controls to gather device data

The German sensor-maker Sick has unveiled an IO-Link gateway with an on-board Web server that can collect, combine, evaluate and transmit signals from IO-Link devices from any manufacturer. The SIG200 Profinet Sensor Integration Gateway is the first in a family of intelligent Industry 4.0 gateways designed to work both as IO-Link masters and as small, distributed control systems.

Davos 5G demo synchronises robots 1.5km apart

At the recent World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, ABB, Ericsson, and the Swiss telecoms company Swisscom, demonstrated real-time 5G communications being used to control robots over a long distance. In the demo, an ABB YuMi collaborative robot (cobot) carved a message in a sandbox that was replicated simultaneously by a second YuMi located 1.5 km away.

Nidec invests billions to become global leader in EV motors

The Japanese motor-maker Nidec has announced ambitious plans that, it hopes, will make it the global leader in motors and drivetrains for electric vehicles. It is investing around 200bn yen ($1.87bn) in three new plants in China, Poland and Mexico, which will have a combined output of around 10 million EV drives per year, with aim of catapulting its global market share from 4% at present to 35% within a decade.

iPM compressor motor ‘exceeds IE5’ and slashes losses

The compressor-maker Atlas Copco has developed and patented an interior permanent magnet (iPM) motor which, it claims, has a higher efficiency than the IE5 “ultra premium efficiency” level. It is using the motor to drive the rotors in some of its compressors directly, resulting in energy savings of up to 30%.

‘Sensorised’ skin helps soft robots to tell where they are

Researchers at MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the US have built a soft robotic arm that understands where it is in 3D space using only motion and position data from its own “sensorised” skin.

1.5MW motors will power 186-seater electric plane

Wright Electric, the US aircraft developer which is designing an 186-seat all-electric passenger plane, has announced plans to develop a 1.5MW motor and 3kV inverter to power the craft. The UK-based budget airline EasyJet is partnering Wright in the project, which aims to put the plane, called Wright 1, into service from 2030.

UK government gives electrical machines a £37m boost

The UK business secretary Alok Sharma has announced a £36.7m investment programme to design, test and manufacture electric machines for future low-carbon transport applications, aimed at helping the UK to achieve its net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050. The bulk of the funding (£30m) will be used to create four new centres of excellence – in Newport, Nottingham, Strathclyde and Sunderland – that will research and develop green electric machines, for applications including planes, ships and cars.

Industrial cyber-threat warnings soared in 2019

The number of “advisories” about control system cyber-threats issued by the US government’s ICS-Cert (Industrial Control Systems Cyber-Emergency Response Team) service rose to set a new record in 2019, with 129 being issued – 53% more than in 2018.

Torque sensors measure to 10mNm and 30,000 rpm

A UK torque-sensing specialist has developed an optical rotary torque sensor that can measure values as small as 10mNm. This capability, combined with a 50kHz bandwidth, means that the sensor can record even the most fleeting of transient torques accurately.

SMEs invested £5.4m in first year of Made Smarter programme

In the first year of the Made Smarter North West pilot, 300 small and medium-sized manufacturers have have invested £5.4m in new technologies, aided by £1.6m of funding. The pilot is working with SMEs in North West England, offering them impartial advice, and helping them introduce digital tools and technologies to boost their productivity and growth.

Bearings are 'first' with built-in load-sensing fibre optics

SKF has developed what it claims is the world’s first commercial bearing to incorporate a fibre optic sensing technology that can measure loads on the bearing. The components, designed to be used in pumps and compressors, will take the guesswork out of product development, helping to speed up the designs by giving instant access to a variety of data.

Forklift vision system prevents storage and retrieval errors

The German forklift manufacturer Jungheinrich has a developed a networked machine vision system designed to be integrated into its vehicles' forks to read and compare barcodes on packaging and storage systems, thus avoiding storage and retrieval errors. The company says that the system will prevent items being stored in the wrong compartment, or the wrong pallets being retrieved from a rack.

