Drives and Controls Magazine
Hima buys UK’s Sella Controls and plans to expand the business

The German safety-related automation specialist, the Hima Group, has acquired the UK systems integrator Sella Controls with effect from 1 February 2023. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

World’s smallest servodrives get even smaller

Just months after claiming to have set a new world record for the smallest servodrive, the Spanish developer Ingenia has produced an even smaller device – a 250W drive that measures 33 x 17.6 x 6mm, and weighs just a mere 6 grammes. The new Denali drives are aimed at applications such as robots, industrial grippers and lab automation systems.

Configurable safety controller looks like a safety relay

At the recent SPS show in Germany, Pilz unveiled a configurable safety controller that is just 22.5mm wide, yet can monitor up to four safety functions – including e-stops, safety gates, light curtains and two-hand controls. The PNOZ m C0 controller implements safety requirements up to PL e or SIL CL 3, and can allow small machines to achieve high productivity. It provides eight safe inputs and four safe semiconductor outputs.

Government launches £6m automation funding competition

Innovate UK has launched a competition offering a total of up to £6m in funding for late-stage robotics and automation innovation projects in the UK aimed at boosting productivity, sustainability and resilience in manufacturing processes. The funding will cover up to half of the costs of successful projects costing between £200,000 and £4m, lasting 9–15 months, and starting between October 2023 and December 2024.

OS links IT to OT and frees users from proprietary limits

The German connectivity and automation supplier Weidmüller has developed an automation operating system that links the worlds of OT (operational technology) and IT and will allow automation engineers to assemble customised Web-based systems. Called u-OS, the system is based on open standards such as Linux, container technology and OPC UA, and can integrate custom apps, apps from third-party developers, as well as apps developed by Weidmüller itself.

ABB sells Power Conversion business to AcBel for $505m

ABB is selling its Power Conversion division to the Taiwanese switching power supply manufacturer AcBel Polytech, for $505m in cash. ABB acquired the business, formerly known as Lineage Power, as part of its purchase of GE Industrial Solutions in 2018, but did not regard it as being core to its activities.

3D cameras will no longer be dazzled by bright light

Two German companies, Jabil and Osram, have collaborated a Lithuanian OEM manufacturer Artilux to develop a 3D camera technology that can operate in both indoor and bright outdoor environments, with a sensing range of up to 20m.

Infinite Electronics buys UK connector-maker Bulgin

US-based Infinite Electronics has bought Bulgin, the UK developer and manufacturer of connectors and related components for harsh environments, from the private equity firm Equistone Partners Europe, which itself acquired the business from Elektron Technology in 2019. Details of the deal have not been revealed.

Circular movers give levitating transport system a novel spin

Bosch Rexroth is latest contender to join the burgeoning market for levitating transport systems for production lines. Unlike most other systems, which use rectangular “movers” to carry items while floating above electromagnetic tiles, Rexroth’s ctrlX Flow6D system uses circular movers that can rotate and tilt as they move. The movers can also supply power and communications wirelessly to items such as sensors and actuators that they are carrying, and can travel up vertical walls or even suspended below overhead work surfaces.

Robot tool has precision painting application taped

A pair of robotics companies based in the US and Austria have joined forces to develop an end-of-arm tool that allows robots to apply masking tape for painting applications, especially in the aerospace industry.

Industrial metaverse start-up raises $21m for its AI platform

A US start-up that is developing a new 4D infrastructure for creating the industrial metaverse, has raised $21.2m in funding to develop its AI platform, expand its partnerships, and boost the adoption of its technology.

Made Smarter has supported more than 250 manufacturers

The Made Smarter initiative, launched in 2019 to help SME manufacturers to digitalise, decarbonise and drive growth, has now backed more than 250 manufacturers with investments. It has funded a total of 275 projects with £18m of backing, including £5m from government-funded and industry-led initiatives, and £13m from the businesses themselves.

Global sales of smart conveyors are set to quadruple

The global market for smart multi-carrier conveyor technologies is set to quadruple in size between 2020 and 2026, with a CAGR of 26.5%, according a new study from Interact Analysis. The market is still relatively immature with most entrants having joined in the past five years. But the report describes it as “highly dynamic” and “poised for growth” with new entrants likely to shake it up.

Rexroth opens up real-time OS to third parties

Bosch Rexroth has opened up its real-time Linux-based operating system, which it has previously used exclusively for its ctrlX Core controls, to third-party suppliers. The hardware-independent ctrlX OS can be used by other automation suppliers to connect their components to the ctrlX Automation portfolio, including items developed by partner companies on Rexroth’s ctrlX World platform. There are currently more than 60 partners offering 50 downloadable apps from the ctrlX Store.

