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Welcome 11/07/2019

Welcome to the 2019/20 edition of AirUser - your independent guide to air powered systems. This is the 23rd edition of the guide and this year we are excited to bring you a mix of informative articles from leading experts in the compressed air field, complemented by a wide range of manufacturer and supplier profiles and an extensive directory that lists both manufacturers and distributors.

Despite these uncertain times it is a positive story for the compressed air sector where, in both number of units sold, and the KW capacity of those units, the market for new equipment has continued to grow to the end of the first quarter of 2019. Vanda Jones, executive director, The British Compressed Air Society, explains in the BCAS report: "For our manufacturing members, the market’s thirst for numbers of new compressors and the kilowatts of power that they produce has not seen a down turn."

It seems no area of manufacturing is untouched by Industry 4.0 which is now clearly starting to take effect, meaning compressed air users need to consider the opportunities it can present for improving performance, identifying inefficiencies and optimising equipment processes. According to BCAS the challenge for equipment suppliers now – and compressed air systems producers are no exception to this – is to move beyond the theory and the conversations to practical application.

Compressed air is often referred to as the fourth utility, with the electrical energy used to drive air compressors equating to approximately 10 per cent of all the electricity used in the UK so as ever energy efficiency is a key topic in this year's guide. A key challenge for operators therefore is to improve bottom line productivity by considering the total cost of equipment ownership over its entire life, rather than just its initial capital price - more on this in our key article about energy efficiency. 

Following the British Compressed Air Society’s (BCAS) publication of its ‘Filtration and Drying of Compressed Air’ best practice guide earlier this year, this year's guide also includes a very useful article outlining some of the key areas to consider when selecting the appropriate air treatment equipment for the application.

With the PSSR Regulations 2000 an ever popular topic, also not to be missed in this issue is our handy checklist for AirUser readers on the key areas of the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000 (PSSR).

And don't forget to check out our regular myth busters feature where Roy Brooks, BCAS technical development officer sorts out the fact from the fiction. 

We hope that you enjoy the guide and as ever we are extremely grateful to all our contributors and supporters with a special mention for Vanda and the BCAS team. Your feedback and suggestions for next year's guide is always welcome. 

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Tech start-up to half the cost of CNC Machined Parts 10/07/2019

London-based CloudNC has launched a new era for CNC machined parts with the opening of the first of several planned UK factories offering aerospace-grade quality at a fraction of the price of existing alternatives.

In what has been dubbed a step-change for CNC machining, the company has set its sights on rapid global expansion into the £100bn global industry responsible for the manufacture of parts for everything from the aircraft and automotive industries, to consumer, medical, defence, and oil & gas applications.

At the heart of the new approach is breakthrough AI software developed by CloudNC which shortens the programming time for CNC machining of parts from days or weeks of an expert’s time, to just a few minutes - with no expertise required. The software also leverages the huge computing power available in the cloud to vastly reduce machining cycle times over what is currently possible, resulting in a corresponding reduction in production cost. These two advantages combine to enable breakthrough pricing whether producing a single unit, or hundreds of thousands. 

But there is much more to the start-up than AI software. As Co-founder and CEO Theo Saville explains, CloudNC is entirely focused on building the world’s most efficient, most flexible factories, making machining faster, cheaper and at a much higher quality by applying the best practices of hypergrowth technology companies to manufacturing. 

“Starting with a clean slate means we’ve been able to apply a digital-first approach from the outset, without needing to consider integrating existing legacy systems or technologies. Apart from our software, we’re also applying the best industry 4.0 technology available to make Factory 1 as efficient and flexible as possible – and where that technology doesn’t exist, or isn’t mature enough in our sector, we’re designing it.”

Creating the gold standard in manufacturing involves developing a business structure and approach that is more common in hyper-growth tech start-ups than in manufacturing, and CloudNC places a high value on attracting, retaining and developing the best talent across all areas of the business from production to software engineering.  After all, says Saville, “technology can’t change the world on its own; it needs to be combined with amazing people who can make it happen.”

Factory 1, which opened in the spring in Chelmsford, Essex, is the first CloudNC factory and the exemplifies the CloudNC approach. Using the best CNC machinery available from the likes of DMG Mori and Mazak, it also applies robotics from Erowa and embraces Industry 4.0 principles of connectivity and automation to deliver a faster, more reliable CNC parts machining experience to customers. According to Saville, “CloudNC is on a development curve that has not been seen in the manufacturing space before. Just six months ago our Chelmsford site was just a couple of guys with laptops and some camping equipment. Now it is a highly efficient, highly automated facility functioning close to capacity and we are looking at Factory 2 and beyond while we continue to implement more autonomous I4 technologies at Factory 1 and apply what we learn at every step.”

