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Unexpected downtime: Reducing the risk 17/03/2018

Few things can damage the financial stability of a manufacturing facility more than unexpected downtime. On average, manufacturers suffer with 30% or more downtime during their scheduled production time. However, there are ways to reduce the risk, as Andy Pye, contributing editor, reports

The automotive industry has long been at the forefront of applying new automation technologies, but the industry is also at the forefront of industrial network modernisation. Downtime can cost up to £17,000 per minute.

Traditionally, industrial maintenance has been done on a fixed schedule, replacing items at constant intervals. Constant intervals do not take into consideration the unique circumstances of a machine being maintained, so although general purpose schedules are convenient from the viewpoint of ordering spares, they risk wasting money by replacing parts that are still operational.

Predictive maintenance, on the other hand, aims to get the most life out of equipment while minimising the risk of failure. Increasingly, it involves gathering large quantities of data. While some of this will be existing data, such as maintenance or warranty records, adding data sources such as sensors on the equipment will be important to build the big picture.

One of the biggest challenges is gathering and interpreting unstructured data, such as free text in maintenance records, design specs, test data from failed equipment, or even comments on social media or Google searches. The most intelligent data analytical automation software will also provide graphical visualisation of production data and generate customised statistical reports.

Having collected data, the next step involves using data analytics to make sense of it, and then figuring out predictive rules that will become the basis for a predictive maintenance model. Once the model is built, it must be tested and progressively refined. A bad model is better than no model, albeit only marginally – and with progressive refinement via a continuous learning loop, the model can be updated based on on-going results. For example, if a component fails after being used for a specific product run, pattern recognition can identify the stresses that are unique to that run that could have caused the failure.

Inside AWNC, the Toyota transmission plant in North Carolina, a recent upgrade includes a new MES, inventory management, predictive maintenance and quality systems that transmit all data for collection and analysis over a secure, Cisco-enabled Wi-Fi network.

Video data

According to test and measurement company HBM, video use is accelerating in data collection. Video cameras are already used in many test and measurement applications in addition to data collection with traditional tactile sensors.

“There is no longer any question that recording video data in parallel to tactile sensors or digital bus signals is becoming more and more attractive to users,” says Christof Salcher, product manager instrumentation at HBM. “Video supports traditional sensor data and is becoming a valuable source of additional information.”

Maintec 2018: Momentum gathers

Owned and run by IP&E's parent company, Western Business Exhibitions, Maintec is dedicated the to maintenance engineering community.

Like all sectors of industry, it is vital for the maintenance community to embrace the current developments in digitalisation, connectivity, IIoT and Industry 4.0-related technologies. Addressing this, Maintec 2018 aims to move beyond the buzz words and media hype, to provide guidance and insight into how the digital developments can be implemented at a practical level. Of course, there will also be extensive coverage of how traditional maintenance activities are evolving.

Taking place at the NEC, Birmingham, on 6th and 7th November, the event will once again include a comprehensive educational programme, part of which will be the Reliability Dialogue Theatre, hosted by IP&E's sister publication, Controls, Drive & Automation. Examining the changing face of reliability, automation and the impact this has on the future of maintenance engineering, leading experts will discuss and debate a range of key topics.

For further information visit www.maintec.co.uk

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Space strategy for enterprise 21/02/2018

The Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, has announced the development of Ireland’s first national Space Strategy for Enterprise by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. The Strategy will set out how Ireland can maximise the benefit of its investment in the European Space Agency (ESA) and in the European Union’s (EU) flagship space programmes, Copernicus, Galileo and Horizon 2020.

The Minister made this announcement at InnaLabs headquarters in Blanchardstown; the technology company has just announced its biggest contract to date with ESA.

A steering group will be established in the coming weeks to oversee the development of the Space Strategy. This will include a consultation process to seek views from interested parties on how Ireland can best exploit opportunities in the space enterprise sector. Making the announcement, Minister Halligan said: "The space sector is undergoing a significant and rapid transformation. It’s evolving from a sector where activities are funded purely by governments to one that relies more on private investments to fund commercial activities.

"More than sixty Irish companies are currently benefiting from contracts with ESA, with five new companies expected to enter the sector each year between now and 2020. Employment in Irish companies which benefit from ESA contracts is expected to double from 2,000 in 2014 to over 4,500 in 2020. By developing this Strategy, the Department will ensure that companies already working in this sector can expand, and that opportunities for new entrants are identified. The Strategy will also seek to identify and explore potential synergies with other sectors, such as ICT and Aerospace."

One of the Irish companies working in the space sector, InnaLabs, has announced a €2.6m contract with ESA to design, develop, manufacture and test a highly reliable radiation-hardened 3-axis gyroscope used for measuring angular velocity or maintaining orientation of satellites. While the initial opportunity is for science mission applications, the technology will serve a large spectrum of commercial space activities including Earth observation, communications and navigation satellites. InnaLabs’ gyroscope cutting edge technology is also applied in a wide range of terrestrial applications such as air transportation, autonomous vehicles, marine, civil engineering projects, rail transportation systems and the oil and gas industries.