Novel coil-winding technique cuts losses by up to 25%

The German wound components manufacturer REO has developed a more efficient way of winding coils that, it claims, can cut power losses by up to 25%. It also results in components such as chokes and transformers that are smaller and up to 10% lighter than conventional designs.

Hannover Fair is postposed in response to Coronavirus

The organisers of the world’s largest industrial exhibition, the Hannover Fair, have decided to postpone this year’s event from 20–24 April to 13–17 July, in response to the Covid-19 Coronavirus outbreak. Deutsche Messe made the decision in cooperation with the Hannover Region Health Authority, the event’s Exhibitors' Council and its partner associations, VDMA (German Engineering Federation) and ZVEI (German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers' Association).

UK project aims for ‘world’s most power-dense PM motor’

A UK company is developing what it claims will be the world’s most power-dense permanent magnet electric motor. Norfolk-based Equipmake has teamed up with the Bristol-based additive manufacturing organisation HiEta Technologies to develop the next-generation motor with a target peak power density of at least 20kW/kg – more than four times that of a conventional motor. The project is being supported by a grant from the UK government’s innovation funding body, Innovate UK.

‘Multi-million pound’ MBO at Siemens partner HMK

HMK Automation Group, which last year celebrated its 40th anniversary, has undergone a “multi-million pound” management buyout (MBO), led by managing director Gary Kitchin, who has been with the company for almost two decades and took on the role of MD in 2012.

Rockwell buys Italy’s Asem and US-based Kalypso

Rockwell Automation is buying Asem, the Italian manufacturer of industrial PCs, HMIs and industrial software, for an undisclosed sum. The transaction includes the purchase of a minority (25%) interest in Asem held by the German KEB Group. Rockwell plans to maintain Asem’s strategic supplier and technology partner relationship with KEB after the deal closes.

Distributed I/O system links wired devices to the IIoT

The Californian automation manufacturer Opto 22 has announced an intelliegent distributed I/O system designed to connect traditional wired switches and sensors directly to Ethernet networks, software applications and the cloud, without needing intermediary controls or communications hardware, such as PLCs, PACs or PCs.

Four-axis Scara robot is the first designed for hygienic duties

Stäubli has developed a four-axis Scara robot which, it claims, is the first that can be used in food industry applications where there is a high risk of contamination and bacteria developing. The TS2 HE robots have “a unique and revolutionary hygienic design” that uses smooth, rounded and tilted surfaces to eliminate areas where fluids could accumulate.

Ransomware targets industrial control systems

Researchers at the cyber-security firm Dragos have discovered a new form of ransomware that they think is the first to specifically target industrial controls systems (ICSs). Called Ekans, the malware is designed to terminate certain ICS processes, shutting them down until a ransom is paid.

Atlas Copco offers €1.09bn for Isra to enter machine vision

The Swedish industrial group Atlas Copco has launched a €1.09bn ($1.19m) cash bid for the German machine vision manufacturer Isra Vision, with the approval of Isra’s founder and CEO, Enis Ersü. Isra will keep its brand name and its headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany, and will become the nucleus for a new machine vision division within Atlas Copco’s Industrial Technique business, which focuses on industrial automation systems, quality assurance products and industrial software.

Smart machine sensors venture into hazardous areas

ABB has developed a new version of its smart condition-monitoring sensor technology that can be applied to rotating machines operating in hazardous areas. The wireless sensor, aimed mainly at applications in the chemical, oil and gas industries, will make its public debut at the Hannover Fair in April.

Multi-role sensor processes condition-monitoring data

Balluff has developed a multi-function sensor for condition-monitoring duties that monitors variables such as vibration in three axes, temperature, humidity and ambient pressure, and processes them on board. The compact, retrofittable BCM sensor supports continuous condition monitoring and allows automated sensing of limits at an “attractive” price.