CloudNC’s ultimate mission is to provide a service that is fully automated. The pricing, the manufacture; even the raw materials will be shipped in and loaded automatically by robots in state-of-the-art factories. Inspection, verification, packaging and fulfilment will also be carried out autonomously, further reducing the time and cost of CNC parts manufacture for industry. Expert staff will take over only in the most challenging and interesting scenarios. 

The company was founded in 2015 by CEO Theo Saville and CTO and software engineer Chris Emery. It has grown to employ more than 70 staff including some the world’s leading software engineers and a management team with vast experience scaling tech start-ups to become some of the most successful companies in the world, including the likes of Uber, Betfair, and Fetchr. Also within the leadership team is cutting-edge experience with Industry 4.0 and greenfield assembly of massive scale Aerospace, Space and Automotive operations.

Since launch, the company has benefitted from multiple government grants and support from government agencies including InnovateUK, the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) and Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG). CloudNC has also raised more than £11.5 million in Venture Capital (VC) funding to date, from some of the top investors in the world, that it used to develop the powerful AI software from the ground up and open Factory 1 in spring 2019.

Chief Commercial Officer, Rami Saab, says that CloudNC offers a window into the future, “a revolution that is gathering momentum, and it’s coming not a moment too soon for industry” he says.  And the best part, according to Saab, is that now CloudNC is operational, “the only thing customers need to do to get a taste for the future for CNC machining is to send us a CAD design for a part or product, and see for yourself how quickly and cost effectively we can deliver a superior result.”
 

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€4m project under way to train next generation of 5G experts 10/07/2019

A NEW generation of experts in 5G networks will be trained by the University of Huddersfield, which has been awarded funding of more than a million euros for its central role in a Europe-wide project involving ten academic and industrial partners.

There will be a focus on embedding artificial intelligence into 5G systems, the use of drone-based technology to improve communications, and new “beam-forming” antennae that will direct a separate beam towards every phone user.  Researchers will also have opportunities that include an experimental 5G network at the Olympic Stadium in Athens.

The scheme is titled MOTOR5G, which stands for MObility and Training fOR beyond 5G Ecosystems.  The EU’s Horizon 2020 programme was deeply impressed by the proposal document, awarding it a rare 100 per cent rating and confirming total funding of 3,979,000 euros, of which the biggest single share – 1,212,690 euros – will be allotted to the University of Huddersfield.

Its Reader in Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Dr Pavlos Lazaridis – a key member of the consortium – will be a joint supervisor of four fully-funded doctoral researchers to be appointed to MOTOR5G, alongside Reader in High Performance Computing Dr Violeta Holmes plus senior lecturers in Electronic Engineering Dr Qasim AhmedDr Faheem Khan and Dr Maryam Hafeez.

The PhD researchers will be based at the University of Huddersfield for lab work and theoretical study, but will also spend significant amounts of time with the project’s partners, and the aim is that they will advance the state of the art in many dimensions of 5G.

For example, they will research antennae at the HQ of Munich-based Rohde & Schwarz – leading manufacturers of information and communications technology products – and will train in metrology at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory.

Another of the highly-varied opportunities for the MOTOR5G researchers will be their involvement in a 5G-based video production and distribution network to be set up in the Olympic Stadium in Athens.

In addition to their technical training and research work, the MOTOR5G appointees will also develop their communication skills, making presentations at conferences and working with a wide range of partners.

MOTOR5G was unveiled and discussed during a session at the two-day event titled 5G and Beyond: techno-business innovation, which took place at the University of Huddersfield, under the aegis of the CTIF Global Capsule, an international network with a mission to develop interdisciplinary research in information and communications technology.

Among those taking part were representatives of several MOTOR5G partners.  Alongside Dr Lazaridis, they included Professor Ramjee Prasad and Professor Peter Lindgren of Aarhus University in Denmark, Dr Zaharias Zaharis of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and Professor Tian Hong Loh of the National Physical Laboratory.

