Drives and Controls Magazine
Rockwell signs agreement with UK EV battery developer

Rockwell Automation has agreed a multi-year, global partnership with a UK start-up, Ionetic, which is planning to make electric vehicle batteries more affordable for small-to-medium-sized car-makers. They will work together to begin production of Ionetic’s batteries as soon as possible.

Battery Ventures buys sensor and safety switch maker, steute

Battery Ventures, a technology-focused investment firm, is buying steute Technologies, the German manufacturer of switches, sensors and other products for automation and safety applications. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

£34m advanced manufacturing hub targets sustainability

The UK government is backing a manufacturing research hub that will use robots, smart automation and AI to create a sustainable circular manufacturing ecosystem. The £34.6m Manufacturing Research Hub in Robotics, Automation & Smart Machine Enabled Sustainable Circular Manufacturing & Materials (RESCu-M2) will be backed by £11m of funding from the UKRI Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and £23.6m (cash and in-kind) from partner organisations over a seven-year period. These organisations include five other universities, local authorities and the Manufacturing Technology Centre.

Siemens sells Innomotics to KPS for €3.5bn

Siemens is selling its Innomotics electric motors and large drives business to the venture capital firm, KPS Capital Partners, for €3.5bn. The sale is expected to close in the first half of fiscal 2025, subject to the foreign-investment and merger control approvals.

Nikon’s vision system uses camera expertise to solve problems

The Japanese camera-maker Nikon has announced an industrial robot vision system which, it claims, will overcome problems associated with existing vision systems. As well as performing static applications such as bin-picking, the system, which mounts on a robot arm, can also track and pick items moving on equipment such as conveyors, AGVs and AMRs.

AI-driven servo tuning ‘outperforms human experts’

Panasonic Industry has announced a servodrive system that uses AI to achieve precision tuning that, it claims, is better than can be done by human experts. It also says that the Minas A7 servo system delivers the industry's best motion performance with a 27-bit encoder resolution (equivalent to 134,217,728 pulses) and a response frequency that hits an industry high of 4kHz or more (1.25 times higher than Panasonic’s earlier Minas A6 servomotors).

SPS show returns to late November slot from 2025

The German automation megashow, SPS (Smart Production Solutions) is returning to traditional slot in late November from 2025, following several years in which the event was held earlier in November following disruption caused by the Covid pandemic.

AI-powered AMRs boast high speed and accuracy

ABB Robotics has announced an AMR (autonomous mobile robot) equipped with AI-based Visual Slam (simultaneous localisation and mapping) navigation technology, allowing first-time robot users to program and operate entire fleets of AMRs. The new capabilities simplify configuration of the AMR T702 trolley robot and can cut commissioning times by up to 20%.

Automated piece-picker works with any cobot, bin or gripper

The Italian automation developer Comau has unveiled a piece-picking system which works with any cobot, bin or gripper to grasp and remove random-placed items from the bin, without needing information about their size, shape, colour or other characteristics. The AI-enabled Mi/Ra/OnePicker system uses a vision system to guide the gripper and determines the most effective way to empty a bin, saving time, energy and costs.

Software workstations replace PLCs in ‘breakthrough’

At the Automate 2024 show in the US, Siemens has unveiled a “breakthrough” software-based workstation technology that is designed to replace traditional hardware PLCs, HMIs and edge devices. The company is hailing its Simatic Workstation as a “breakthrough in the longstanding challenge of closely managing numerous hardware control points throughout the factory”. The technology ushers IT workflows into OT (operational technology) environments, it adds.

Mitsubishi and Rockwell expand production in India

Mitsubishi Electric and Rockwell Automation have both announced plans to expand production of factory automation (FA) equipment in India. Mitsubishi has just opened a plant in Maharashtra state that will produce inverters and other automation products, while Rockwell plans to open a manufacturing facility in Chennai in the first half of 2025, which is expected to employ around 230 people by the end of the year.

BMW uses robot dog to gather data for digital twin at UK site

BMW is using a four-legged robotic dog to gather data for a digital twin at its Hams Hall engine production plant in UK. The robot – a Boston Dynamics Spot model, which BMW has renamed Spotto – will also act as a watchdog and oversee maintenance of the site’s facilities.

