Drives and Controls Magazine
£53m of funding aims to drive digital manufacturing in UK

The UK Government has announced £53m of new funding to drive the development of digital manufacturing technologies, including the establishment of five new research centres, a digital supply chain innovation hub, and 37 projects intended to digitalise and transform manufacturing supply chains.

UK backs robots and smart machines in £22bn r&d plan

The UK Government has picked robotics and smart machines as one of seven strategic technologies that it plans to back as part of a new innovation strategy that will see it invest £22bn each year in publicly funded research and development. The Government believes that these technologies – which also include AI, digital and advanced computing, and advanced materials and manufacturing – are areas where the UK has globally competitive r&d and industrial strengths, that will transform the economy.

Google robot software firm emerges from 5 years of stealth r&d

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has launched a business that aims to make industrial robots easier to use, less costly and more flexible. The announcement of the business, called Intrinsic, follows more than five years of stealth development inside Alphabet’s secretive X "moonshot factory" which works on future technologies.

ABB sells Dodge to RBC for $2.9bn, doubling its size

UPDATED: ABB is selling its Dodge mechanical power transmission business to the US bearings-maker RBC Bearings for $2.9bn in cash. The deal will double RBC’s revenues, and create a leading manufacturer of highly-engineered, performance critical bearings and motion control components, with customers including OEMs and the industrial aftermarket.

Mercedes buys UK motor-maker Yasa to power new AMG EVs

Mercedes-Benz has bought the UK electric motor developer and manufacturer Yasa and will use its axial-flux electric motor technology to power a new generation of high-performance all-electric AMG cars due to be launched in 2025. Yasa will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, developing ultra-high-performance e-motors, while retaining its own brand, team, facilities, and continuing to supply existing customers. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

Covid isolation stops production at 13% of UK manufacturers

More than three quarters (77%) of UK manufacturers are reporting that employees self-isolating after being “pinged” by the NHS Covid-19 track-and-trace app is affecting their business, especially in the past two weeks. Almost a quarter (22%) of 436 companies surveyed by the manufacturers’ organisation Make UK on 21 July reported that up to 10% of their staff were having to isolate, with 13% of companies saying that they have already had to stop some production.

Emulation software tests controls before they are deployed

Rockwell Automation has released emulation software for its ControlLogix 5580 family of controllers which allows engineers to test control code in a virtual environment before deploying the hardware. It says that the FactoryTalk Logix Echo controller software will save time and costs for machine designers, optimise machine performance, and reduce time-to-market.

Battery-free vibration sensors can check all machines in a plant

Fluke Reliability has announced a battery-free wireless system for monitoring machine vibrations, that can help to identify potential faults before breakdowns occur. The “set-and-forget” Fluke 3562 Screening Vibration Sensor system can connect up to 1,000 sensors to a single gateway and can operate continuously, even in hard-to-reach places.

EnDat 3 interface is designed for digital manufacturing

The German sensor-maker Heidenhain has released the third generation of its EnDat serial communications interface, specifically designed to meet the needs of digital manufacturing. EnDat 3 is said to offer faster data transmission, improved reliability and improved diagnostics, combined with additional sensor data (from encoders or other external devices).

ABB expands into mobile robotics by buying Asti

ABB is entering the autonomous mobile robot (AMR) market by buying the Spanish-headquartered AMR manufacturer, Asti Mobile Robotics Group, for an undisclosed sum. The deal will expand ABB’s robotics and automation offering and, it claims, make it the only company to offer a complete portfolio for the next generation of flexible automation. The acquisition, a key part of ABB’s external growth strategy, is expected to close soon.

Video service links robot users to experts via their phones

ABB has announced a service that allows users of its robots and controllers to transmit video and images of any technical problems from a smartphone to a remotely located ABB technician who can provide expert assistance. It says that the Virtual Assistance app and service will cut downtime and boost productivity.