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Food for thought 15/07/2019

With a recent industry report identifying a shortage of qualified people coming through the education system with the skills that businesses in the food and drink sector need to compete successfully, Charlotte Stonestreet looks at how automation can be used to alleviate the problem

Despite the recent rise in numbers of people having to use food banks, the UK has enjoyed a prolonged period of unprecedented abundance of affordable food and drink. According to the Food and Drink Federation, the UK’s food and drink supply chain contributes more than £121 billion annually to the economy. It employs more than four million people – 14 per cent of the total UK workforce. 99 per cent of our firms are micro to medium-sized. The industry ensures UK consumers can reliably access safe, affordable and nutritious food and drink at all price points.

Innovation in production, highly competitive just-in-time supply chains and rapid export growth to a record £22.6 billion in 2018 meant consumers benefited from a 6.7 per cent reduction in real terms prices over the last decade. Production is so widely dispersed that it touches every community of the UK. Every constituency in the country has a substantial workforce directly employed in the food and drink sector.

As part of a collective of more than 30 organisations from across the UK's food and drink supply chain, the Food & Drink Feneration has published A Recipe for Growth, Prosperity and Sustainability: the UK Food and Drink Industry's Plan for Success, a call-to-action for governments to support and champion the sector.

The publication sets out a clear vision for how for policymakers across Whitehall and the devolved nations can support the industry and, it is hoped, will provide 'food-for-thought', as the UK Government begins drawing up plans for an holistic National Food Strategy, with a focus on post-Brexit food policy.

One of the challenges identified in the publication is that of a shortage of qualified people coming through the education system with the skills that businesses need to innovate and compete successfully. The sector expects to grow higher skilled, better paid employment as the it adopts more automation and digitalisation. A programme of co-investment is identified as a possible route to ensure the next generation benefits from better, higher-skilled jobs in every part of the UK, as well as supporting productivity growth in SMEs by encouraging increased uptake of automation.

Fully automated pick & place

While SMEs may still need encouragement in adopting automation, many larger companies are already reaping the benefits. In one example, over the last 18 months Brillopak has installed a range of fully automated pick and place packing lines at three of Morrisons fresh produce and fruit manufacturing sites.

Jason Kelly, Head of Operations for Morrisons Manufacturing has led the automation strategy across their fresh produce business, which includes the recent Brillopak systems installed at Rushden, Thrapston and Gadbrook.

All three sites are delivering improved in-store presentation for apples, potatoes and other root vegetables. What’s more, the turnkey systems can be easily adapted to handle reusable and renewable packaging formats reports Rushden’s site manager Andy Day.

Commenting on how automating fresh produce lines can lead to a higher quality product and efficiency improvements, Jason says: “The characteristics fresh produce means that gentle handling is essential to prevent damage and costly waste. Equally important is the need to retain product freshness.”

Historically, the Rushden packhouse, which cleans, stores, packs and distributes thousands of tonnes of potatoes every year, loaded bags of flow wrapped potatoes manually into crates. Now, thanks to two fully-automated and two semi-automated pick, pack and palletising lines, the Northamptonshire site has enhanced its potato packing precision and transformed its operation from an unergonomic roundtable manual crate separation and case loading method, to a safer, high speed, optimised potato packing process. Similar turnkey lines were installed at Gadbrook.

Because of the efficiency of the already automated back end section of the warehouse, the Brillopak packing systems needed to boost the pick and place line speed. Rather than commission a ready-made robotic system, the Rushden team worked collaboratively with Brillopak to engineer a new pick and pack concept.

Unlike other depots that wash, grade, pack, palletise and send out in the same day, Rushden has a separate wash, store, pack and case loading area. Because there’s more fresh produce being processed and stored, space at Rushden is at a premium.

Comprising two long stretches of conveyor feeding bagged potatoes from the manufacturing and bagging operations, each automated line features eight Brillopak elements.

At the start of the line a crate destacker unit lifts and feeds Morrisons’ retail trays at a consistent speed and continuous stream on conveyors to the dexterous P180 spider arm robotic cell. Snaking alongside are the product conveyors. Rumble technology is fitted to a small section on each conveyor to help settle the packs as the feed single file into each P180 Spider Arm Unipick Dual Robot Cell.

Rather than using gripper end effectors that would pierce the potato bags, Brillopak designed a glove-like end effector that wraps around each potato pack robot arm lowering rapidly yet gently into trays at very high speeds.

