Drives and Controls Magazine
AR app shows machine data on phone or tablet

Sick has unveiled an augmented reality (AR) app that merges machine, sensor and diagnostic information with images of a real environment to display machine data and errors where they are occurring. The Sara (Sick Augmented Reality Assistant) app takes data from any source, maps it into an AR engine and displays it on a tablet or smartphone, without needing costly devices such as headsets or fixed HMIs. It overlays the information on a view of the machine, showing operating data or where maintenance is needed.

Work starts on Ulster’s £100m Factory of the Future

Construction has started on the £100m Factory of the Future project in Northern Ireland, which is expected to create up to 1,500 jobs in the region, contribute £1bn to the economy, and train 300 apprentices by 2025. The 10,500m² Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (AMIC) is being built at the Global Point Business Park in Newtownabbey, and is due to open in 2026. 

Drives & Controls helps push SM&E Week to a record high

The recent Smart Manufacturing & Engineering Week 2024 event, held at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre in early June, drew a record number of 13,428 visitors, representing a 30% increase on the number that attended in 2023.

First speed-controlled MV motor is ‘new way of creating motion’

ABB has announced what it describes as the world’s first speed-controlled medium-voltage motor, claiming that it represents “a new way of converting electricity into motion”. The system – called MV Titanium – combines a 1-5MW MV motor with a frequency converter in one package. It is designed to power loads such as pumps, compressors and fans, reducing the need for equipment such as transformers, switchgear and MV motor cables, and cutting infrastructure costs. It is aimed at both retrofit and new applications, and could cut energy use by up to 40%, paying for itself in less than a year in some applications.

UK project uses AI to analyse industrial video to cut errors

UK researchers have embarked on a project that will use AI-powered analysis of industrial video images to help plant operators to avoid human errors and to improve safety, productivity and efficiency.

More than 500,000 robots shipped in 2023 as prices fell

More than 500,000 industrial robots were shipped globally in 2023, according to a new report from Interact Analysis. This was a similar level to 2022, but the average price of industrial robots dropped last year, following two years of rising prices.

Siemens, Rockwell and others adopt AI technologies

The chip-maker Nvidia has announced a series of tie-ups with industrial automation suppliers including Siemens, Rockwell Automation, Teradyne Robotics (which owns Universal Robots and MiR), the Chinese industrial giant and car-maker BYD, and Intrinsic, the software and AI robotics subsidiary of Alphabet/Google. Nvidia says that the collaborations could lead to tens of millions of AI-powered autonomous machines being deployed around the world.

ABB motor is ‘first’ to achieve IE6 efficiency without magnets

ABB claims to be the first electric motor manufacturer to have achieved IE6 levels of efficiency from a synchronous reluctance motor (SynRM) motor without needing to use magnets.

$170m investment delivers next-gen robot platform

ABB Robotics has announced a new-generation intelligent robotics automation platform that, it says, is faster, more precise and more sustainable. The OmniCore platform – the result of more than $170m of investment in next-generation robotics – is a step change to a modular, futureproof control architecture that will integrate AI, sensors, cloud and edge computing systems to create advanced and autonomous robotic applications.

Cobot sales hit $1bn and will grow faster than 20%

Global revenues from sales of collaborative robots (cobots) exceeded $1bn during 2023, despite demand recovering more slowly than expected after the Covid pandemic, according to new data from Interact Analysis. It predicts the market will see a 22% increase in shipments during 2024 and expects growth rates to exceed 20% every year in the period to 2028.

Meet UK world water speed record attempt team at SM&E Week

The team behind a planned British attempt to break the world water speed record will be at this week’s Smart Manufacturing & Engineering (SM&E) Week to talk about the project and to launch a survey aimed at identifying recruitment challenges faced by UK manufacturers.

UK manufacturing expands at fastest rate for two years

The UK manufacturing sector returned to growth in May, as output expanded at the fastest pace in more than two years, off the back of improved intakes of new work. Manufacturers’ sentiment also rose to its highest level since early 2022, with 63% of companies expecting output to expand over the coming year, according to the latest seasonally-adjusted S&P Global UK Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI). The index rose to 51.2 in May, up from 49.1 in April – its highest since July 2022, and the second time it has been above 50, indicating expansion, in the past three months.

UK manufacturers worry about energy – but don’t do much

A new survey of British manufacturers reveals that they are concerned about issues such as energy prices and net-zero, but are not doing much to tackle these topics.

USB devices pose a major cyberthreat to OT systems

Cyberattacks targeting industrial sites are getting more advanced and more frequent according to the latest edition of Honeywell’s annual USB Threat Report. It also shows that more than half (51%) of malware attacks on OT (operational technology) systems are designed to be injected via removable media such as USB memory sticks. The report reveals that the number of targeted attacks via USB devices has increased nearly six-fold from the 9% it recorded in 2019.

Automated machine sets new record for solving Rubik’s Cube

Mitsubishi Electric says it has set a new record for the fastest robotic machine to solve a Rubik’s Cube puzzle. Its custom-built machine took just 0.305 seconds to complete the puzzle – beating the previous record of 0.38s, which Mitsubishi itself set in 2021. The new record has been ratified by the Guinness World Records organisation.

Regen electric motor gives e-bike a range of up to 1,000km

A Japanese electronic components manufacturer has developed an electrically-assisted bicycle that uses a regenerative electric motor to deliver a potential range of up to 1,000km on one charge. Taiyo Yuden says that its Feremo (Future Energy Recycling system for Mobility) e-bike recovers energy during braking or deceleration to charge its on-board battery, thus extending its range and helping to slow the bike when it is going downhill. The company is developing a “energy self-sufficient” version that could avoid the need to charge the battery altogether.

Rockwell warns users to check ICS Internet links ‘immediately’

Rockwell Automation has issued a security notice urging all of its customers to take “IMMEDIATE” action to assess whether they have industrial control devices facing the public Internet and, if so, to remove that connectivity “urgently” for devices not specifically designed for public Internet connectivity. It says it is issuing the advice “due to heightened geopolitical tensions and adversarial cyberactivity globally”.

UK ‘could be a leader’ in motor design and production

The UK could establish itself as a leader in motor design and production, according to a new report from the Advanced Propulsion Centre UK (APC). It argues that, with the European market for electric motors expected to expand three-fold to more than £27bn over the next decade, there will be “ample opportunities” for UK businesses willing to bet on shifting attitudes towards e-motor design and manufacture.

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.