Decline in UK exports to EU began before Brexit happened

The UK manufacturing sector’s dependence on the EU was starting to ebb away even before the UK left the Union and the trade deal was signed at the end of last year, according to new analysis by the manufacturers’ organisation Make UK and the business advisory firm BDO. In their annual Regional Outlook report, they also confirm an earlier conclusion that the Covid-19 pandemic wiped £18bn off the value of the UK’s manufacturing sector between 2019 and 2020.

Live machine safety dashboard promises improved uptime

The German-sensor maker Sick has announced a safety monitoring service that generates live visualisations of one or more machines, allowing users to monitor the status of their safety processes in real time. The Safety Machine Analytics software can help to investigate the causes of stoppages and eliminate them, as well as providing longer-term analyses to help improve maintenance and productivity.

Programming robots inside Siemens controls will cut costs

The Italian robot-maker Comau has released a protocol that allows users of Siemens control systems to program Comau robots without leaving their Siemens ecosystem, thus saving time and cutting costs. The Next Generation Programming Platform (NGPP) works with Siemens’ Simatic robot library to eliminate the need for dedicated robot programming.

Robot dog carries acoustic imager to inspect plants safely

The mobile robotics pioneer Boston Dynamics has joined forces with Fluke Process Instruments to add acoustic imaging capabilities to its four-legged Spot robot, allowing it to move around industrial facilities to detect changes in mechanical sound signatures in equipment, or to visualise air and gas leaks, in real time, before they become costly problems.

UK axial flux motor developer goes public, raising £37.5m

The UK electric motor developer and manufacturer Saietta Group, which specialises in axial-flux technology (AFT) motors, has listed on the London Stock Exchange’s AIM market, raising expected gross proceeds of £37.5m with a market capitalisation of around £102.1m at the issue price.

Component and transport woes raise VSD prices by 2–5%

Prices of variable-speed drives (VSDs) have risen by 2–5% as drives manufacturers continue to battle component shortages, rising materials costs and transportation problems. The latest analysis from Interact Analysis suggests that high-performance drives, which need more powerful processors, have been hit harder than general-purpose drives which use simpler processors that are easier to source.

Hackers harness control systems to mine for crypto-coins

Hackers are using industrial control systems (ICSs) to “mine” for cryptocurrency coins, according to a new report from the cybersecurity firm, Trend Micro. It says that the coin-miners are accessing ICSs mainly through unpatched operating systems and that by hijacking the ICS CPUs, they can affect control system performance, leading to a potential loss of control, especially on systems that have low CPU capacity or are running outdated operation systems – “a setup that is not rare in industrial environments”, according to Trend.

Manufacturers ask Government to help cure post-Brexit blues

Almost all (96%) of UK manufacturers that do business with Europe 96% of companies say they have faced challenges since the new post-Brexit trading arrangements with the EU were introduced at the start of 2021. A survey conducted by the manufacturers’ organisation Make UK reveals that almost half (47%) of the companies had initial difficulties with the new customs processes, although this has eased as their understanding of the rules has improved

Siemens plans to shift its software sales to the SaaS model

Siemens is planning a “fundamental transformation” of the way it sells software products, starting next year, when its Digital Industries (DI) business will start to transition a significant part of its software activities to Software as a Service (SaaS). It says that the new SaaS offerings that will give users greater accessibility, easier collaboration and unlimited scalability to help them accelerate their digital transformation.

Turntide buys third Tyneside firm to add to transport division

The Californian electric motor developer and manufacturer Turntide Technologies has bought a third business in the North East of England – Cramlington-based Avid Technology, which designs and manufactures powertrain components and systems for heavy-duty and high-performance electric and hybrid vehicles. The deal comes just one month after Turntide bought Hyperdrive Innovation and the engineering technical centre of BorgWarner Gateshead to form the basis for a new UK division focusing on intelligent motor systems for the commercial transport industry.

Device adds safety functions to tablet-based HMIs

The HMI manufacturer Idec Apem has developed a device that converts tablet computers into industrial HMIs with hardwired emergency stop (e-stop) buttons and safety functions. The HT3P Safety Commander is designed to address the growing use of tablets in industrial automation settings.