As supply chains ease, B&R expands output by up to 60%

The Austrian automation supplier B&R has announced that is expanding production and taking on several hundred extra staff to cope with increasing demand for its products. In the past year, its order volumes have hit a record high, with a percentage growth in double digits.

RS introduces subscription charges for DesignSpark

RS Group has introduced two levels of paid subscriptions for its DesignSpark suite of design tools which have previously been free and have helped build a global online community of 1.3 million members. A “DesignSpark Explorer” level will continue to be free, but it will be joined by “Creator” and “Engineer” levels adding extra functions and costing £9.99 and £14.99 respectively per month.

LV drive price rises look set to continue as sales hit $14.2bn

Global semiconductor shortages continued to place strains on the low-voltage variable-speed drives market during 2022, affecting sales and pushing up prices of power modules to “staggering” levels – if they were available at all – according to a new report from Interact Analysis.

Platform automates robot deployment, slashing set-up times

OnRobot, the Danish specialist in add-on technologies for cobots (collaborative robots), has launched a new flagship platform which it describes as “the industry’s first automated platform for building, running, monitoring, and re-deploying collaborative applications”. Called D:Ploy, it automates the process of getting robot applications up and running, allowing complete applications to be deployed and redeployed on factory floors in a few simple steps, with no programming – all within a few hours.

Unpatchable cyber-flaws found on over 120 Siemens PLCs

US cyber-security researchers have discovered flaws affecting dedicated crypto-authentication chips at the heart of Siemens’ S7-1500 family of industrial controllers, and related products, which could allow attackers to execute malicious code on these devices.

PCB-stator axial-flux motor offers “class-leading” efficiency

Infinitum, the Texas-based developer of air-core motors with PCB stators, has announced a next-generation, axial-flux propulsion and traction motor that delivers high power and torque density and operates with “class-leading” efficiency over a wide range of speeds and load conditions to maximise vehicle ranges on or off road, on water, or in the air.

ABB sells UK technical consultancy to TÜV Rheinland

ABB is selling its UK technical engineering consultancy business, part of its Energy Industries division, to TÜV Rheinland. The terms of the transaction are not being disclosed.

Belt-driven rival to hydraulic actuators wins US patent

Rise Robotics, the US developer of an electromechanical alternative to high-power hydraulic actuators, has been granted a US patent for its high-reduction, belt-driven linear actuator technology.

Surging prices drive LV motor sales up by 21% to $17bn

The global market for low-voltage AC motors soared by 21.2% during 2022 to hit a total of $17bn. According to the market analyst Interact, the main factor behind this rise was a 35–40% surge in motor prices during the first half of the year. However, it thinks that a slight price decline during the second half of the year will have had a knock-on effect on revenues and growth rates.

Motors using ‘green’ copper will cut CO2 emissions by 200kg

ABB has formed a strategic co-operation with Boliden, a Swedish mining and smelting company, to use low-carbon footprint copper in high-efficiency electric motors. The aim is to cut greenhouse gas emissions while driving the transition to a more circular economy.

System promises installation time savings of up to 70%

Murrelektonik has developed a technology that, it says, will help to avoid errors during automation installations, and deliver time savings of up to 70%. The uKonn-X system is designed to make the planning and installation of automation technologies more efficient. The company describes the development as “the first seamless, digitally and visually supported system with bidirectional communication between design, development, assembly and commissioning”.

3D safety system protects workers in tough environments

Sick has launched a “next-generation” 3D radar safety system that provides access protection for workers in a wide range of hazardous industrial environments, including robot cells. The safeRS3 system provides a 5m protective field with a 100° opening angle, and offers up to four protective fields. It is said to be ideal for heavy industrial or harsh outdoor environments, which may challenge conventional optical detection systems.

The system protects personnel in stationary applications to PLd or SIL2, in line with ISO 13849-1 and IEC 62061. As a category 3 device, it can be used in robotic applications in accordance with ISO 10218-2.

Schneider’s Leeds plant gets a smart factory upgrade

Schneider Electric has upgraded its site in Leeds where it makes low- and medium-voltage products to transform it into a smart factory. As part of the multi-million-pound upgrade, a new assembly line, test cell and wiring loom machine have been commissioned. The site now has extensive digital capabilities. Together, these have resulted in a 10% increase in output, a 15% reduction in energy consumption, and improved operating efficiencies and customer service levels.

