Drives and Controls Magazine
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.

UK manufacturing PMI almost broke all-time record in April

The UK manufacturing PMI (Purchasing Managers’ Index) came close to setting an all-time record in April when it hit 60.9 – its highest level since July 1994, when it hit a peak of 61. The monthly survey, compiled by IHS Markit and CIPS, reveals that the growth of output and new orders were among the best for seven years, but the sector is still suffering from supply-chain delays and input shortages, leading to increased purchasing costs and record selling price inflation.

47% of manufacturers have suffered cyber-attacks in past year

Almost half (47%) of UK manufacturers have been the victim of cyber-crime during the past 12 months, as staff began working remotely after the Covid pandemic struck. According to a new report from the manufacturers’ organisation Make UK, cyber-criminals have been exploiting the emergency working measures, with almost a quarter (22%) of companies saying that each cyber-breach cost them up to £25,000, and 6% losing more than £100,000 after an attack. The automotive sector is the most common target, with 62% of companies in the sector reporting that they have suffered a cyber-attack in the past year.

UK manufacturers most optimistic for nearly 50 years

Optimism among UK manufacturers improved at its fastest rate since April 1973 during the three months to April, while investment intentions saw a strong, broad-based rebound, according to the Confederation of British Industry’s latest quarterly Industrial Trends Survey.

UKIVA cancels plans for in-person machine vision event in July

UKIVA – the UK Industrial Vision Association – has announced that its 2021 Machine Vision Conference & Exhibition (MVC), which it had been planning to hold in Milton Keynes on 15 July, will now run as an online event as a result of the continuing Covid-19 travel restrictions, especially within the EU. The Association is planning to hold its next physical conference and exhibition in Milton Keynes on 28 April 2022.

Thumbnail-sized linear actuator weighs just 3 grammes

PiezoMotor, the Swedish specialist in piezoelectric-based micromotors, has announced a tiny actuator for applications in production automation, medical engineering and laboratories. The Link linear drive, which weighs just 3 grammes and is barely larger than a thumbnail, needs no gears and is ideal for applications with restricted installation space.

US and German groups shape future of smart production

The German Plattform Industrie 4.0 organisation is collaborating with the US national institute for smart manufacturing CESMII to map out the future of manufacturing. The two organisations are aiming to promote interoperability and a shared set of skills and competencies, and at the recent virtual Hannover Fair they presented first results of their cooperation.

‘Revolutionary’ cobot palletiser halves costs, opening SME market

Omron has collaborated with a UK robotics systems integrator Reeco Automation to develop a cobot-based palletiser that, they claim, costs up to 50% less than a conventional robot palletiser and has a 60% smaller footprint. They believe that the development will make end-of-line robotic automation economically attractive to producers of all sizes for the first time.

Siemens links up with Google to ease use of AI in manufacturing

Siemens and Google Cloud have announced a cooperation designed to optimise factory processes and improve productivity on the shop floor. Siemens plans to integrate Google Cloud’s data cloud and AI/ML (artificial intelligence/machine learning) technologies with its own factory automation systems to help manufacturers to innovate.

Camera with onboard deep learning tackles difficult apps

Sick has launched its first machine vision camera with a pre-installed deep learning app, making it easy to create custom inspections of complex or irregular-shaped goods, packaging and assemblies, especially those that have previously defied automation.

First ‘cyber-immune’ gateway protects IIoT data from attacks

The Russian cyber-security specialist Kaspersky has announced the first “cyber-immune” protection technology for industrial automation systems, designed to connect field devices such as sensors securely to industrial IoT (IIoT) services. The Kaspersky IoT Secure Gateway 100 system avoids the need for extra protection for gateways and connected equipment, such as anti-virus software, device controls or data diodes.

Condition-monitoring system ‘boosts plant performance by 10%’

At the 2021 Hannover Fair, Siemens has announced a smart condition-monitoring system that uses machine learning to detect and prevent machinery problems at an early stage, thus cutting maintenance costs and downtime, and boosting plant performance by up to 10%.

New-era robot OS is ’as easy to use as a smartphone’

The German robot-maker Kuka has announced a new operating system for its machines that, it says, will be as easy to use as a mobile phone and will mark the start of “a new era in robotics”. The iiQKA.OS system, which was previewed at the 2021 virtual Hannover Fair, will be the basis for an entire ecosystem, providing access to programs, apps, services and equipment that are easy to install, operate and use, and will allow newcomers to implement automation without specialised training, while improving and simplifying the process for experts.

