The Californian industrial automation manufacturer Opto 22 has released a free firmware update for its Snap PACs (programmable automation controllers) which, it says, will give users access to billions of existing sensors, machines and devices that are currently unable to connect to the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things). It claims that this “significant and ground-breaking” innovation will allow rapid development of IIoT applications, cutting time-to-market when designing machines and systems, and leading to faster deployment of automation and control projects.
At the recent Automatica exhibition in Germany, the Italian robot-maker Comau previewed what it claims is the first high-payload robot to achieve true collaboration with humans. Two of the Aura (advanced use robotic arm) collaborative robots were demonstrated working on a Maserati car – one polishing its bonnet (hood), while the other loading and unloading a battery from its boot (trunk).
Ford has become one of the first car-makers to start using collaborative robots (cobots) alongside human workers on an assembly line. It is using cobots supplied by Kuka to help fit shock absorbers to Fiesta cars at its plant in Cologne, Germany, thus ensuring a perfect fit and avoiding the need for workers to access hard-to-reach places. The task requires pinpoint accuracy, strength and dexterity.
Two Japanese companies – Honda and Daido Steel – claim to have developed the world’s first practical “hot deformed” neodymium magnets that contain no “heavy” rare-earth materials, yet offer good temperature resistance and the magnetic performance needed for use in electric vehicles (EVs). The new magnets will be used for the first time in Honda’s new Freed hybrid vehicle, which is due to go on sale later this year.
The plastics engineering specialist igus has announced a series of “smart” technologies that add sensing, monitoring and communications capabilities to its cables, energy chains and linear bearings. The company says that these technologies – which it is marketing under the “smart plastics” banner – will help to increase plant availability and uptime, and cut costs through condition monitoring and predictive maintenance.
At the recent Automatica show in Germany, Schunk unveiled what it claims is the first robotic gripper capable of interacting and communicating directly with humans, and designed to be used safely with collaborative robots. The JL1 Co-act gripper can detect if it comes into contact with a human, avoid injuries if it senses a human between its jaws, and ensure that it never loses grip of the object that it is holding.
An aircraft powered by a 50kg electric motor with a continuous output of 260kW has flown for the first time, from an airfield in northern Germany. The two-seater plane – an adapted aerobatic craft built by Extra Aircraft – flew for ten minutes on its maiden flight in June. Its developers believe that it could be the forerunner for hybrid-electric aircraft with four or more seats that will cut fuel consumption and emissions by up to 50%, as well as reducing noise levels dramatically.
Omron has announced several ranges of IO-Link-compatible photoelectric and proximity sensors which, it says, will make it easier to integrate industrial equipment with the Internet of Things. Omron describes the launch of its first IO-Link sensors as “a big step” towards making production equipment smarter and combining factory automation components with ICT (information and communications technology) systems.
The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) is building an aircraft powered by 14 electric motors which, it claims, could cut operating costs by up to 40% compared to conventional aircraft, as well as reducing energy use during high-speed cruising by around 80% .
The German bearings and automotive systems manufacturer Schaeffler has unveiled a concept two-seater vehicle designed to overcome some of the disadvantages of bicycles – such as their lack of stability, weather protection and storage space. The electrically-assisted, four-wheeled Bio-Hybrid vehicle can travel at speeds of up to 25km/h, does not need a driver’s licence, and is small enough to be used on bicycle lanes, thus reducing congestion in urban environments.
The German bearings manufacturer Schaeffler has developed an automated system for analysing the condition of rotating plant and equipment with fixed or variable speeds from 100–15,000 rpm. The FAG SmartQB is a pre-configured, ready-to-use condition-monitoring system for electric motors, pumps, fans, compressors and gearboxes, which can be commissioned in five minutes and can be operated by staff with little or no expertise in vibration monitoring.
Researchers in the US have developed an actuator that generates movements similar to those of muscles by using vacuum to shrink rubber beams. Like real muscles, the actuators are soft, shock-absorbing, and pose no danger to their environment or humans working alongside them. They could pave the way to soft-bodied robots that are safer than conventional rigid designs, the developers suggest.
Bosch Rexroth has developed a communication platform that continuously records, processes and filters production data and makes it available on the production line and elsewhere in real time via large touchscreens or tablets.
A crowd-puller at the recent Hannover Fair was a collaborative demonstration by several companies showing Industry 4.0 concepts – in particular, mass customisation – in action. The demo was manufacturing individual keyrings in colours and with text (names or phone numbers) specified by visitors via a Web site. They also had the option of incorporating a smartchip that would allow them to find the key using a smartphone.
The machine vision specialist Cognex has announced a vision-based system for identifying airport baggage which, it claims, is the first of its type and overcomes the limitations of laser-based baggage identification systems. It says that its ABH-ID (airport baggage handling identification) system achieves much higher read rates than laser-based systems, cutting the costs of delivering lost or late-checked luggage by hand.