Drives with onboard condition-monitoring avoid sensors

The German drive and automation supplier Baumüller has developed a software-based condition monitoring technology integrated into a servodrive that can avoid the need for costly sensors. The company suggests that machine-builders could use the function to create new business models that offer their customers additional data-driven services.

Inverter-only IE5 motors will maximise energy savings

At the recent SPS show in Germany, SEW-Eurodrive launched a family of IE5-efficiency synchronous reluctance motors which need an inverter to operate. When combined with efficient gearboxes and intelligent frequency inverters, the DR2C motors are said to result in energy-saving drive systems that cut losses in a wide range of applications.

Free event will update you on the latest automation tech

The Talking Industry series of Webinars is joining forces with the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) to organise a free one-day event including panel discussions, workshops and an exhibition covering topics such as robotics, automation, digital manufacturing and artificial intelligence.

UK axial-flux motors power clean outboard motors for boats

A Dutch offshoot of the UK axial-flux motor developer Saietta is about to start production of an electrically powered outboard motor for boats that, it believes, will pose a significant challenge to traditional outboard engines, especially as emissions legislation drives a move towards electric power. In Amsterdam, for example, all new vessels will have to be electrically powered by 2025, and it is predicted that 74% of outboard motor sales in Europe will be electric by 2030.

Cobots with onboard AI and vision ‘redefine robotics’

The Taiwanese cobot (collaborative robot) developer Techman Robot has announced a new series that integrates precision robot arms with AI engines and smart vision systems. It says that the TM AI cobots will accelerate the transition to Industry 4.0.

Online tool compares products from different suppliers

RS has launched an online platform that allows visitors to compare components and products from a choice of suppliers, to find the best products for their applications. The service, called RS Think Hub, also has an information area where visitors can watch tutorial videos and find answers to product-related questions. If they have a specific question, they can send it to an RS engineer and receive a reply within 48 week-day hours.

‘Ground-breaking’ machine vision tech sets new benchmarks

A Californian company has launched what it claims is the most compact and powerful coherent machine vision system available, with the highest resolution and precision, and the longest operating range. SiLC Technologies says its Eyeonic Vision System sets new benchmarks, delivering the highest levels of vision perception to identify and avoid objects with extremely low latency, even at distances of 1km or more.

New UK automation show attracts big-name backers

Automation UK, the new exhibition launched in 2022 by a group of trade groups including Bara (the British Automation & Robot Association) and Ukiva (the UK Industrial Vision Association), will make its debut at the CBS Arena in Coventry from 20–21 June 2023.

16-core ultra-compact IPCs set new benchmarks

At the recent SPS show, Beckhoff unveiled the latest member of its family of ultra-compact industrial PCs. The C6040 IPC is based on 12th-generation Intel Core processors with up to 16 cores, resulting in “unprecedented power density” and opening up a new world of application possibilities, according to the company.

ABB opens $150m robotics ‘mega-factory’ in China

ABB has opened a fully automated and flexible robotics factory in Shanghai, China, representing an investment of $150m. The 67,000m2 production and research facility will use the company’s digital and automation technologies to manufacture next-generation robots.

Compact machinery drives handle motors up to 22kW

At the recent SPS show in Germany, ABB extended its family of machinery drives with a range of compact, easy-to-use VSDs for controlling induction and permanent magnet motors up to 22kW. The ACS180 drives can control conveyors, pumps, fans, mixers and compressors, in a variety of sectors including food and beverage, textiles, material-handling and commercial applications.

Free UK service tests robot applications before order is placed

The engineering plastics specialist igus is expanding increasingly into low-cost robotics, and has launched a service to test proposed robot applications for UK customers free of charge, before they order any equipment. The Test Before Invest service is based on one that has been running at igus’ headquarters in Germany for several years.

Celebrities back drive to tackle £1.5bn skills shortage

More than 150 engineering leaders and celebrities – including Carol Vorderman and – have endorsed a report calling on the Government to help tackle the UK’s engineering skills shortage by embedding engineering into primary and secondary school curriculums. They have written an open letter to the Prime Minster saying that the Government needs “to invest in our children, who will be our engineering innovators of the future”.

£6m project aims for world-beating motor production processes

A group of UK engineering companies have embarked on a £6m Government-backed project to develop a process for manufacturing electric motors that, they say, will be more cost-competitive, powerful and efficient than many alternatives.