This contract follows the successful completion by InnaLabs of ESA space projects worth €980k that was secured after an Enterprise Ireland trade mission to ESA’s main technology development and test facility, ESTEC, in The Netherlands in 2017.

Welcoming the news Minister Halligan said: “Today’s announcement is yet another example of the growing number of Irish companies benefitting from Ireland’s membership of ESA. Through our continued investment in the European Space Agency and with the support of my Department and Enterprise Ireland, Ireland’s space sector will continue to go from strength to strength.”

Speaking about InnaLabs’ success, CEO of InnaLabs John O’Leary said: “We are delighted to announce this contract with ESA which validates our products internationally and gives us the opportunity to offer our CVG technology to the space market segment. We are also pleased to learn that a national Space Strategy for Enterprise is under development. We believe this will be an invaluable resource for Ireland to continue to succeed in the space sector, but also to facilitate Irish companies to expand into related commercial markets following ESA validation.”

Welcoming the announcement, Gearóid Mooney, Divisional Manager of Enterprise Ireland’s Research and Innovation Business Unit, said “the InnaLabs contract is further evidence of the growing capabilities of Irish firms to develop high performance and high reliability technologies for the global space market, with the support of the European Space Agency”.

The steering group for the Space Strategy for Enterprise will set out details about the process for producing the strategy when it meets in the coming weeks. This will include details about the public consultation that it will organise and which will be accessible on the websites of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and Enterprise Ireland.

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FDI calls for exemptions from EU state aid rules post-Brexit 21/02/2018

Food Drink Ireland (FDI), the Ibec group that represents the food and drink sector, has said the economic consequences of a hard and disruptive Brexit, as outlined by the Copenhagen Economics report commissioned by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, would require a series of exemptions from EU state aid rules for the Irish agri-food and drink sector.

FDI called on the Government and the European Commission to put in place a comprehensive package to help viable businesses deal with the fallout of Brexit, the fracture of the EU single market and the massive disruption to our vital export trade.

FDI Director Paul Kelly said: "The Irish agri-food and drink sector and its 230,000 associated jobs is uniquely exposed. €4.5bn of food and drink exports are destined for the UK, with the Copenhagen Economics report highlighting that beef, processed food and dairy are the Irish sectors most at risk. There is a compelling case for exceptional state aid support to minimise the economic fallout and job losses arising from Brexit. Already the Euro-Sterling currency squeeze is putting intense strain on exporters. This pressure is likely to intensify as the challenges and economic costs of a hard Brexit crystallise.

“State aid support should be targeted by Government through measures to help the sector innovate to maintain its competitiveness, diversify export market profile and transform in the face of the dangerous impacts of Brexit.

“In order to support food and drink businesses, funding needs to be provided immediately to help companies prepare for the worst impacts of Brexit. This would be funded from both Government and EU sources to allow the Irish Government to introduce investment aids to support Irish companies invest in enabling technology, plant renewal and expansion, refinancing, market diversification and innovation to regain competitiveness following single market fracture. These resources, where appropriate, should be available to both exporters and smaller Irish producers which risk being displaced by cheaper UK imports in their home market.

"The industry is deeply integrated into the wider economy and its broad geographic footprint means the regions are particularly exposed to any shock to the sector. In the short term, the objective must be to put in place mitigating measures to help companies manage their businesses through on-going currency shifts and during exit negotiations and the transition period. The medium-term focus must be on maintaining market share in the UK, developing international markets and ensuring that in the domestic market, companies remain competitive against imports and the threat of cross-border shopping," concluded Mr. Kelly.

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World first for additive aerospace manufacturing 20/02/2018

Stelia Aerospace has produced a demo metal self-reinforced fuselage panels using 3D printing.

This new technology should, in the long term, eliminate the current added stiffeners, which are attached to the fuselage panels with fixing screws and sometimes welding.

The 1 sq m demo was manufactured by a robotic tool through the deposit of aluminium wire merged by electric arc (WAAM – Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing). It presents a new disruptive design for panel stiffeners, derived from the fuselage topological optimisation studies which have been carried out by Stelia Aerospace and CT Ingénierie for several years.

This new large dimension 3D print technology allows firms to envisage the manufacturing of such concepts in the future, thus freeing production from complex constraints due to the assembly of stiffeners.

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Veotec manufactures HVAC solution for Ingersoll Rand 20/02/2018

Design and fabrication specialists Veotec has overcome a series of environmental and operational difficulties to successfully design a HVAC solution for an Ingersoll Rand compressor to be used at the new helium production plant in Qatar, meeting a bespoke range of criteria.

The system, which was designed and fabricated by Veotec, provided a pulse jet filter house for Ingersoll Rand's work on the Helium 3 Project: The groundbreaking helium production facility that will form the centrepiece of Qatari expansion into the extraction of gas, in which it is already a world leader. 