Levitating transport system can operate power-free for 2h

At the virtual Hannover Fair, Festo has unveiled a superconductor-based levitating transport system that can be separated from its electrical cooling system and operate autonomously for up to two hours. This will allow contact-free handling and movement of objects and is aimed, in particular, at applications requiring high levels of cleanliness, such as laboratory automation, biotechnology or semiconductor production.

Motor starters are 40% smaller and up to 90% more reliable

At this year’s virtual Hannover Fair, Schneider Electric has unveiled a new generation of its TeSys Giga motor starters which, it claims, are 40% smaller, up to 90% more reliable, and include many built-in diagnostics functions. The modular starters, which are protected by 56 patents, are said to reduce engineering time and complexity, cut maintenance costs and downtime, and to result in a simpler, safer customer experience.

ODVA ends the use of ‘hurtful’ master and slave terminology

ODVA, the international automation standards organisation, has decided to stop using the terms “master” and slave” to describe the relationship between devices in industrial communications hierarchies. It says it wants to eliminate the use of “hurtful” terminology and to help create a “more inclusive” industry.

Profinet overtakes Ethernet/IP to lead networking market

After battling to dominate the global industrial networking market for several years, Profinet has now overtaken EtherNet/IP to take an 18% share of the market, compared to the 17% held by Profinet. In its annual survey of the market, the industrial networking specialist HMS Networks also finds that wireless networking’s share of global sales has soared by 24% in the past year, although it still accounts for just 7% of the total market.

Invertek launches recruitment drive as sales hit a record

The Welsh drives-maker Invertek has launched a recruitment drive following a double-digit increase in sales during 2020, and record figures for the first quarter of 2021. The company – which was acquired by Sumitomo Heavy Industries in 2019 – is planning to expand its innovation and manufacturing departments.

Software is ‘first’ to simulate and optimise drive installations

Siemens has announced a software tool which, it claims, for the first time, allows drive installations and their behaviour in machines and plants to be simulated, adapted and optimised. Called Sinamics DriveSim Basic, the tool is said bridge the gap between logical and mechanical simulation.

Universal robot software platform will slash costs

A French start-up aiming to make industrial robots simple enough for anyone to use, has announced a software platform that, it claims, will cut the cost of robot programming by a factor of ten. Fuzzy Logic Robotics (FLR) says that its Fuzzy Studio software will allow any factory to automate using robots quickly, simply and cost-effectively, even for complex applications involving tasks such as welding, gluing, grinding, painting and dispensing.

Clampmeters are ‘first’ to measure with no contacts or leads

Fluke has announced a pair of AC/DC clampmeters that reduce the risk of electrical shock when making voltage measurements on live conductors by being the “first” clampmeters that can make accurate non-contact voltage measurements without test leads.

Kickstarter campaign for ‘most powerful’ robot hits goal in 13h

UPDATED: A Chinese-American robotics start-up has exceeded a $50,000 target within 13 hours on the first day of Kickstarter campaign to fund the development of a what it claims will be “the world’s most powerful and affordable modular robot”. Umbratek is planning a family of five Scara and industrial robot arms with up to six axes, capable of lifting loads up to 20kg, with reaches of up to 1.5m and repeatabilities of up to ±0.01mm. It says they will cost about 70% less than their rivals.

Super-deduction tax spurs manufacturers’ spending plans

Almost a quarter (22.6%) of UK manufacturers are planning to boost their investments as a direct response to the “super-deduction” tax that chancellor Rishi Sunak announced in his recent Budget, with more than a quarter (28.1%) more saying they will bring forward their investment plans. But, according to a new survey by the manufacturers’ organisation, Make UK, just under half of companies (48.6%) do not expect to make any changes to their investment plans as a result of the new tax, or say that their plans are too rigid to change.

UK-developed EV motors are ‘world’s most sustainable’

A British start-up motor developer has announced what it claims are the world’s most sustainable motors for electric vehicles (EVs). Advanced Electric Machines’ motors contain no rare-earth magnets or copper windings. It says they offer all of the performance and efficiency benefits and permanent magnet motors, without their environmental drawbacks.

UK manufacturing index hits a ten-year high in March

The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for UK manufacturing hit 58.9 in March – its highest level since February 2011. The month was also marked by improved growth of output, new orders and employment – and by longer supplier lead times. Manufacturing output increased for the tenth month in a row and at the fastest rate since November 2020.

Mobile box-carrying robots will increase warehouse efficiency

Boston Dynamics, the US company behind YouTube-starring robots such as Spot the robot dog, has entered the warehouse automation market with a wheeled box-handling robot that can pick up, transport and stack boxes autonomously. It can handle It can up to 800 boxes each weighing up to 23kg (50lb) in an hour.