Global robot sales fell by 2% in 2020, but China leads recovery

The number of industrial robots installed around the world fell by 2% in 2020 compared to 2019, despite a 19% growth in the number installed in China, according to preliminary figures issued by the International Federation of Robotics. The IFR describes the fall in sales during the year that the globe was gripped by the Covid-19 pandemic as “more moderate than expected”.

RSE buys Blackburn Starling to take water industry lead

The Scottish engineering group RSE is buying the Nottingham-based manufacturer and systems integrator Blackburn Starling & Co for an undisclosed sum. RSE sees the deal as a pivotal move in establishing itself as the UK’s leading Meica (mechanical, electrical, instrumentation, controls and automation) contractor to the water treatment and recycling market.

Industrial firms lose a day a month to machine failures

Machine failures are causing large industrial facilities to lose an average of more than a day of production (27 hours) every month, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, according to a new survey by the UK machine health monitoring specialist, Senseye. The study, based on interviews with maintenance, engineering and IT professionals in 72 multinational industrial and manufacturing organisations operating in 21 countries, finds that, on average, large plants lose 323 production hours a year. The cost of lost revenue, financial penalties, idle staff time and restarting lines averages $532,000 per hour, or $172m annually per plant.

Rockwell buys Plex for $2.2bn to boost its cloud activities

Rockwell Automation is buying the cloud-based manufacturing specialist Plex Systems for $2.22bn in cash, to expand its industrial cloud software offering. Rockwell says that Plex’s software capabilities will be further differentiated by Rockwell’s global market access, complementary industry expertise, and ability to turn real-time data into actionable insights

‘Unique’ vibration analysis sensor integrates software

Fluke Reliability has announced a “unique” vibration sensing system that combines hardware and software to analyse a machine’s condition and take appropriate action to avoid downtime, rather than simply screening for problems. The Fluke 3563 vibration analysis system combines a high-frequency piezoelectric sensor, two MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) sensors, and software, allowing maintenance teams to monitor and analyse vibration readings continuously from critical assets in a plant.

5G-enabled smart factory will be opened to others for testing

The industrial PC and HMI manufacturer Exor International has built a 5G-enabled end-to-end smart factory in Verona, Italy, as an example of the benefits that Industry 4.0 digitalisation can offer to manufacturers of all sizes. It plans to open up parts of the factory to other companies to explore how they could adopt Industry 4.0 practices using wireless communications.

Wireless technology is ‘first’ to transmit Ethernet latency-free

Phoenix Contact has developed technology for contactless transmission of data and power which, it claims, is the first that can transmit protocol-independent and latency-free Ethernet wirelessly at speeds of up to 100 Mbps across an air gap of up to 10mm. The NearFi technology can also transmit 50W constantly across the gap.

Siemens and Cisco announce industrial 5G routers

Cisco and Siemens have both announced new ranges of 5G industrial routers. Cisco’s claims that its portfolio of IoT routers is the broadest on the market, and can be used to extend enterprise networks to the edge with flexibility, security and scalability.

Collaboration brings immersive encounters to drives users

Siemens has joined forces with the German visual computing specialist Threedy to develop a technology that combines IIoT and 3D data to help drives users to understand their systems better and resolve faults more efficiently.

‘Last-mile’ technology stretches Ethernet range to 1.7km

The semiconductor manufacturer Analog Devices (ADI) has developed a technology that stretches the distance over which industrial Ethernet can operate to as much as 1.7km. ADI says the development will allow previously unavailable data to be accessed across networks, and used to assess data such as asset health, raw material usage, and process parameters, enabling cleaner manufacturing.

Free guide lists ‘top 20’ secure PLC coding practices

The ISA Global Cybersecurity Alliance (ISAGCA) has joined forces with the German industrial IT security specialist admeritia to produce a document that provides a list of coding practices for PLC programmers designed to improve the IT security of PLCs and the plants they control.