Due to the 540C temperatures and harsh conditions caused by the facility's location in the Arabian Gulf, including high air salinity and dust levels, the facility called for a bespoke roof mounted air intake system that could withstand the conditions - and provide EN779:2012 standards of air filtration. The project also called for a cost-effective solution that would be self-cleaning or low maintenance, in order to minimise downtime and repair costs. 

In order to meet the exacting standards required of the project, Veotec utilised a differential pressure controller to feedback into the client’s Distributed Control System to initiate the compressed air pulsing sequence, resulting in the evacuation of dust and sand particles from vertically arranged cylindrical filter cartridges. This returns system pressure losses to acceptable levels. The adjoining compressor enclosure and instrument housing were built to IP55 and IP65 respectively, and the system is capable of providing the required fresh air supply whilst removing sand and dust ranging from 1μm to 300μm particle size. 

Andrew Russell, sales director at Veotec said: "The successful completion of this project demonstrates Veotec's capability and ability to fabricate a wide variety of components and solutions for environments across the world, and to overcome even the most challenging of environmental conditions.”

"As the world continues to industrialise, and its countries invest in infrastructure, our expertise will become more and more necessary to help companies around the world develop systems that function reliably and perform consistently in even the harshest conditions. We look forward to deploying this and other technology wherever it is needed."

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Intelligence squared 13/02/2018

Industry 4.0 has received a lot of hype, but while this is usually off-putting, that doesn’t mean it won’t have a real impact on manufacturing and its supply chain, logistics and material handling challenges. Simon Duddy reports.

I see Industry 4.0 as somewhat analogous to the online boom that hit the retail world and the logistics operations that serve it.

There is some technology and terminology overlap.

Think of IT systems, the huge amounts of new data generated, and the visibility provided by understanding this data.

There’s some differences too. I think the key one is the feverish consumer demand that made the online boom so disruptive is absent, or at least at a step removed. Here, most of the demand will come from managers seeking to make products on shorter runs, be more responsive to customer demand, and do this while cutting costs.

Before we go any further, let’s define Industry 4.0 quickly. It’s the application of pervasive IT to manufacturing technology. This means sensors just about everywhere, with software, perhaps working autonomously, analysing the data created to spot trends and allow managers to improve operations.

This is not just driven by new technological capability. Yes, AI is improving, as it 3D printing and automation, but arguably the main driver is China. It is no accident that Industry 4.0 was created in Germany, home of the best advanced manufacturing in the world.

They have most to lose from the rise of China as an industrial power. German industry concluded it cannot stand still, and Industry 4.0 sees it push further into higher technology, software and services as the Chinese will [very probably] make standard manufacturing a low-profit commodity business over the next 20 years.

Matthias Breunig, partner at McKinsey says: “Traditionally, leading manufacturers have focused on selling hardware. But now it looks as if these days may well be over. The balance of power is tilting toward Asia−Pacific. The very price-competitive copies of US and European machines they offer along with their own innovation power are positioning Asia−Pacific as the new global machinery powerhouse, which increasingly also includes special machinery.”

One example of this competition is in the aviation industry where in May 2017 China and Russia kicked off a joint venture to build a wide-body jet aimed at competing with market leaders Boeing and Airbus.

The response of the two airline giants is a campaign to drive down cost. Denzil Lawrence, supplier development, Boeing commercial airplanes told the Advanced Engineering exhibition it was changing its supply chain strategy due to competition from China.

Lawrence says: “Neither us nor Airbus want to be number two in the market when the Chinese emerge with this product. They will aim to take out the company in the number 2 position. We need to smarten operations to make sure we are number one for the next century.”

The last generation in aviation was all about improving performance using new materials. Now it is about cutting cost without compromising quality.

Lawrence continues: “Our customers want more for less and 65% of our cost comes from the supply chain. This isn’t just a cost cutting exercise. We need to work in partnership. Consider delivery discipline, cost reduction, throughput increase, supply chain visibility etc and tell us where you can add value. Position your expertise in these areas. Get to know your own supply chain. We are aware that much of the innovation, value and cost reduction is coming from tier 2-5 components.”

It is clear that manufacturers in the UK need to move up the value and technology chain if they want to avoid simply competing on price. McKinsey quotes a number of manufacturers using AI tools to gain advantage. For example, an aerospace manufacturer applied AI technologies to revamp its assembly, supply chain and fault detection.

It reaped €350 million in savings, with nearly 60% coming from using advanced analytics to review data from every step in the assembly process and then rewriting standard operating procedures based on the results.

The rest came from using machine learning algorithms, collaborative robots, and self-driving vehicles to improve warehouse costs and reduce inventory levels.

Another example is Motivo, an artificial intelligence startup, who deployed predictive analytics using machine learning to compress semiconductor design processes from years to a few weeks, saving chip makers the cost of iterations and testing.

A helping hand

The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) was founded after the recession in a bid to stimulate innovation. The Government’s analysis concluded the UK was great at new ideas, and universities, and also very good at industry. The weak spot was taking new ideas and maturing them.