Large robots cut cycle times by 25% and energy use by 30%

ABB Robotics has added two new machines to its portfolio of large modular robots, which now spans 46 variants, capable of handling payloads from 70–620kg. The new IRB 7710 and IRB 7720 robots include 16 variants offering “class-leading” path accuracies of down to 0.6mm, and speeds of up to 1,600mm/s.

AI tool turns failure predictions into maintenance plans

Rockwell Automation has announced a generative AI software package that converts predictions of equipment failures into detailed, actionable work orders for maintenance teams. Called Fiix Prescriptive Maintenance, the tool is an add-on for Rockwell’s existing Fiix Asset Risk Predictor software, creating what it describes as “the first complete predictive and prescriptive maintenance solution to help manufacturers eliminate unplanned downtime”. The AI can be set up in as little as two weeks and then starts to predict asset failures days in advance.

Modules combine control and switching functions

At the 2024 Hannover Messe show, Phoenix Contact unveiled a modular device that combines the roles of controller and a switching device. The PLC logic modules can be easily and securely integrated into higher-level automation systems using a built-in RS-485 interface that allows easy integration into Modbus/RTU networks.

Over-moulded connectors resist contamination

Binder has equipped the straight versions of its 709 and 719 snap-in series connectors with a new over-moulding that supports single-handed mating and un-mating, and improves resistance to contamination. The connectors with snap-in locking are characterised by high retention forces for their size, but can still be mated and unmated quickly.

Belfast will host the UK’s £37.6m Digital Twin Centre

The UK is creating a £37.6m digital twin centre of excellence, aimed at revolutionising how UK industries develop products, services and systems. The UK Digital Twin Centre, located in Belfast and led by the Digital Catapult, is being backed by Innovate UK, Belfast Region City Deal and three industrial partners: Thales UK, Spirit AeroSystems and Artemis Technologies. The centre is due to open later this year.

Control Techniques and KB adopt new Nidec Drives brand

Japan’s Nidec corporation is bringing together two of its drives-making subsidiaries – Wales-based Control Techniques and US-based KB Electronics – under a new Nidec Drives brand, with effect from 1 May, 2024. The change will not affect any of the products or services currently offered by CT or KB which will continue to be sold under their existing names. There will be some changes to branding on social media, product labels and brochures, but customers are not expected to see other differences.

Carbon fibre rings tackle the scourge of bearing currents

Bearing currents – a longstanding problem for some industrial motors – can also affect electric vehicle drivetrains, potentially leading to premature failure of bearings and other components. SKF has come up with a way to tackle the problem using conductive brush rings that provide a reliable electrical connection between an EV rotor shaft and its housing. When used in combination with ceramic ball bearings, they can alleviate bearing current effects, making EV drivetrains more reliable and longer-lasting.

Low-cost VR technology controls robots remotely

Mitsubishi Electric has partnered with the UK robotic software specialist Extend Robotics to allow robots to be controlled remotely using off-the-shelf consumer virtual reality (VR) hardware, thus slashing set-up and training costs compared to bespoke systems. Extend’s Advanced Mechanics Assistance System (Amas) platform is now compatible with Mitsubishi’s Melfa industrial robots.

Smart motor control centre helps users to raise productivity

At the recent Hannover Messe, Rockwell Automation launched a low-voltage motor control centre (MCC) for IEC markets which integrates smart motor control devices to deliver real-time operational and diagnostic data. Rockwell says that the Flexline 3500 MCC will help users to unlock production data and increase uptime and productivity.

Hitachi buys MA micro automation to boost SI business

Hitachi is buying the German robotic and automation technology specialist, MA micro automation, for €71.5m and plans to combine it with its US-headquartered systems integrator JR Automation Technologies (which it bought in 2019) to accelerate the expansion of its automation activities.

IE6 motor is ‘the most efficient industrial motor ever created’

The Brazilian motor-maker WEG has announced an electric motor that version combines two technologies – permanent magnet (PM) and synchronous reluctance (SynRM) – to make it “the most efficient industrial motor ever created”. The W23 Sync+ Ultra delivers IE6 efficiency levels and achieves this “unparalleled” efficiency across varying speed and load conditions.