Filled trays then pass over a vibration panel to settle the potato packs in the crates. This ensures packs don’t get caught when the bale arms close. If the bale arm is damaged, the crate is rejected and the potatoes are returned to the start of the packing process for reprocessing.

The filled crates of potatoes then pass to a double crate stacker, which places one loaded crate on top of the other. From here the double stack is presented to the integrated yet compact palletiser.

For maximum efficiency, Brillopak’s compact palletiser accommodates two pallet stacks side-by-side. When one stack is full the cell door slides open and the full pallet is removed. To protect workforce Health & Safety, only when the cell door closes, does palletising on the remaining empty pallet resume.

Automation & dairy products

Meanwhile Dewlay Cheesemakers has commissioned a new automation system to help apply the expertise of its finest cheesemakers to a wider range of cheeses. The challenge was to introduce new varieties while continuing to deliver exceptional batch quality and consistency. Tritec Developments has provided a solution incorporating hardware from Mitsubishi Electric to develop an advanced tracking and monitoring solution to help supervise and manage the individual processes.

Richard Jones, Operations Director at Dewlay says: “We believe cheesemaking is a mix of art and science as it relies on living organisms. As a result, we need to be able to address this variability by having access to key process parameters and curd quality attributes, as well as by responding quickly to optimise the reactions taking place within the vats.

“We see increasing the varieties of cheese we offer while maintaining our artisan qualities, as an ideal way to expand the business. However, it makes the tracking and monitoring of each vat even more challenging. In fact, the family-owned business uses 20 different cheesemaking recipes, which can vary in the ingredients used and in the processing sequences.”

He adds: “Ours is a fast-paced production environment simply because we have so many cheese vats at different stages of the production cycle, following individual recipes. Our cheesemakers had been doing their best to keep track of timing and procedures manually for all the active vats by relying on their memory, continuously looking at the clock and making notes. However, this approach is not optimal and doesn’t support continuing growth.”

To address these issues and ensure consistent quality throughout the year, Dewlay decided to support its cheesemakers with an automated control system. One that would help them to monitor the vats by providing live, accurate, actionable insight, without limiting the ability of cheesemakers to intervene and modify the curd production process.

To develop a suitable system, the company contacted local control system integrator TRITEC Developments. The team at TRITEC Developments turned to its preferred automation supplier Mitsubishi Electric to help create a bespoke solution. The components selected were supplied by Mitsubishi Electric’s channel partner LC Automation.

Dewlay’s cheesemakers can now monitor the different cheese vats simultaneously, receive alarms as well as adjust the processes parameters in real-time and according to their expertise. The primary interface is a Mitsubishi Electric GOT2000 Human-Machine Interface (HMI). This touch-screen operator terminal was networked to a MELSEC FX3 Series programmable logic controller (PLC).

The control system quickly fulfilled Dewlay’s expectations by ensuring flexible operation and simple process tracking. It has allowed Dewlay to expand by increasing the number of cheese vats that can be monitored as well as the number of possible recipes in use. This allows existing products to be produced more efficiently, alongside perfecting new ones that can then be added to the overall production schedule. The upgrades also resulted in an increase in productivity and overall efficiency.

Food palletising digitalisation

Palletising robots have proven popular in the food sector as they increase productivity, improve working conditions and can be easily integrated into existing production systems. However, the process of integrating palletising robots has traditionally relied on computer assisted design (CAD) drawings and involved a lot of estimation.

To quicken this step, virtual commissioning is becoming increasingly popular among plant managers, often using ABB’s innovative suite of virtual commissioning tools. Instead of using CAD, the process is modeled in 3D which provides an accurate visualization of a factory layout. This allows plant engineers to see a digital representation of how the robot will integrate and move within the process and allows them to discover and resolve any potential technical issues before they become a reality, reducing commissioning time by up to 25 per cent.

While developments such as virtual commissioning and remote monitoring technologies both keep factories running, it is the offline programming software that yields efficiency benefits for plant managers. This is software that allows the remote programming of palletising robots without interrupting production.

For example, if a retailer usually asks for four-packs of tinned soup but decides to offer a 50 per cent-extra-free offer, the palletising robot will be required to change palletising patterns accordingly. Failure to do this effectively could result in businesses being unable to supply a sufficient amount of product to retailers, which leads to lost contracts and the risk of heavy supplier fines.