Lina Huertas, head of technology strategy for digital manufacturing, MTC says: “MTC started work on the 4th Industrial Revolution four years ago. It is a response to increased global competition, a recognition that supply chains are dynamic networks that need to adapt quickly to change, and a desire to use the untapped potential in data.” The knock-on impact on logistics, materials handling and supply chain is clear.

Lina adds: “If you bring IoT principles into factories, for example, flexible production, it will certainly have an impact on the supply chain, in terms of products in and out. This could have an impact on equipment needed, and will certainly have an impact on the exchange of information in the supply chain.”

Professional services giant AECOM anticipates that autonomous AGVs have huge potential to shake up the manufacturing industry.

Lars Skogmo, process and automation technology and innovation lead at AECOM says: “They can rationalise manufacturing processes such as conveyance between processes, parts supply to production lines and cellular manufacturing lines. This can deliver great efficiencies when compared with traditional conveyer lines. “The factories of the future will also have ‘swarm intelligence’, an emerging field of biologically inspired artificial intelligence. This can be used to develop self-learning systems, so every piece of equipment has infinite flexible paths.”

Another example of innovation is 3D printing of parts. VTT Technical Research Centre, Finland and Aalto University say 5% of spare parts could be stored in digital warehouses. Spare part information is stored and transferred digitally, with parts 3D-printed according to need, close to the end user.

This would make parts more quickly and easily available, while creating cost savings. It may also make part customisation easier.

Big production plants often maintain large spare-part warehouses, where parts can wait long periods before being used. “Capital is released for more productive use when stock decreases.

Another major opportunity lies in reducing downtime through faster spare-part manufacture,” says Mika Salmi, project manager of the project for Aalto University.

First steps

It is one thing to recognise the new technology over the horizon, it’s quite another to harness it to your company’s benefit.

MTC’s Lina Huertas says the main thrust of Industry 4.0 is not technology in itself, but more about the data that is accessed due to the technology and having the intelligence to extract value from it.

“The main mechanism is intelligence. Technology and innovation is key, but it’s more about process and being able to handle change. In addition, before investing in technology, thoroughly understand the value you need from data. Avoid implementing technology for the sake of it. Also, perhaps data can be used at the machine, giving the operator autonomy. Only gather data further up the business if value can be extracted from it. In terms of getting things off the ground, find the first steps that will be big wins. At the same time, get buy in, or people will feel it is something ‘being done to them’.”

Lina predicts Industry 4.0 will bring a big human resources challenge.

The dark side of the Force

It won’t be all plain sailing for Industry 4.0, artificial intelligence et al.

Given how disruptive it could be, it may have to brace itself for a backlash, such as that faced by genetically modified food. Consultancy Accenture writes of the disruptive power of Industry 4.0.

“Once industries become digital, they also become digitally contestable, meaning companies from outside the traditional industry can enter and compete more easily. Think of Google’s moves into driverless automobiles, which are likely to disrupt multiple industries, including car insurance and government licensing.”

Increasing reliance on IT systems in the industrial setting also broadens the scope for hackers to hijack these systems.

Accenture again: “What can go wrong when manufacturing plants, equipment or remote facilities are interconnected and online? Plenty—including disruptions to operations, sabotage and loss of life from broken infrastructure, cyber attacks and data theft by criminals, foreign governments and disgruntled employees.

Recently, an oil rig’s control systems were reportedly hacked when saboteurs were able to tilt the rig’s platform, while another rig became so riddled with computer malware that it took weeks for the operator to make it seaworthy again.”

There are also safety concerns regarding driverless transport, despite the advances it continues to make. Gunny Dhadyalla, principal engineer at the National Automotive Innovation Centre spoke recently at Advanced Engineering.

He is concerned with testing connected, autonomous, intelligent vehicles with the aim of making sure they are safe, reliable and accepted.

“We have some way to go. I attended a conference in Germany with an audience of safety engineers. They were asked to raise their hands if they would let autonomous vehicles drive them home. No one did. There are still lots of problems to solve.”

“The main mechanism is intelligence. Technology and innovation is key, but it’s more about process and being able to handle change. In addition, before investing in technology, thoroughly understand the value you need from data. Avoid implementing technology for the sake of it. Also, perhaps data can be used at the machine, giving the operator autonomy. Only gather data further up the business if value can be extracted from it. In terms of getting things off the ground, find the first steps that will be big wins. At the same time, get buy in, or people will feel it is something ‘being done to them’.”

Lina predicts Industry 4.0 will bring a big human resources challenge. “We need to make sure we benefit society with this change, we have a responsibility to bring people along. You need to think about talent early, and how to re-deploy people if machines take jobs. This can be about skills such as analytics and software, but also about leadership and business roles.” Some firms are ahead of the curve.

Maketime is an Uber-style firm for manufacturing capacity. A company can upload CAD files to a library, showing parts required. The App matches the parts to the best supplier and places orders, streamlining procurement. Another example is a UK company, Automata, which produces a 3D printed robot arm called Eva, which costs under £5,000 and is said to be able to be set up in 15 minutes.