Automation is biggest challenge for 81% of UK industrial users

More than four in five industrial technology users in the UK (81%) regard adopting automation successfully as their biggest challenge, according to a new survey published by Automate UK – the automation and packaging trade organisation formerly known as PPMA. Particular factors that they cite include: the challenge of automating bespoke products; the level of skilled labour needed to support automation; and the difficulty of keeping abreast of developments such as AI and cobots.

Online hub ‘could save manufacturers £20,000’

A new AI-powered digital marketplace could save UK manufacturers up to £20,000 in just 20 minutes, according to its founders. The Manufacturing Connections Hub is an online platform that connects manufacturers to suppliers, customers, investors, partners, academics and the government.

Generative AI is now an industrial tool that generates PLC code

The first generative AI product dedicated to industrial engineering has started to roll out into practical applications. Pilot trials of Siemens’ Industrial Copilot for TIA Portal Engineering are now underway and the software will be available for download from its Xcelerator marketplace from the summer of 2024.

Watt Drive becomes WEG Gear Systems and takes on key role

Watt Drive Antriebstechnik, the Austrian manufacturer of geared motors and drives which the Brazilian motor-maker WEG acquired in 2011, has been renamed WEG Gear Systems. As part of its new identity, the business will be upgraded to a competence centre for gear technology and will be responsible for the WEG Group's global gears and geared motors activities.

Delta enters cobot market with easy-to-use family of six

The Taiwanese automation supplier Delta, has entered the cobot (collaborative robot) market with a family of six six-axis cobots with payload capacities from 6–30kg, and reaches from 800–1,800mm. The D-Bot cobots, which made their debut at the Hannover Messe, are designed for rapid deployment, requiring no special programming skills to get them running. A plug-and-play capability makes it easy to set up movements and command executions.

Festo creates a buzz at Hannover with its swarming bionic bees

At the Hannover Messe, Festo unveiled the latest in a long line of bionic versions of living creatures – this time, a bionic bee which weighs around 34 grams, is 220mm long and has a 240mm wingspan, making it the smallest flying object created so far by Festo’s Bionic Learning Network. The bees can fly in large numbers and move autonomously in swarms, following paths specified by a central computer.

Schunk wins Hermes Award for AI kit that simplifies handling

The German gripper manufacturer Schunk has won this year’s Hermes Award for technological innovation at the 2024 Hannover Messe industrial fair in Germany. The award is for Schunk’s AI-powered 2D grasping kit which simplifies the autonomous handling of objects in random positions. No expert knowledge of programming or image processing is needed to set up a gripping application.

Apple’s Vision Pro guides you to install motor starters

People working on equipment such as motor starters and electrical panels will soon be able to receive guidance and tuition via Apple’s recently launched Vision Pro “spatial computer” headset, which provides ultra-high-resolution 3D images that merge the real and digital worlds and can be controlled by natural inputs such as a user’s eyes, hand gestures or voice.

Hydraulic humanoid retires and electric successor is revealed

Boston Dynamics, the developer of the pioneering Atlas humanoid robot which has starred in many YouTube videos, has retired the original hydraulically-powered version and replaced it with a new electrically-powered successor.

Software-based motor control ‘boosts efficiency by up to 3%’

A Californian company has demonstrated a software-based motor control technology which, it claims, can boost motor efficiencies while avoiding the need for rare-earth materials. At a symposium in Austria, Tula Technology showed a Tesla Model 3 vehicle retrofitted with an externally excited synchronous motor (EESM) running its Dynamic Motor Drive (DMD) software, and claimed that this could cut the EV’s energy consumption by up to 3%.

Rotamec buys Nottingham Electrical Transmissions

The Somerset-based electromechanical services provider, Rotamec Engineering Solutions, has acquired the gearbox repairs specialist Nottingham Electrical Transmissions (NET), for an undisclosed sum. Rotamec describes this as “a pivotal moment” in its strategy to extend its reach and refine it service offerings.

Siemens opens largest R&D hub to work on AI and data analytics

Siemens has opened the first part of its Siemens Technology Centre (STC) near Munich, in which it is investing more than €100m. The Centre will be the company’s largest global research hub, bringing together all of its corporate research activities in Germany, with around 450 people working on future technologies during its first phase.

