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Lightweight gear-motor-drive kit could slash robot costs

The German engineering plastics specialist igus has developed a lightweight, low-cost gearbox with an integrated motor and controls which, it says, could cut the cost of collaborative and service robots. The modular gearbox kit consists of a tribo-polymer strainwave gear, combined with a brushless, external-rotor DC motor and controller, force control electronics, and an absolute encoder.

Smart production line boosts performance of humans and robots

The Japanese automation supplier Omron claims to have taken human-machine collaboration to a new level with a “breakthrough” intelligent cell production line that integrates sensing, vision and robotics, and is designed to enhance the performance of both humans and robots as they learn from each other. Aimed, in particular, at high-mix, low-volume (HMLV) operations, the technology is said to accelerate employee training and knowledge transfer, eliminate defects in production, and enhance workflow efficiencies.

Shortwave IR camera detects defects that the eye cannot see

The German machine vision specialist Chromasens has launched its first shortwave infrared (SWIR) linescan camera, capable of picking out defects in the 950–1,700nm spectral range that are invisible to the human eye. For example, the sensor in the allPixa SWIR camera can detect fill levels in non-transparent containers, identify water and fat in foods, help to tackle counterfeiting, identify chemicals, and monitor plant moisture to prevent over- or under-watering.

‘Breakthrough’ robot can make decisions based on what it sees

Robotics experts at the UK’s Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry have developed a flexible industrial robot that, they say, has the decision-making capabilities of a human operator. Using a combination of machine learning and visual recognition, the robot can be taught to make assembly decisions based on components put in front of it. The MTC is hailing this as “a breakthrough development” which could save manufacturers the costs of expensive fixed tooling.

Motor material ‘could eliminate ten 1GW power plants’

Researchers at Toshiba in Japan have developed a new magnetic material that, they say, will deliver major improvements in electric motor efficiencies at low cost and without needing any design changes, and could lead to significant reductions in power consumption. Toshiba estimates that if the material was used in all of the electric motors in use worldwide today, it could eliminate the need for ten 1GW power plants.

Pioneering process ‘prints’ sensors into plastic parts

The German engineering plastics specialist igus claims to be the first company that can integrate sensors into plastics components to help predict the need for maintenance and avoid downtime. The company’s engineers have combined additive manufacturing and Industry 4.0 technologies into a single production step that allows sensors to be incorporated into components such as polymer bearings using multi-material 3D printing techniques.

Drones and mics help to spot conveyor problems

The German conveyor belt manufacturer Continental has developed a technology that uses drones and acoustic monitoring to identify potential problems on large-scale conveyors before costly damage occurs. The technology replaces laborious manual inspections by using sensor-based technologies that allow precise inspection and enable predictive maintenance.

Edge app makes drives smarter and spots anomalies

Siemens has launched its first edge application for drives, claiming that it will make its Sinamics drive systems more intelligent, and will pave the way for new business models. The company has also announced an AI-based module for optimising the maintenance efficiency of motor-based systems.

First quantum sensors will deliver ‘unmatched accuracy’

The German sensor-maker Sick has signed an agreement with a specialist subsidiary of Trumpf called Q.ANT to make quantum optical sensor technologies available for industrial use, potentially allowing measurements to be made with previously impossible accuracy. They say they have already successful tested the world’s first quantum optical sensor for serial production. The first commercial versions, planned for 2021, will be used to analyse substances in the air with the ability to detect particles that are about two hundred times smaller than the width of a human hair.

VSDs are ‘first with on-board corrosive gas detection’

Mitsubishi Electric has released a new generation of variable-speed drives which, it claims, are the first to incorporate internal detection of corrosive gases which, combined with AI (artificial intelligence) functions, will extend their operating lives and reduce downtime. The compact FR-E800 drives also have built-in support for multiple networks – including CC-Link IE TSN (Time Sensitive Networking), Ethernet/IP, Profinet and Modbus TCP/IP – without needing costly option cards.

‘Revolutionary’ PCB windings halve the size of micromotors

A Belgian start-up, Mirmex Motor, has developed a new method for manufacturing high-power-density windings for micromotors that, it claims, will revolutionise traditional winding design and manufacturing methods. The technology, which is the result of seven years of r&d, uses windings formed from flexible printed circuits and is claimed to result in motors that are 50% smaller, 70% more dynamic, with a third of the heat losses of motors that use conventional copper windings, and can be assembled ten times faster.

‘More conductive’ copper will lead to more efficient motors

US researchers have developed a process that, they say, can boost the conductivity of copper wire by about 5%, thus either improving the efficiencies of electric equipment such as motors, or reducing their weight while operating with the same efficiency.

AI-based software will help manufacturers to save energy

Mitsubishi Electric has announced a software package that uses AI (artificial intelligence) to help save energy in manufacturing plants by identifying energy losses, diagnosing factors that could be causing these losses, and quantifying the potential effects of energy-saving measures.

Schneider and Orange install France’s first industrial 5G network

Schneider Electric has installed the first indoor 5G network in the French industrial sector at a factory in Le Vaudreuil in northern France that it uses to pilot digital transformation technologies. The aim of the installation, performed in collaboration with the telecoms operator Orange, is to use 5G to achieve reliable, scalable and sustainable communications.

Nanotubes boost copper's current capacity by 14%

US scientists have created a composite material that, they say, can boost the electrical current capacity of copper wires by 14%, while improving their mechanical properties – such as strength and weight – by up to 20% compared to pure copper. The researchers, from the US government’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), add that the material could be used in any component that uses copper, resulting, for example, in more efficient busbars, smaller connectors and ultra-efficient, high-power-density motors.