John Phillips, SVP Customer Supply Chain & Global GTM, PepsiCo told a recent Gartner Supply Chain conference that AI had more potential in the supply chain world than almost any other sector or discipline. But he sounded a note of caution.

“The Internet of Things and putting in more sensors allows you to make better data-driven decisions. But don’t underestimate the preparation that has to go into this to get these data engines to work well for your operations. Improve data hygiene. Bad data equals bad answers.”


Echoing Lina’s comments, grasping technology is not likely to be the main hurdle. Improving integration and communication in the supply chain will be important and that comes down to company culture first and foremost.

Consultancy Crimson & Co has researched this and concludes that companies often lack Industry 4.0 readiness because they have not reckoned with the culture change required.

No approach is a silver bullet. Manufacturers increasingly demand supply chain agility, which is great if it creates shorter lead times and more flexibility in service, but dancing to the customer’s tune could also lead to greater inventory and therefore higher costs.

It is said Industry 4.0 can help by offering real-time information about operations throughout the supply chain enabling better response to customers’ needs. But this does require integration and collaboration. And as Crimson has identified, this is about culture as well as technology.

“Research shows that one of the biggest challenges in Industry 4.0 implementation does not lie in how companies apply individual technologies or make improvements in single business functions, but in how effective they are at developing an integrated supply chain approach that connects with suppliers and customers. This is the only way to fully exploit the potential that Industry 4.0 offers.”

For many companies, this requires a maturity beyond that exhibited in their traditional supplier and customer relationships.

Jonathan Gibson, associate director, Crimson & Co adds: “It appears many companies believe investment in IT and advanced technology will drive and sustain change, but the key is actually to ensure that the correct skills and culture exist to drive this transformation.”


Industry 4.0, with automation, AI, machine learning, 3D printing and so on will hit manufacturing and its supply chain and you must brace yourself, like it or not.

It will be wise to tread carefully, but companies that implement new solutions that align well to business aims, and who invest the time and energy in creating a supportive culture will become the next generation of industrial leaders.

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UK bid to become additive manufacturing leader 17/10/2017

A new initiative to bring the benefits of additive manufacturing (AM) to more industries and to establish the UK as a world leader in the field, has been launched by AM UK.

AM UK is an independent, government-backed collaboration, which has been at the forefront of developing this technology for wider application across industry sectors. Additive manufacturing is a method of making production parts and products directly from design data, building accurate components by adding layers of material to obtain the final shape with minimal waste and no expensive dedicated tooling. It enables radical product re-design and creates new material properties.

AM UK’s new National Strategy will bring together industry, academia, government and finance bodies to provide a single ‘go-to’ place to access independent information and latest research, which will help support the strategy’s development, dissemination and implementation.

Additive manufacturing expert, Dr. Paul Unwin, has been appointed as Chairman of AM UK to drive this mission and ensure the UK maximises from the great potential of this ground-breaking technology for its industries.

Often referred to as 3D printing, additive manufacturing is a truly transformational cross-sectoral technology that is having a disruptive impact on design and manufacturing; and on company location and business models. It has the capacity to – and is already – revolutionising businesses and capabilities globally by providing a radically new method of production, enabling new and better designs to be realised at lower cost with enhanced productivity and greater sustainability.

UK among global leaders

Paul Unwin explains: “The UK is among the global leaders in knowledge and successful application of additive manufacturing and AM UK has been at the forefront of developing its vast capabilities. AM has the potential to transform how and where manufacturing is done across a wide range of industrial sectors and global markets. It enables us to do things with devices that have never been done before; beyond the early adopters such as aerospace, automotive and defence, which have seen the biggest impact.

“The UK currently only captures 5% share of a worldwide market that was worth £3.59 billion in 2015. As this global market grows, it is vital that the UK gains ground. With this technology at a point where it can really take off, the opportunities for commercial gain are out there. It is estimated that the UK can win up to 8% or £5bn of this rapidly growing global market, forecast to reach £69bn by 2025. This will have a strong effect on protecting existing jobs (60,000 by 2020) while also generating new employment.

“The new AM UK National Strategy aims to provide a means for achieving increased global market share and believes that AM will see exponential growth as the barriers are overcome.

“The UK is well placed to take full advantage of this rapidly expanding market. We are already at the forefront of the advancements in AM and already a global force in advanced materials, technology, life sciences and high value manufacturing,” added Dr. Unwin. “The UK is also equipped with a strong capability in universities, Catapults and R&D organisations.

“The UK government sees encouraging innovation as a key priority for helping our economy to grow. It has already supported research into AM with over £200m of funding over the last five years; a vital investment which will help us to reshore services that have already disappeared overseas.
“Until now, the supply chain process has been extremely frustrating. This is fundamental to the AM UK National Strategy. Although UK research and innovation in this technology is absolutely top flight, we haven’t had the supply chain, so many designers have found solutions abroad. The AM UK National Strategy aims to enable more to be done here. The strategy considers the entire supply chain, with efforts focussed on producing the most effective outcome that will see a transformation in the way businesses operate.”