Siemens unveils first new generation of S7-1200 PLCs in 10 years

At the 2024 Hannover Messe, Siemens is launching the first new generation of its Simatic S7-1200 PLCs for ten years. The new models are designed to help bridge the worlds of OT (operational technology) and IT (information technology), with high communications performance and efficient data-processing, thus boosting output. By connecting the controllers to IT systems, it is also possible to use advanced data analysis in the cloud, for example.

UK’s three largest robots will be used in aerospace projects

Three of the largest industrial robots ever ordered in the UK are to be used in a £80m aerospace manufacturing R&D project which includes a facility at the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) that will help solve composites manufacturing challenges to meet future demand for lighter commercial aircraft and to help the aviation industry reach net-zero.

Invertek builds three millionth VSD and raises sales by 27%

The Welsh drives-maker Invertek Drives has produced its three millionth VSD (variable-speed drive) just three years after hitting the two-million mark. The company, part of Sumitomo Heavy Industries, recorded a record turnover of £96.5m in 2023 – a 27% increase on the £76.3m it achieved the previous year.

Software will identify vulnerable production assets automatically

At this month’s Hannover Messe, Siemens will be previewing a new SaaS (software-as-a-service) designed to identify cybersecurity vulnerabilities rapidly in factories. The cloud-based Sinec Security Guard offers automated vulnerability mapping and security management optimised for operators in OT environments.

Wheeled dual-arm robot manipulator rolls into view

The Korean robot developer Rainbow Robotics, has announced a two-armed robot manipulator that moves around on wheels. The company argues that the RB-Y1 mobile robot overcomes some of the limitations of existing industrial robots and could find uses in many industrial sites.

Autonomous pallet-movers ‘solve many automation issues’

The Danish firm MiR (Mobile Industrial Robots) has announced a pallet-moving AMR (autonomous mobile robot) which uses AI (artificial intelligence) to identify, pick up and deliver pallets “with unprecedented precision”. The company says that the MiR1200 Pallet Jack sets new standards for the handling of palletised goods and solves many of the challenges that enterprises face when trying to add automation to complex, dynamic factory and warehouse environments.

Omron joins Neura to ‘revolutionise’ manufacturing

Omron Robotics and Safety Technologies has formed a strategic partnership with Neura Robotics, a German pioneer of cognitive robotics, with the aim of revolutionising manufacturing by introducing AI-based cognitive robots designed to enhance efficiency, flexibility and safety.

Expandable industrial controller is based on Raspberry Pi module

Sfera Labs, the Italian designer and manufacturer of embedded and edge computing systems, has announced an expandable industrial controller based on the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 (CM4). The Strato Pi Max is a powerful industrial server module that can be customised and optimised for industrial and IoT applications.

AI-powered 3D machine vision system is ‘world first’

Cognex has launched a product which it describes as “the world's first 3D vision system with AI”. The In-Sight L38 3D vision system combines AI, 2D, and 3D vision technologies to solve a variety of inspection and measurement applications.

Direct on line Nema motors have 20% lower losses

ABB has cut the losses in its proven Baldor-Reliance Nema induction motors by an average of 20% while maintaining the form, fit and function of these motors, which have a large installed base. The new SP4 motors comply with the Nema Super Premium efficiency requirements for standard AC induction motors operated DOL (direct on line), and can achieve higher efficiencies when paired with a variable-speed drive.

UK GaN motor drive pioneer doubles crowdfunding target

Quantum Power Transformation (QPT), the UK power semiconductor specialist developing a high-efficiency motor control technology based on gallium nitride (GaN), has raised more than £1.2m in a crowdfunding drive – more than twice its target of £600,000. The funds will be used to scale up production and staff and to file 12 global patents to protect the company’s technologies.

UK manufacturing expands for the first time since 2022

The UK manufacturing sector showed tentative signs of recovery in March, as output and new orders increased following year-long downturns. The seasonally adjusted S&P Global UK Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rose to a 20-month high of 50.3 in March, up from 47.5 in February – the first time the PMI has risen above the neutral 50.0 mark since July 2022. Business optimism about the year ahead hit an 11-month high.