42% of UK industry suffered cyber-attacks in the past year

Nearly half of UK manufacturers (42%) have been victims of cyber-attacks in the past 12 months, according to new research by the manufacturers’ organisation Make UK and the security software and services provider, BlackBerry. More than a quarter of those surveyed (26%) reported substantial financial losses as the result of an attack, ranging from £50,000-250,000.

Ford invests £380m in Halewood to make EV drivetrains

Ford has announced that is investing a further £125m to produce drivetrains for electric vehicles at its Halewood plant on Merseyside. The new investment takes the total being spent to transform Halewood to an EV component plant to almost £380m and will boost its drivetrain production capacity from 250,000 to 420,000 a year. It also means that 70% of the 600,000 EVs that Ford hopes to sell in Europe annually by 2026, will be powered by the Halewood-produced technologies.

Partnership brings IoT comms devices to UK users

The IoT communications manufacturer Moxa has formed a partnership with the UK controls and automation distributor PES Group to stock and support its products in the UK and Ireland. The agreement covers edge and cloud communications devices that enable connections between industrial networks and cloud infrastructures. The products include Ethernet switches, fieldbus gateways, remote I/O as well as serial-to-fieldbus converters.

Repair of 51-tonne compressor motors wins AEMT award

A project that helped to safeguard the UK’s energy supplies by repairing two critical Ex-rated 16MW motors, each weighing 51 tonnes, has been chosen as project of the year in the annual AEMT awards, which were presented recently at a ceremony in Coventry.

‘Breakthrough’ motor delivers 98.4% efficiency

A Californian company has spent more than two years developing and testing an electric motor that, it claims, is achieving results “that have never been seen before in the electric motor/generator industry”. 360 Power Group, based in Marina Del Rey, says that that its machine – which can also be used as a generator – delivers an electrical efficiency of 98.4% at 1,800 rpm.

Enhanced controllers cut machine-building times and costs

Rockwell Automation says that machine-builders can cut engineering time and costs using enhanced versions of two of its controllers which add Class 1 implicit messaging capabilities with support for up to eight EtherNet/IP devices. The enhanced capabilities will allow users to develop and deploy automation projects faster, potentially reducing time-to-market.

Consortium aims to speed progress on smart field devices

A group of automation, semiconductor and Web companies – including Schneider Electric, B&R Industrial Automation, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Analog Devices, Arm, Texas Instruments and Lattice Semiconductor – have come together to develop an open-source OPC UA over TSN (Time Sensitive Networking) stack that runs on the FreeRTOS open-source, real-time operating system for microcontrollers and microprocessors. They want to simplify and accelerate the development of efficient, smart and secure industrial field devices that comply with OPC UA FX (Field eXchange) and implement them across the manufacturing sector.

Software gives independence from fieldbus suppliers

A Swedish communications software specialist has developed a software-based way of implementing Profinet and EtherCat protocols on industrial equipment that, it says, will cut time and costs for device developers as well as freeing them from dependence from specific suppliers.

IE5 reluctance motors add liquid-cooled and hazardous area types

ABB has expanded its SynRM family of synchronous reluctance motors with two new models – one with liquid cooling, the other for hazardous areas – both boasting IE5 efficiency levels. ABB says the motors have up to 40% lower energy losses than IE3 motors and 20% lower losses than IE4 motors.

Servodrives give machine-builders more flexibility

At the recent SPS show, Trio Motion Technology launched a high-performance single-axis servodrive offering machine-builders increased design flexibility in a “cost-optimal” package. The DX3 drive is available in EtherCat and conventional control versions, with power ratings to 7.5kW, and in 200V and 400V versions.

IO-Link Safety gets first live multi-vendor demo at SPS

More than ten automation companies took part in the first live multi-vendor demonstration of IO-Link Safety at the recent SPS trade fair in Nuremberg. The demonstration covered all communication levels, from failsafe PLCs to IO-Link Safety masters and IO-Link Safety devices. According to the organisers, it was the first time that IO-Link Safety had been shown working with IO-Link Standard at a public event.

Software guides technicians through cabinet assembly

Eplan has announced an app that guides technicians step-by-step through the installation of components into cabinets, showing them where each component should be installed. Supported by 3D visualisation, the Eplan Smart Mounting software can even show inexperienced technicians where to place components.

Drives & Controls Show joins ‘industrial Glastonbury’ line-up

The Nineteen Group, the exhibition organiser which recently acquired the Drives & Controls Show and its sister events AirTech and Fluid Power & Systems from DFA Media, has announced that they will appear as “zones” at the Manufacturing & Engineering Week event at the NEC in June 2023, before returning as stand-alone exhibitions in 2024.