Additive manufacturing will revolutionise businesses globally by providing a radically new method of production, enabling new and better designs to be realised at lower cost with enhanced productivity and greater sustainability.

“This strategy is about communication; that AM is here to stay, well-proven and will make a huge difference,” explained Dr. Unwin. “Our primary focus is on the high value manufacturing sector; to help this key group of companies and industries to move on by understanding the diversity of AM applications.

Upskilling the workforce

“One theme we will be focussing on is upskilling the workforce,” added Dr. Unwin. “Integrating AM into manufacturing is not easy, and a huge cost. AM has been the most exciting change-maker in medical technology, but we need more facilities around the UK to try out AM to realise its huge potential. The skills base is crucial. We need to equip our designers and engineers across the spectrum with the skills they require to take AM forward in order to catch up with the rest of the world and establish more UK businesses as major players in the global market.

“There are currently a small number of well-trained, experienced AM experts who are leading the way. We need our students of today – and those of tomorrow – to grow up with the knowledge of this technology if we are to really make headway.

“The High Value Manufacturing Catapult, and specifically the National Centre for AM – hosted by the Manufacturing Technology Centre (The MTC) can help industry to exploit the competitive advantage to be gained by using this technology with the help of AM UK. The collaboration will develop a strong network of additive experts in the UK to support knowledge transfer and create a showcase for additive manufacturing to demonstrate how well it works in practice. It will also identify any barriers in technology or the market to break them down.

“As we head into Brexit, additive manufacturing can make a real change in the UK and we will be devising the training and education programmes needed to provide the additive manufacturing engineers of the future.”

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Latest technologies on show 08/06/2017

Taking place on 6th and 7th July at Newcastle's Metro Radio Arena, the Manufacturing & Engineering North East exhibition and conference provides an opportunity for industry professionals to meet, talk and discover the latest technologies.

The event comprises keynote conference sessions from industry, leading speakers, case study workshop sessions, and an exhibition of more than 90 machinery, equipment and service providers.

Conference sessions will focus on opportunities for growth in the North East and future manufacturing technology. Hitachi Rail will open the conference by explaining how it developed a four year blueprint for building the fully operational site at Newton Aycliffe. With a resurgence of manufacturing industries in the region, IMechE will examine how that growth is making a difference to the economy regionally and nationally.

Visitors will hear from the founder of Ford Aerospace about how diversification has enabled the company to continue to grow. The Manufacturing Technology Centre will highlight the opportunities and challenges of additive manufacturing, and the AMRC’s head of the Factory 2050 project will be discussing the 4th industrial revolution and what it will mean for UK manufacturers.

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Food for thought 06/02/2017

When it comes to productivity, food and drink is one of the few UK sectors that has a positive story to tell. IPE takes a look at some of the developments that will help maintain this advantage and ensure the industry remains competitive

If you regularly shop in supermarkets and keep an eye on the amount you spend, the chances are that you will have recently noticed the effects of inflation creeping into your checkout transaction as the weaker pound results in higher cost for manufacturers. And while at the moment the increased prices seem unavoidable – the sector has been warning that prices will have to go up since the Brexit vote triggered Sterling depreciation – there is plenty of work going on behind the scenes which will potentially help to counteract this, and indeed address other challenges faced by the food and drink sector.

Providing in excess of 400,000 direct jobs and predicted by the Food & Drink Federation to require almost 110,00 new recruits by 2022, the sector in the UK accounts for almost 16% of total manufacturing turnover (£81.8bn), and has doubled exports over ten years to £12.8bn in 2014. The gross value added to the economy by the food and drinks sector is £21.9bn, nearly equating to automotive and aerospace combined, and of the approximately 6,620 businesses it is made up of, 96% are micro to medium-sized. In contrast to the rest of the economy, UK food and drink productivity has increased by 11% over the last five years compared to an overall UK productivity increase of 0.5%.

UK food and drink productivity has increased by 11% over the last five years compared to an overall UK productivity increase of 0.5%

Helping the food and drink sector in the UK and worldwide stay ahead of the game  National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering at Sheffield Hallam, headed up by director, Dr Martin Howarth, has a remit to address the challenges faced by the food and drink industry by developing innovative engineering solutions and supporting the development of critical skills. Broadly, work at the centre comes under one of two functions: an educational agenda, and collaborative innovation and R&D.

“The centre is set up to work with the Food & Drink Federation and partners - which include Mars, Nestle UK and Warburtons to name a few – to develop innovation in engineering solutions to provide capability and competitiveness, delivering a new breed of engineers that can come in and support the sector in taking the necessary steps forward,” says Dr Howarth.