CC-Link TSN products are up and running within a year

Just one year after the CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA) announced its CC-Link IE TSN open networking technology which supports Time-Sensitive Networking, the organisation was demonstrating compatible products from several manufacturers on its stand at the recent SPS show in Germany.

Decentralised IP66 drive is ‘first to support IO-Link’

At the reecent SPS exhibition, the German drives-maker Lenze unveiled a decentralised variant of its i500 frequency inverter which, it claims, is the first to support IO-Link. The IP66-protected i550 protec drive will initially be available in ratings up to 2.2kW. The range will be expanded later up to 75kW.

Fanless industrial PCs are based on low-power CPUs

The latest addition to Beckhoff’s portfolio of tiny industrial PCs is a device that uses Intel’s low-power Core i U processors that need much less energy than other processors in the same series. The result is a fanless IPC capable of intensive computing, but drawing minimal power.

SPS 2019 Show Exclusive Report

Last November’s SPS automation show in Nuremberg, Germany, was the 30th in the series and the first to drop the previous SPS IPC Drives title, which was always a bit of a mouthful and had outgrown its relevance. The SPS part of the name came from the German equivalent of PLC, but today’s show covers much more than PLCs, industrial PCs and VSDs. It now encompasses all aspects of industrial automation from software and communications to sensors, edge computing and the cloud.

Groups vie to offer single-pair Ethernet connectors

At the recent SPS show in Germany, two groups of companies were trying to persuade visitors to that they had the connector technologies needed to make industrial applications of single-pair Ethernet (SPE) a reality.

‘World’s first robot employment agency’ will cut capital costs

A “robot employment agency” which will rent industrial robots to companies by the hour, or charge a “salary” based on the completion of tasks, has been set up as a joint venture between an Israeli developer of autonomous robots, called SixAI, and a Japanese affiliate of Honda, called Musashi Seimitsu. They say that their “unique” business model will give industrial users the option to source robotic labour without the significant capital costs of having to buy new robots.

Decentralised starter is ‘smallest and first with IP65 and STO’

At the recent SPS show iun Germany, Wieland Electric unveiled a decentralised motor starter that, it claims, is the smallest in its power range and the first with IP65 protection and a built-in STO (Safe Torque Off) safety function. The podisMS reversing starter covers the power range 0.3–5hp (0.25–4kW) in one frame size, cutting storage and administration costs.

UK plant is the first to join global Industry 4.0 elite

A GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical plant in Hertfordshire has become the first UK factory to be chosen to join the World Economic Forum’s Global Lighthouse network of frontrunners in applying Industry 4.0 technologies. The plant, located in Ware, is one of 18 sites around the world that were added to the network at the WEF’s recent meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Knowledge base will help to prepare for ICS cyber-attacks

A US organisation has compiled a knowledge base of the techniques that cyber-criminals use when attacking industrial control systems (ICSs). The impacts from these attacks can range from disrupting operations to harming human life and the environment.

New generation of controllers will ‘stretch the limits’

The German automation and drives manufacturer Lenze has developed two control platforms that, it says, “stretch the limits of what is technically feasible”. The first is a dedicated controller said to be powerful enough to handle complex projects that previously required industrial PCs. The second is a combined PLC and IPC for tasks, such as database management, that require Windows capabilities.

Schneider expands two UK plants to meet renewables demand

Schneider Electric has announced plans for a multi-million pound upgrade and expansion of its Leeds and Scarborough manufacturing facilities in the UK in response to the growing demand in renewable and green technologies. It is also planning to create an innovation hub in Leeds, showcasing its sustainable energy management technologies.

Tiny servodrives pack four 5kW axes in the size of a hand

At the recent SPS show in Germany, the Israeli manufacturer Elmo Motion Control launched a series of servodrives which, it claims, offer “the industry’s most advanced servo functionality”, and are the world’s smallest servos to offer functional safety and support FSoE (Functional Safety over EtherCat). It adds that the drives offer “unmatched” performance with extreme power densities and near-zero latency.