Pandemic pushes manufacturers to adopt AI technologies

The Covid-19 pandemic has spurred a significant rise in the use of AI (artificial intelligence) and other digital technologies among manufacturers around the world, according to a survey of more than 1,100 senior manufacturing executives in seven countries, conducted by Google Cloud. The study found that 76% of those quizzed have turned increasingly to technologies such as data analytics, the cloud, and artificial intelligence (AI) because of the pandemic.

Make UK doubles 2021 growth forecast to 7.8%

The UK’s manufacturing sector is set to recover much of the “brutal” 10% decline that it suffered during 2020, and to outpace the growth of the UK economy as a whole this year, according to a survey and study published by Make UK and the business advisory firm BDO. They have doubled their 2021 growth forecast for the manufacturing sector from 3.9% to 7.8% (and are expecting the UK economy as a whole to expand by 7.5% this year).

Delta robot behaves like a cobot and needs no guards

A Swiss company has developed a high-speed delta pick-and-place robot which behaves like a cobot (collaborative robot), allowing it to operate safely alongside humans without needing protective barriers or performance compromises. Wyzo – a subsidiary of the packaging specialist Demaurex, which was a pioneer of delta robot technology – claims that the development represents a new category of robot which it is calling a “sidebot” (a combination of sidekick and robot).

Ballscrews reduce glitches during circular interpolation

NSK claims to have an answer to the problem of machine tool quadrant glitches that occur during circular interpolation routines. It has developed a “world-first” technology that stabilises friction when a ballscrew reverses its direction of motion, significantly reducing the occurrence of these glitches.

Circular interpolation is performed on machine tools such as CNC machining centres and milling machines, as well as EDM (electro-discharge machining) machines. Defined as motion along a circular arc, it requires precise coordination of two machine axes.

Gear-free actuators cut lubricants and costs, and save space

A Canadian firm has developed a series of direct-drive actuators that eliminate the need for gears and belts, thus simplifying drivetrains, reducing the need for maintenance and minimising the risk of lubricant leaks, while improving performance and cutting costs. Genesis Robotics & Motion Technologies’ LiveDrive LDD 1800 actuators are aimed at applications in robots and other machinery, particularly in the food, packaging, pharmaceuticals, and electronics industries where possible contamination by lubricants has to be avoided.

Braking simulator shrinks robot cells by up to 25%

ABB has added a virtual robot braking distance function to its RobotStudio offline programming and simulation software, that calculates and simulates real-world stopping distances, avoiding the need to add safety margins to cell designs, and allowing space savings of up to 25%.

81% of construction companies plan to adopt robots

More than four out of five (81%) of the world’s construction companies say they are planning to introduce robots into their operations during the coming decade, partly in response to a growing skills crisis being experienced by 91% of them.

Start-up brings analytics to machines for under £180

A UK start-up claims to have slashed the cost of entry to Industry 4.0 machinery analytics to less than £180, with the launch of a cloud-based app and sensor system that, it says, can analyse the performance of any machine and can be set up in less than five minutes. The Sheffield-based company, FourJaw Manufacturing Analytics, is a spin-out from the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at the University Sheffield.

System monitors condition of conveyor belts in real time

ABB has launched a digital condition-monitoring technology for conveyor belts that allows users to track speed, misalignment, damage, thickness and wear, slippage and the temperature of their belts in real time. The ABB Ability condition-monitoring service, which is aimed mainly at installations at mines and processing plants, helps to anticipate maintenance, avoid unplanned downtime, and improve belt reliability and lifetime.

US motor-maker buys two UK firms to form a transport division

The Californian motor developer Turntide Technologies, has acquired two UK businesses, Hyperdrive Innovation and the engineering technical centre business of BorgWarner Gateshead, and plans to use them as the basis for a new division focusing on intelligent motor systems for the commercial transportation industry. Financial terms of the deals have not been disclosed.

Ten vulnerabilities discovered in Codesys control software

Russian cyber-security experts have discovered ten vulnerabilities – some of them rated as critical – in the Codesys 2 industrial control software used as the basis for the firmware in controllers from 15 manufacturers, including Beckhoff, Kontron, Festo and Mitsubishi. The German-based developer, Codesys, has released a software update to fix the vulnerabilities and has issued advisory notices for the three software components affected.