Siemens, UR and Zivid combine to solve logistics issues

UPDATED: Siemens, Universal Robots (UR) and the Norwegian machine vision specialist Zivid have joined forces with Mecalux, the Spanish specialist in automated warehouses, to create a “groundbreaking” technology that streamlines warehouse automation and solves intralogistics fulfilment challenges. The technology brings together a long-reach UR20 cobot, a Zivid 2+ M130 camera – said to be the first 3D sensor capable of imaging anything, including transparent and translucent items – and Siemens’ Simatic Robot Pick AI – pre-trained, deep learning-based vision software that allows robots to perform tasks that previously had to be performed by hand.

UK cyber centre offers advice on moving Scada to the cloud

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has published guidance on cloud-hosted Scada systems, aimed at encouraging OT (operational technology) organisations to make risk-informed decisions when planning to migrate their Scada systems to the cloud, with cybersecurity being a key consideration.

Robot ‘fingers’ can be configured to suit an application

NSK and the German Aerospace Centre are jointly developing a robotic gripper system comprising individual finger modules that can be configured to suit the application – thought to be the first time this has been done.

AI-driven robot ‘will redefine cost-effectiveness’

A German robot-maker, fruitcore robotics, has announced a new generation of digital robots which, it claims, will “redefine cost-effectiveness in industrial automation”. It adds that the AI-supported Horst1500 robots will have the lowest service life costs on the market. Thanks to AI-supported, intuitive operation, new tasks can be set up quickly and efficiently, even without expert knowledge.

79% of UK manufacturers put their faith in AI

Almost four in five (79%) of UK manufacturers are expecting to use generative AI in their operations this year and believe this will help to drive business outcomes, according to a major new survey of manufacturers in 17 countries from Rockwell Automation.

Service helps members to make digital journeys

Schneider Electric has launched a membership service for its customers to help with digital transformations by giving them access to expert advice, expedited emergency response SLAs, continuous monitoring, optimised maintenance, and recommendations for enhancing system performance and energy management. The EcoCare service will operate from Schneider’s Connected Services Hub in Warrington.

UK start-up uses robots to build homes in microfactories

A UK start-is using robotic microfactories to build affordable, low-energy timber homes. London-based AUAR (Automated Architecture) plans to use the robots to tackle skills shortages, boost sustainability, and improve health and safety in a global network of local microfactories which will build energy-efficient, affordable buildings from sheet timber.

Drivetrain portfolio combines real and digital worlds

At the Hannover Messe in April, Siemens will unveil a portfolio of software and hardware for designing and operating drivetrains efficiently and sustainably. It will allow users to combine the real and digital worlds of drive technologies to achieve efficiency and sustainability for entire drivetrains.

Nvidia unveils multiple robot technologies

The chip-maker and software developer Nvidia has announced a slew of developments aimed at advancing robotics and automation technologies at its annual GTC (GPU Technology Conference) event in California. These included a model for humanoid robots called Gr00t (Generalist Robot 00 Technology), as well as a powerful new computer, called Jetson Thor, also aimed at humanoid applications.

Sprint wins Innovate UK funding to expand its AC regen range

Sprint Electric, the UK drives developer, has won funding worth around £300,000 from Innovate UK to support the development of larger versions of its “groundbreaking” Generis AC regenerative drive. The first 22kW models are now ready to go on sale and the new funding – from the fifth round of Innovate UK’s Investor Partnerships programme which backs SMEs – will support the development of the Generis range up to 250kW. Sprint Electric was one of 28 successful applicants for funding from 89 applications.

Mercedes and BMW explore using humanoid robots

Mercedes-Benz and BMW have announced plans to start testing humanoid robots for possible deployment in their production plants. Mercedes-Benz is exploring using humanoid robots supplied by the US manufacturer Apptronik to carry parts to production lines for workers to assemble, while simultaneously inspecting the components. And BMW is planning to use humanoid robots from the Californian developer Figure AI to perform unspecified tasks at a plant in the US.

Remote robot restarts could cut downtime costs by 90%

Kawasaki Robotics has partnered with Olis Robotics to allow robot users to restart production faster after shutdowns, cut troubleshooting and downtime costs by up to 90%, and access expert support quickly.