Project software now available in free trial versions

The computer-aided engineering specialist Eplan is offering free trial versions of its eView and eBuild software packages, and is planning to release a series of webinars and training videos to help users to make the most of the trials.

$36m Danish project will create ‘world’s biggest cobot hub’

Universal Robots (UR) and Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) have acquired a 50,000m2 site in Odense, Denmark, where – with the financial backing of their joint US parent company, Teradyne – they are planning to invest $36m to build “the world’s largest hub for collaborative robots (cobots)”.

GaN devices boost the efficiency of ELV servodrives

Siemens has adopted a power semiconductor technology based on gallium nitride (GaN) for a new range of extra-low-voltage servodrives that it launched at the recent SPS show in Germany. The GaN devices are said to deliver benefits in terms of power density, efficiency and robustness.

Photo sensors have the ‘smallest bodies and longest ranges’

Omron has launched a series of reflective photoelectric sensors that, it claims, have the smallest bodies and the longest sensing ranges (up to 1.5m) in their class. The E3AS sensors are not affected by sensing distances, colours, materials or the surfaces of objects, making them easier to select, commission, adjust and maintain.

Real-time platform links buyers and sellers of used plant

A Californian start-up that matches buyers and sellers of used manufacturing equipment around the world, has attracted $2.4m of seed funding as part of an expansion drive, especially into Asia. San Francisco-headquartered Moov has developed a real-time technology that, it claims, reduces transaction times from weeks to days, and eliminates inaccurate and outdated listings that plague the sector.

Parvalux reveals plans to expand into a new factory in Poole

The Bournemouth-based motor manufacturer, Parvalux Electric Motors, has announced plans to build a new 13,000m2 (140,000ft2) factory and headquarters in nearby Poole, where it will amalgamate its operations from three existing sites. It has bought a 3.54ha (8.75-acre) site in Cabot Lane which was previously occupied by Barclays and Siemens. Construction is due to start later this year with occupation scheduled for 2021. 

Laser etching cuts terminal rail marking times by 90%

Weidmüller has developed a laser-based system that marks pre-assembled terminal rails automatically, cutting the time normally needed for marking by up to 90%. The Automated RailLaser system can handle manually or automatically assembled rails up to 1.2m long.

Small servodrive handles dynamic applications

At the recent SPS show, Festo unveiled a compact servodrive designed to deliver dynamic motion from small servomotors and stepper motors with continuous power ratings up to 300W. The CMMT-ST drive is particularly suitable for use with Ethernet-based bus systems and can be integrated with controllers from manufacturers such as Siemens, Rockwell and Beckhoff.

Touch-free gripper uses sound waves to hold tiny objects

A Swiss researcher is developing a gripper technology that uses ultrasonic waves to hold and manipulate small objects without touching them. Marcel Schuck from ETH Zurich university believes that his invention could be used to handle fragile objects such as semiconductor devices and watch parts that could be damaged by conventional grippers.

Igus invests £4m in pioneering UK recycling plant

The German engineering plastics specialist igus has invested £4m in a company that is building a first-of-its-kind plant in Cheshire, UK, that will recycle plastic waste into synthetic oil that can be re-used to make new plastic products. Construction is due to start this year on the first commercial catalytic hydrothermal reactor (Cat-HTR) plant which will consist of four reactors and will be able to process more than 80,000 tonnes of plastic waste every year.

Lightweight cobot targets first-time users

Fanuc has unveiled a lightweight collaborative robot (cobot) aimed at first-time users of robots, especially in smaller companies. The CRX-10iA robot can handle payloads of up to 10kg, and will be available with a reach of either 1.2 or 1.4m.

Bluetooth-enabled lubrication controller is ‘a breakthrough’

A US manufacturer of fluid-handling equipment has developed an automatic lubrication controller that supports Bluetooth, allowing maintenance personnel and operators to monitor parameters such as lubricant levels, pressures and configurations on a smartphone or tablet.