Output, orders, prices and staffing all hit record highs in May

Conditions in the UK manufacturing sector improved at an unprecedented pace in May, as output growth strengthened and new orders rose at the fastest pace in the near three-decade history of the IHS Markit/CIPS PMI (Purchasing Managers’ Index). Production, staffing levels, business sentiment and export orders all hit record or near-record rates.

Siemens PLC vulnerability is cyber-attackers’ ‘holy grail’

Cyber-researchers have found a vulnerability in Siemens’ Simatic S7-1200 and S7-1500 PLCs that could give attackers read and write access anywhere on the PLC, allowing them to execute malicious code remotely. The researchers at Claroty describe such unrestricted and undetected code execution as the “holy grail” for cyber-attackers, allowing them to hide code deep inside the PLC undetected by the operating system, or any diagnostic software.

Codesys-based motion controller eases programming

The Taiwanese automation supplier Delta has announced a series of compact, mid-range motion controllers based on the Codesys development environment. The AX-308E controllers, which can handle up to eight EtherCat servodrives, as well as inverters, remote I/O modules and third-party devices, are said to reduce programming times.

Rockwell invests in PCB motor firm in $40m funding round

Rockwell Automation has taken an equity stake in the Texan motor developer and manufacturer, Infinitum Electric, as part of a $40m funding round that takes total funding in the company to date to $55m. Infinitum’s integrated motors, which use PCB (printed circuit board) stators instead of the copper wire and laminated iron cores of conventional motors, are claimed to be 10% more efficient, 50% lighter and smaller, and much quieter than standard motors.

‘Unique’ servomotors ‘are 50% smaller and cost 70% less’

A US motor manufacturer has announced a range of compact integrated servomotors that, it claims, offer the performance of high-end industrial servos at the price of quality stepper motors and controllers. Philadelphia-based IQ Motion Control says that its Fortiq BLS42 motors are 50% smaller and cost 70% less than traditional industrial servomotors.

Drives-maker tackles component lead times of up to two years

As the world starts to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, manufacturers around the world are having to cope with a new series of problems including shortages of critical electronic components, soaring materials costs, and severe supply-chain disruptions. Steve Brooks, director of global operations finance and procurement at the Welsh drives-maker, Nidec Control Techniques, says that together these problems are creating “the most challenging supply chain event of my career”.

Manufacturing grows at fastest since 2018, but prices are rising

Last month, the UK’s manufacturing output grew at its fastest rate since December 2018, according to the latest monthly industrial trends survey by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). The survey of 272 manufacturers found that output expanded in 12 of 17 sub-sectors, with the growth being driven mainly by the chemicals, electronic engineering, and metal products sectors. The manufacturers expect output to accelerate further in the coming three months.

Device can implement CIP Security even on older systems

Rockwell Automation has announced a device that allows industrial companies to implement the CIP Security protocol on most devices on a network, helping to protect their operations – even when using older systems. The Allen-Bradley CIP Security Proxy device works with EtherNet/IP-compliant devices to provide security for an entire network.

Cobot welding cell targets manufacturers with short runs

A Dutch machine-builder has developed a welding cell based on a cobot (collaborative robot) that makes it easier for manufacturers to automate the welding of small batches, to introduce new products, and to allow people and machines to work together safely.

Edge platform helps manufacturers to develop analytics

Emerson has announced an industrial edge platform designed to help manufacturers accelerate their digital transformation projects. The PACEdge platform simplifies application development by bringing together open-source tools in a flexible, integrated and secure platform for machine data and analytics.

Merger will take automation start-up public after 3 years

A Californian start-up that specialises in intelligent, software-based manufacturing, is merging with a SPAC (special-purpose acquisition company) to become a publicly listed company just three years after it was founded. San Francisco-based Bright Machines has doubled its revenue every year since its inception in 2018 and currently employs more than 500 people, including 150 software engineers. It is projecting a CAGR of more than 84% for the five years from 2020 to 2025, and expects to achieve $727m in sales and a gross margin of 50% by 2025.