First 3D ToF camera opens up a new dimension in safety

The German sensor-maker Sick has launched what it describes as the world’s first 3D Time-of-Flight (ToF) camera that has PL c safety certification in accordance with EN13849. It says that by opening up a third dimension for safety applications, the safeVisionary2 camera will offer a wide range of new options for mobile and stationary applications, including the automation of mobile robots and human-robot collaboration.

Vision hardware complements software in single platform

At the recent SPS exhibition in Germany, Beckhoff unveiled a portfolio of machine vision hardware to complement the company’s TwinCat Vision software which has been available since 2017.

UK-developed soft-starters can be set up in under 60 seconds

At the SPS show in Germany, the Devon-based soft-starter developer Motortronics UK unveiled a low-voltage digital soft-starter with a duty range of up to 600V, 1,250A. The VMX-Synergy Plus starter includes 45 preconfigured parameters settings to suit a variety of applications, and can be set up and commissioned in less than 60 seconds. The device “tunes itself” to the load.

Chinese automation giant pushes into Europe

The Chinese automation and drives manufacturer Inovance is making a big push into the European market, spearheaded by its first public outing at the recent SPS show in Germany. Although its name may not be well-known outside China, the company already claims to be the world’s fifth-largest servodrive manufacturer and its eighth-largest LV AC drives supplier.

AI-based app optimises energy use of drive systems

At the recent SPS show in Germany, Siemens unveiled an enhanced version of its Analyze MyDrives Edge app with an AI-based function that calculates the energy consumption of an entire drive system without needing extra sensors or measuring devices. The app shows how efficiently a drive is running, what its energy consumption and operating costs are, as well as its carbon footprint. It can be used to optimise drive settings.

Open-source Arduino platform releases its first micro-PLC at SPS

Arduino, the open-source hardware and software microcontroller developer, announced its first industrial micro-PLC with industrial IoT capabilities at the recent SPS exhibition in Germany. The Opta controller has been developed in collaboration with the industrial component manufacturer Finder and is aimed at PLC engineers, offering them a scalable architecture based on a secure, high-performance, open-source platform that does not lock them into particular vendors. The PLC supports the standard LD (ladder) and FBD (function block) programming languages.

Vision sensors identify objects without experts

The German sensor-maker SensoPart has developed an image-processing system which, it says, can detect and differentiate items reliably without users needing to be machine vision experts. The Visor Object AI system implements an AI algorithm in the vision sensor, thus avoiding the need for network or cloud connections.

Siemens plans €3bn spin-off of large motors and drives

Siemens is planning to combine several businesses in its motors and drives portfolio to create an integrated motors and large drives supplier with joint revenues of around €3bn and around 14,000 employees. The business will target a global electrification and power conversion market that Siemens estimates is worth more than €20bn.

Government delays UKCA enforcement by two more years

The Government is delaying the compulsory use of the UK Conformity Assessed (UKCA) safety mark by a further two years, giving businesses until 31 December 2024 to prepare for the scheme. Announcing the delay, Business Secretary Grant Shapps said it will give “thousands of businesses the freedom to focus on growth”.

Amazon robot can identify ‘tens of millions’ of products

Amazon has announced a robotic system that can identify, select and handle around 65% of the more than 100 million items in its inventory. The robot, called Sparrow, uses a combination of computer vision and AI (artificial intelligence) to identify tens of millions of products of differing shapes and sizes, although it still has problems with items that have loose or complex packaging.

Emerson exits climate tech in $14bn deal to focus on automation

Emerson is selling a majority stake in its Climate Technologies business to the private equity firm Blackstone in a transaction that values the business at $14bn. Emerson plans to become a “pure play” global automation company serving a variety of markets. It claims that, together with AspenTech – the industrial software developer in which it took a 55% stake for $6bn earlier this year – it has the industry’s most comprehensive portfolio of advanced automation technologies and software.

Taiwan’s Yageo buys Telemecanique Sensors for €723m

The Taiwanese electronic component and service provider Yageo Corporation is buying Schneider Electric’s Telemecanique Sensors business in an all-cash deal that values the business at €723m ($729m). Schneider will grant Yageo a license to use the Telemecanique Sensors name, and Yageo will acquire the relevant patents.

UK manufacturers say digital spending is raising productivity

Almost 80% of UK manufacturers have increased their spending on digital technologies in the past two years, with a similar number planning to do so in the coming two, according to a new survey by the manufacturers’ association Make UK and the enterprise software specialist Infor.