To deliver on the educational agenda, there is a suite of courses taking students through to become qualified engineers. The MEng in Food Engineering, the first such programme in the UK, has been designed by the food sector with support from the centre at Hallam. Dr Howarth also points to work that is being done to ensure students on mechanical and chemical engineering courses are fully aware of the opportunities that are available with the food and drink sector.

“By undertaking a placement within the food sector and taking some specific modules that give them some greater expertise around food processing, students will be more attractive to and more appropriate for the sector,” he says.

From September there will also be the opportunity for students to embark on a degree apprenticeship scheme, giving them the ability to earn while they learn.

Case studies

Complementing the educational side of its work, the centre has already established what Dr Howarth describes as a great reputation within the sector for being able to deliver in collaborative R&D, which encompasses projects with manufacturers, equipment providers and IT systems providers.

In one example, the centre has worked with Humberside-based William Jackson Food Group to find cost effective ways of recovering the waste heat generated by ovens used in baking operations. Principally covering work based around heat exchanger plates and thermo fluids that form part of the heat exchanger mechanism, the project has involved developing refrigerants to be more efficient and resistant to debris build up from waste coming up through the heat stack.

“It’s interesting that this technology originated from a student at the university,” says Dr Howarth. “It started out as a student’s piece of work, which then went on to a knowledge transfer partnership, and has now developed into this much larger project at William Jackson.”

Another heat exchanger challenge has been addressed, this time at Nestle York’s Kit Kat production facility, where around 65% of energy was being lost from the oven. The solution has come in the form of recycling the lost energy back into the oven by preheating it with an incoming airstream. Substantial savings in fuel consumption are predicted, typically translating, says Dr Howarth, into savings of around £50k per year for each installation – the York facility has four ovens and there are three additional sites around Europe of the similar size, so as well as monetary savings, the reduced CO2 emissions are also notable.

Substantial savings in fuel consumption are predicted, typically translatinginto savings of around £50k per year for each installation

A further project with Nestle, this time at its milk processing plant in Dalston, Cumbria, addresses the challenges arising from the way that the characteristics and properties of milk varies from farm to farm, and also throughout the season. As the protein levels and fat content, in particular the free fatty acids within the milk, change it impacts on the process control of equipment delivering milk powder as an output.

“We are undertaking an in-depth analysis of the milk components and its composition to understand its integration with the process,” says Dr Howarth. “In other words what the factory is trying to do is to fine tune the process so that it’s much more energy efficient, much more productive and is significantly reducing waste generated.”

Connectivity trends

In common with all sectors, there is little doubt that key strategic themes such as quality, sustainability, flexibility, resilience, efficiency and safety can all be addressed to some extent or other using automation. For example, Mitsubishi Electric’s Jeremy Shinton cites automation and increased connectivity as a means of boosting productivity, eliminating the inconsistencies that inevitably result from manual control adjustments, reducing the costs associated with intensive manual operations, and increasing overall efficiency.

Increasingly, trends in connectivity are focused on bringing myriad sensors and field devices into the network. Intelligent sensor networks integrate the likes of fluid sensors, RFID, optoelectronic safety devices, distance and proximity sensors, and bar code scanners, delivering huge amounts of data into the control system and higher level business systems.

This is entering the realm of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and the Internet of Things (IoT). M2M/IoT connectivity within food processing plants is increasingly over Ethernet, as more and more smart devices are developed with their own IP addresses, but it might also come over wireless GSM standards, or it might integrate legacy RS232 or HART devices through Ethernet gateways.

IoT connectivity within food processing plants is increasingly over Ethernet, as more and more smart devices are developed with their own IP addresses

Widely distributed intelligence and remote sensors generating lots of information, linked over open standard protocols, form a digital nervous system within the food plant. This networked digital data can then be combined into bi-directional systems that integrate data, people, processes and systems for better decision making.

Industrial PCs

According to Distec, pressure on plant managers to cut costs and drive efficiency means that commercial-grade computers are often chosen for use in food applications that firmly require industrial computers designed specifically for the challenges of the sector.

The problem is that commercial-grade computers are designed for dry, office, environments where they will typically run for under ten hours a day and use forced convection to cool the machine through built-in vents if it gets hot.

In comparison, industrial plants — whether they are processing and packaging raw meat or washing fruit and vegetables — are wet, temperature-controlled, continuous production environments where industrial computers can be expected to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Add to this the fact that equipment in many food applications like abattoirs, fish and poultry packaging, needs to be washed-down with high-pressure washers to prevent the build up of organic matter on surfaces, choosing a computer with a sufficient level of ingress protection and one that is made of rustproof and easy to clean materials is vital.

Industrial buyers should choose PCs where the ergonomic design features include screens without bezels and touchscreen inputs that can be used with gloves. This eliminates the need for a keyboard and mouse. If manual inputs are needed then opting for a fully enclosed PC with ingress protection, capable of withstanding prolonged use and high levels of vibration and shock is vital.

Choosing a computer with a sufficient level of ingress protection and one that is made of rustproof and easy to clean materials is vital

Users that need dedicated networking and connectivity options in addition to wireless connections should choose PCs that offer integrated PCI expansion network cards sealed within the unit with gland plates to prevent ingress. When attaching devices like scanners and printers it's important to ensure that the wires and connectors are also sealed and ingress rated.