Siemens and Schaeffler cut motor maintenance bills

Siemens is collaborating with the bearings manufacturer Schaeffler to offer intelligent diagnostics for motor-based drive systems. They are using automated bearing diagnostics to deliver informed maintenance decisions and to integrate information on bearing condition into motor health monitoring systems.

Smart industrial AI camera is first to use powerful new module

Adlink Technology, the Taiwanese edge computing specialist, has launched the first smart camera to use a new Nvidia module which is claimed to perform more than ten times better than its widely-used predecessor. The AI-based Neon-2000-JNX camera eliminates the need for complex integration of image sensor modules, cables and PCs. The compact, rugged all-in-one device is designed to simplify the deployment of smart cameras and to speed up time-to-market.

Split roller bearing handles bigger loads and lasts much longer

The UK bearings manufacturer, Bowman International, has developed a split roller bearing (SRB) that, it claims, offers substantially higher radial and axial load capacities than rival products, as well as increasing bearing lives by up to five times

‘Breakthrough’ motor combines strengths of different technologies

The German automotive powertrain supplier Mahle is developing a magnet-free motor that, it claims, will operate with an efficiency of more than 95% at almost all operating points. The motor uses an inductive – and thus contact-, wear- and maintenance-free – technology to transmit power between the motor’s stationary and rotating parts.

Network tester checks cables and diagnoses switches

Fluke Networks has announced an instrument that simplifies troubleshooting when building or maintaining networks, including analysing the speed-handling capabilities of Ethernet cabling. The LinkIQ Cable+Network tester combines switch diagnostics with cable measurement technology to enable installers, systems integrators and others to troubleshoot network cables or to connect Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) devices to a network.

RFID and fibre optic sensing firms win 2021 Queens Awards

A Cambridge-based company which has developed a patented technology that solves challenges associated with RFID (radio-frequency identification) readers, has won an Innovation award in this year’s Queens Awards for Enterprise.

Ethernet/IP can now connect to simple devices like switches

The industrial communications standards organisation ODVA has extended its EtherNet/IP specification, allowing the network to connect with “resource-constrained” in-cabinet devices such as pushbuttons and contactors. Previously, cost, size, and power restrictions have limited the use of EtherNet/IP at the edge, where many nodes are still hardwired.

Engineering platform will be easier to use and more efficient

At the recent online version of the Hannover Fair, Eplan previewed its forthcoming Eplan Platform 2022, due to launch soon on a subscription basis. A new user interface with ribbon technology and a dark mode is claimed to improve ease of use, while a new 2D graphic module and central device management optimise performance.

Rockwell and Comau offer a single interface for integrating robots

Rockwell Automation and the Italian robot-maker Comau have teamed up to offer industrial customers easier, smarter, and more productive ways to design, deploy, and manage robot applications. The development will allow engineers to program entire machines, including Comau robot arms, in a single environment controlled via Rockwell Logix-based controllers. They will also be able to use Rockwell’s Studio 5000 design software to simplify the time-consuming, and often difficult task, of coordinating traditionally separate machine control and robot systems.

Employers are offered up to £8,200 to take on an apprentice

Some smaller manufacturers can now receive up to £8,200 for hiring a new engineering apprentice by combining support schemes, according to the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC). In his budget earlier this year, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak doubled and extended the financial incentives available to support employers who create new jobs for apprentices.

‘Control tower’ tracks people and vehicles on factory floors

The Israeli-Japanese automation joint venture MusashiAI has announced a spin-out company which claims to be offering the world’s first “control tower” for monitoring and managing the activity of robots, materials and people on factory floors. The flexible, modular system uses computer vision and AI (artificial intelligence) to control and monitor movements of goods, forklifts and fleets of AGVs (automated guided vehicles) and AMRs (autonomous mobile robots) using spatial mapping. It avoids the need to install expensive tracking hardware on robots or machines, making it possible even for small companies to automate their indoor operations.