Automation industry expects to grow by at least 10% in 2021

A survey of automation companies around the world has revealed widespread optimism, with revenues, investment in automation, and headcounts all expected to grow by more than 10% this year. The survey, conducted by Interact Analysis for the US-based Association for Advancing Automation (A3), quizzed more than 200 respondents from automation-related companies with combined revenues of more than $50bn. The majority (70.3%) were based in the Americas, with 23.6% in the EMEA region.

Work starts on robot centres in Edinburgh and Salford

Construction has started on a research facility for robotics and artificial intelligence in Edinburgh that will be the largest and most advanced of its type in the UK.

High-speed solid-rotor motors eliminate gearboxes

Yaskawa is introducing a range of high-speed, solid-rotor motors paired with variable-speed drives, which it says will offer “unrivalled” cost and size advantages in power ratings from 300kW–1.5MW and at speeds from 6,000–15,000 rpm.

‘World’s smallest’ servodrives weigh just 18g

Celera Motion has announced a series of miniature servodrives that, it claims, are the world’s “smallest and most powerful” with “the highest power density in the smallest profile possible”. The Ingenia Capitan drives weigh just 18g and are 10.3mm high. They can provide 10A of continuous current, operating from 8–60V DC supplies.

Downey and Gates invest in switched reluctance developer

Investment funds set up by the actor Robert Downey Jr and Microsoft founder Bill Gates and are among the latest investors in the Californian motor developer Turntide Technologies, which is producing a new generation of switched reluctance motors. The company has recently completed an $80m funding round, bringing its total funding to date to $180m.

Vision-guided robot sorts waste to boost recycling efficiency

A London-based start-up called Recycleye has teamed up with the UK's Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) to develop a vision-guided robotic picker that can sort through streams of waste automatically. They say that their retrofittable technology will help recycling centres to boost their sorting capacity and cut the amount of waste sent to landfill.

£28.5m initiative aims to keep UK ahead in drive tech

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is investing £28.5m in nine facilities across the UK aimed at building a competitive drive and motor supply chain across sectors including industrial, transport and energy. The programme, part of the Driving the Electric Revolution initiative, will build on existing capabilities and fill gaps in the UK’s current capabilities in PEMD (power electronics, machines and drives) technologies. The facilities are due to start operating later this year.

Superconducting coils transmit more than 5kW contact-free

German researchers have developed a contact-free power transmission technology based on superconductors that can transmit more than 5kW of power with low losses. Potential applications include autonomous industrial robots, electric vehicles and medical equipment. The system could be used to recharge the batteries of such equipment during short idle times.

Former Tesla head of automation promises no-code platform

Luc Leroy, former head of core automation engineering at the electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla, has set up a company that is aiming to produce “the first no-code automated manufacturing platform”.

Codesys PC handles PLC functions and up to 64 motion axes

The Taiwanese automation supplier Delta Electronics has announced a Codesys-based multi-core industrial PC that can control up to 64 motion axes via an embedded EtherCat interface. The AX-8 series PC allows PLC, motion control and Windows OS functions to operate simultaneously without affecting each other’s performance.

Dual-role cobot combines high-speed operation with safety

The Italian robot-maker Comau has announced a collaborative robot (cobot) that can switch automatically from running at industrial robot speeds (up to 6 m/s), to safe collaborative operation when a human enters its working area. When the operator leaves, the six-axis Racer-5 cobot switches back to full speed. The cobot has a 5kg payload capacity, a reach of 809mm and a repeatability of 0.03mm.

HVM Catapult leads project to tackle the UK’s skills gap

The UK Department for Education has appointed the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVM Catapult) to lead a project to develop high-quality modular courses aimed at upskilling employees to help address skills gaps in sectors such as manufacturing and engineering.

Safety upgrade safeguards wet-wipe production

The soaring demand for hygienic products for use in the fight against Covid-19 means that machine utilisation and uptime are a critical to the global wet-wipe manufacturer, Nice-Pak. When the company needed to upgrade a converting machine at a plant in Wales, it had to install a safety system within a strict timeframe.

Raspberry Pi computer targets industrial tasks

OnLogic, the industrial computer manufacturer that specialises in IoT edge applications, has announced a computer based on the low-cost Raspberry Pi platform that is aimed at industrial and IoT applications. The tiny device (measuring 102.5 x 129 x 38mm) will use a Rasperry Pi Compute Module 4 mounted on an industrial-grade carrier board, and will incorporate a variety of I/O. It will allow the popular Arm-based computing platform to be deployed in factories, warehouses and IoT applications, and is expected to become commercially available later this year.