Unified control

Space limitations and other constraints dictated by existing equipment can be the cause of many challenges when it comes to automation in the food and drink sector. Supplier of meat products, ready meals and delicatessen items to Swedish and Danish markets, Atria has chosen an integrated and compact robotic cell co-engineered by Omron and Case-Link to replace manual crate-packing, helping quadruple operational speeds while working within the physical restrictions of legacy systems.

The solution needed to take SRS (Swedish Return System) plastics crates from an existing overhead conveyor and load them with packaged meat from a separate infeed.

The Case-Link/Omron partnership won the contract against four other bidders. “All the other suppliers proposed two different machines: one to handle the SRS crates and another to package the products,” says Omron field application engineer Ulf Svensson. “But our proposal integrates the crate-handling into our single machine.”

Importantly, controls for the elevator bringing crates down from the high-level conveyor are also integrated into the controls for the robotic pick-and-place unit.

In fact, the graphical user interface (GUI) not only brings together all of the cell’s networked vision, control, robot safety, I/O and server activities in a single display, but it also simplifies start-up and trouble-shooting.

The operator simply selects a product from a menu and presses the ‘start’ or ‘stop’ button as required. In the event of an alarm or malfunction, the GUI displays a graphic of the machine, highlighting the zone which requires attention. In addition, Omron’s built-in trouble-shooter provides explanations of any error codes which helps to reduce downtime.

Each cell combines a Delta robot with four standard G5 servo drives, Omron’s Sysmac automation platform, an NJ controller and an NS8 human-machine interface (HMI), among other features. It uses EtherCAT as the fieldbus system.

The integral FH Vision system plays a critical role – or in fact multiple roles, calculating product co-ordinates and orientation for the robot but also carrying out a series of quality checks. These include determining: whether the pack contains product; whether the product is displayed correctly; whether the label is correct; and whether the label carries a barcode.

100% food derived

NSK has developed what is report to be the world´s first grease lubricant that is 100% derived from food grade ingredients. The development represents a breakthrough for any plants where machinery, production equipment or devices come into contact with foods, pharmaceuticals or cosmetics. Furthermore, the new H3G grease is ideal for any application that is suited to the lubricant´s additional strengths of water resistance and low torque.

Typical applications range from food machinery such as shakers, fillers, centrifugal separators, bottling machines and conveyors, through to pharmaceutical, cosmetics and medical process devices, including pumps. Importantly, the environmentally friendly grease conforms to the highest international standards for safety regarding products that may come into accidental contact with food.

From an environmental perspective, the grease is naturally biodegradable and produces no toxic waste, making it both non-polluting and fully sustainable.

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Steamcrackers will be gradually restarted at BASF 20/10/2016

Three killed in BASF chemical plant explosion in Germany.

Following an intensive assessment of the safety status and in close coordination with the Southern Structure and Licensing Directorate (Struktur- und Genehmigungsdirektion Süd), both steamcrackers at BASF in Ludwigshafen will be gradually restarted over the next few days. During the restart process, excess gases will be burned off through flaring. In the early hours of October 20, 2016 and over the next few days, this will most likely result in flaring and increased noise in the northern part of the site.

Both steamcrackers were shut down as a result of a fire in the North Harbor on October 17, 2016, due to the interruption in raw material supply. As a result, additional Verbund plants in the ethylene and propylene value chains were shut down or production reduced. In total, 24 plants have been shut down, including both steamcrackers, due to the fire. Some of the plants were able to continue producing using existing raw material inventory.

BASF is currently preparing an alternative naphtha supply for the steamcrackers via the harbor on Friesenheim Island. This supply is decoupled from the incident area. When the steamcrackers are started up, most of the affected plants will also be gradually restarted or will increase production over the next few days.

The fire damaged various pipelines including those for externally purchased raw materials. Therefore, BASF has declared Force Majeure for the purchase of naphtha, ethylene and propylene.

Currently, various measures are being evaluated to minimize the impact on customer deliveries. BASF is in close contact with its customers to keep them informed about the current availability of products.

Status of logistics
The North Harbor is currently not operational. The riverside harbor, the harbor on Friesenheim Island and the tank farms are functional. Fluids can be handled at the harbor on Friesenheim Island. At the river harbor fluids and solids can be handled.

Gate 15 is currently closed. Trucks that arrive at the site should drive to the parking area of the sewage plant. There they will receive further instructions from BASF employees and will be forwarded to gates 12, 11 and 6 for dispatch.  

The intermodal transport terminal is currently closed for safety reasons. The facility is not damaged and can be accessed after being cleared. The railway system was also not damaged by the incident. The train service on-site is available. The incoming and outgoing rail traffic is being handled via the southern exit, since the northern exit is currently closed due to safety reasons. The passenger traffic between the Ludwigshafen main station and the site is available.

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