£4.7m project aims to give manufacturers more 5G choices

A consortium of UK organisations has embarked on a year-long £4.7m project to explore ways that manufacturers could benefit from a 5G mobile network architecture that will allow them to use non-proprietary sub-components. The FoFoRan (Factory of the Future Open Ran) project will allow different companies’ technologies to work together, instead of users having to rely on single suppliers.

Gambica issues manifesto for next UK government

Gambica, the trade organisation that represents the UK’s industrial automation sector, has issued a manifesto aimed at the next UK government, highlighting key objectives that it believes need to be addressed urgently.

Siemens is buying ebm-papst’s drive technology business

Siemens is buying the industrial drive technology (IDT) business of the German fans and mechatronic systems manufacturer, ebm-papst, for an undisclosed sum. The business, which employs around 650 people in Germany and Romania, produces intelligent mechatronic systems in the protective ELV (extra-low voltage range) as well as motion control systems used in AGVs and driverless transport vehicles.

Nidec and KPS ‘in bidding battle’ for Siemens business

The Japanese motor-maker Nidec and the US private equity firm KPS Capital Partners are reported to be in a bidding battle to acquire Innomotics, the business that Siemens set up last year to spin off its motors and large drives activities. According to Bloomberg News, the bidders have been asked to make second-round bids for the business, which has sales worth €3bn and could fetch a similar sum if sold.

Grease degradation app monitors remaining life on-site

NSK is developing a "world-first" technique for diagnosing the remaining life of lubricant grease rapidly and accurately by monitoring changes in colour as it ages. It will offer the capability as a mobile app, allowing users to perform on-site analysis of the condition of the lubricants in their bearings and linear motion systems, thus reducing the need for grease inspections and cutting replenishment costs, and helping them to implement condition-based maintenance strategies.

Grease degrades over time, so on-site inspection of lubricants is essential to maximise uptime and OEE (overall equipment effectiveness). Industrial companies are increasingly switching from time-based to condition-based maintenance strategies. There is therefore a need for an accurate method of diagnosing grease degradation that can be deployed rapidly on site. It would also help to tackle labour shortages and to support carbon neutrality efforts.

Drive is designed to maximise efficiency of PM motors

Control Techniques has announced a variable-speed drive designed to maximise the efficiency of sensorless permanent magnet (PM) motors, cutting their running costs while optimising system performance.

Roadmap aims to secure the future of UK manufacturing

Enginuity, a charity whose mission is to find new ways of closing the UK’s engineering and manufacturing skills gap, has published a roadmap aimed at securing the future of the sector. It is calling on employers, training providers, and policymakers to work together on five key priorities for building and maintaining a skilled workforce for the future.

HVAC-R drives help OEMs to move to F-Gas compliance

Invertek Drives has launched two compact-frame HVAC-R drives aimed at OEMs who are having to move to R290 (propane) and R744 (CO2) refrigerants, as well as A2L and A3 types which support the F-Gas regulations. The new frame size 3 and 4 drives add higher current capabilities to the company's Optidrive Coolvert (HVAC-R) family, which is designed for use with brushless DC compressors, heat pumps and CDUs (condensing units), allowing HVAC-R OEMs to optimise their system performance in a compact space.

UK motor-maker Saietta enters administration

The British electric motor developer and manufacturer, Saietta, has entered administration after failing to find a buyer for a production line in Sunderland after a deal to manufacture electrical steering pumps there under contract fell through.

‘Revolutionary’ multi-role breaker is up to 1,000 times faster

Siemens has developed a “revolutionary” multi-function circuit protection device that it says is to 1,000 times faster than conventional devices and needs up to 80% less space in distribution boards. If circuit faults occur, the Sentron ECPD (electronic circuit protection device) switches them off electronically and, if necessary, can trip mechanical isolating contacts downstream. Previously, such disconnections have needed electromechanical elements.

Motors and inverters benefit from £360m manufacturing plan

Collaborative UK projects to develop advanced motors, inverters and silicon carbide power modules are to receive Government funding as part of a £360m package of support for the UK manufacturing sector announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, in the run-up to his Spring Budget. The package includes £200m of joint industry and government in zero-carbon aircraft technologies, £92m for medicines and diagnostics products, and £73m for electric vehicle technologies, including motors and inverters.