Make UK raises growth forecast from 2.7% to 3.9%

Make UK, the organisation that represents UK manufacturers, has upgraded its 2021 growth forecast for the sector from 2.7% to 3.9%, following a survey that shows output increased in the past quarter following three quarters of shrinkage.

Electrostatic motors ‘will outperform magnetic machines’

The US engineering innovation company Draper is developing a family of electric motors that operate on fundamentally different principles from conventional motors. It says that the new machines will be more powerful and efficient, lighter, and less expensive to manufacture than standard motors. Underpinning the initiative is a recent patent awarded to Draper that covers aspects of the technology.

Hygienic IE5+ gear-motor ‘has highest efficiency available’

The German motors and drives manufacturer Nord Drivesystems has announced a family of high-efficiency motors, inverters and gear-motors designed to be used individually or in combination to achieve high levels of efficiency, especially in demanding applications such as hygienic installations in the intralogistics, food and pharmaceutical sectors. The family includes an IE5+ gear-motor claimed to have the highest efficiency in its power class.

Electric vacuum gripper is ‘the world’s most powerful’

The Danish robotic end-effector developer OnRobot has announced what it claims is the world’s most-powerful electric vacuum gripper. The VGP20 gripper can lift 20kg loads and can handle applications that have traditionally relied on powerful pneumatic grippers, without needing complex compressed air installations to operate. It is claimed to cut operating and maintenance costs by up to 90% compared to pneumatic systems.

Brexit has raised costs for more than half of UK manufacturers

Brexit has increased costs for 51% of UK manufacturers, with 35% saying they have lost revenue and one in five that they have lost potential business due to Brexit, according to a new survey by the manufacturers’ organisation, Make UK. The study reveals that 74% of the companies quizzed have experienced delays since the UK ended its transition period for leaving the European Union on 1 January, with 28% experiencing hold-ups of 1–2 weeks because of goods stuck in transit and other delays.

Williams upgrades wind tunnel controls in new partnership

B&R Industrial Automation is supplying the Formula 1 competitor Williams Racing with improved controls for its wind tunnel facility under a new technology and innovation partnership signed by the two companies.

15kg-capacity Scara robots are ‘first’ with on-board health indicators

Omron has announced a new generation of Scara robots which, it says, are the first with an on-board “health” indicator that allows users to take appropriate remedial action depending on the colour being displayed. The i4H robots can handle payloads up to 15kg and are suitable for applications such as machine loading and unloading, palletising and pick-and-place, especially in mass customisation applications where high mixes of products are needed at low volumes.

Dedicated HVAC drive is ‘amongst the smallest in its class’

The Welsh drives-maker Nidec Control Techniques has added a dedicated HVAC drive to its Specialist family of industry-specific drives. The high-efficiency (up to 98%) H300 drive is optimised for fan and compressor control.

PLC vulnerability can be attacked using ’low’ skill levels

Cyber-researchers have discovered a “severe” vulnerability in a mechanism that verifies communications between Rockwell Automation PLCs and engineering software. Exploiting this flaw could allow an attacker to connect remotely to almost any of Rockwell’s Logix PLCs (programmable logic controllers) – as well as its drives and safety controllers that use the Logix technology – and to upload malicious code, download information from the PLC, or install new firmware.

Efficient motors and drives ‘could hit 40% of Paris climate goals’

ABB has published a White Paper arguing that high-efficiency motors and VSDs (variable-speed drives) could by themselves achieve more than 40% of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions needed to meet the 2040 goals established by the Paris climate agreement. It calls on governments and industry around the world to accelerate the adoption of these technologies to help combat climate change.

Self-teaching robot picks random items with 94% accuracy

Automation experts at the UK’s Manufacturing Technology Centre have developed a robot that can teach itself how to pick up unknown objects from a randomly-arranged tray or bin. They say that tests on a wide range of objects – including metal components, cosmetic containers and fruit – have achieved success rates of up to a 94% for attempted picks.

Digital servodrive can be controlled by a smart motor

Moog Animatics has announced a digital servodrive that can be controlled by the company’s SmartMotors via a network that is using its Combitronic communication protocol. The single-axis DS2020 drive can act as a follower device, allowing it to work in SmartMotor-based machines and applications, and allowing users to make their machines simpler and smaller.

TSN servodrives can predict machine maintenance

Mitsubishi Electric in Europe has unveiled a new generation of servodrives which support the CC-Link IE TSN (time-sensitive networking) technology which offers 1Gbps transmission speeds, and ensures synchronisation across all connected devices – including safety devices, which can be connected on the same network as standard control products such as variable speed drives, HMIs and I/Os.