Plant managers can prevent this by digitally reprogramming palletising robots using offline software such as ABB’s RobotStudio, which can be accessed using a standard PC to change palletising patterns. This reduces the time taken to change over and boosts overall productivity to ensure that demands are met.

Strawberry-picking robots

Way before the food industry supply chain gets to palletisation, agriculture too is seeing more and more automation implemented. In fact, Wimbledon fans, who consume 34 thousand kilos of strawberries every year, could soon get their strawberries picked by a small group of new robots that are capable of picking enough fruit for the championships in less than a week. Unveiled by the ACTPHAST 4.0 innovation incubator, it would take just 14 of these new robots less than 7 days to pick and package all the perfect, red, unblemished strawberries needed for Wimbledon.

The ‘Rubion’ bot picks and packages ripe strawberries, bruise-free every 5 seconds with its delicate clasping mechanism, and has the ability to deliver up to 360 kilograms every single day.

Depending on the skill and experience, an enthusiastic human picker can collect around 50 kilograms in a day but will need to take breaks, be prepared to work for very little and can be tempted to eat some of the sumptuous berries.

From beneath, the robot picks individual strawberries grown in raised bedding a few feet off the floor and can sort the fruits by size or weight and pack into punnets as it goes along.

Described as a ‘revolution’ in harvesting fruit, the strawberry-picking robot collects soft fruits like a human, bruise-free at a rate of 11,500 berries (between 180 and 360kg) in a 16-hour day.

With its patented arm-mechanism the robotic picker detects a ripe strawberry with lasers before literally ‘clasping’ a hanging berry from beneath.

ACTPHAST 4.0 supported OCTINION, an R&D company specialising in providing robotic solutions to agriculture and food, to develop the Rubion bot.

CEO and founder Dr Tom Coen explains: “The picking of soft fruits with machines has always been tricky given that they are so easy to get squashed and the sensitivity needed to discern whether a fruit was ripe or rotten, simply wasn’t there.”
 
“However, Rubion, our autonomous strawberry-picking robot is a novel way around this problem. It is comparable to a human in many ways: the robot only picks the finest fresh, red berries and will not bruise or hurt the strawberries in any way.”

Rubion uses photonic sensors to detect the wavelengths of light, or the ‘signatures’ given off from a ripe, red strawberry according to a pre-programmed set of characteristics the RGB camera built into the ‘eye’ of the robot.

Motors for food packaging

A key player in the food packaging sector, Oriental Motors can supply motors for the whole production line:

- Brushless DC (BLDC) Motors - The majority of food packaging on supermarket shelves is made with a thermoforming machine that uses a hot press to mould the packaging material into the desired tray shape. BLDC motors with hollow shaft right angle gearheads deliver high torque for driving the presses. Standard geared types are ideal for tension control of the packaging material and for winding up the waste material, as well as driving the completed tray conveyor.

- Stepper Motors - Portion control is an essential element of the food production industry; with their extremely precise positioning and rapid indexing rate, advanced stepper motor systems are well suited to these applications.

- AC & Brushless DC Motors - With precise torque monitoring, BLDC motors are ideal for checkweigher conveyor systems. These motors have IP66 ingress protection as standard, so are perfect where production line washdown is required.

- Stepper Motors & Brushless DC Motors - Tray sealers are used to apply cellophane lids to the food trays, hermetically sealing the food inside. Variable speed BLDC motors are used for positioning the trays for sealing and the rapid and accurate positioning capabilities of stepper motors are perfect for applying the lid.

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Export support investments announced 03/07/2019

UK Export Finance (UKEF) has published its annual report and accounts, showing it has provided support worth over £3 billion to exporters in the manufacturing industry.

This included support for the assembling of 250 bridges in Sri Lanka and the delivery of two satellites to Turksat in Turkey.

UKEF provided £49 million worth of support for Darlington-based firm Cleveland Bridge to construct 250 bridges for rural Sri Lankan communities. This project has been designed to accelerate Sri Lanka’s development through improvements in its rural transport infrastructure. Families and businesses will benefit directly from the project, which will reduce the distance people need to travel to reach essential services such as healthcare and education, as well as bringing rural communities closer together by cutting transport costs and improve access to markets.

UKEF also supported an Airbus Defence and Space Ltd UK contract with Turksat, the Turkish communications satellite operator. Airbus will manufacture and deliver, in orbit, two telecom satellites and a ground station, which will be essential for the continued provision of TV and data services in Turkey and the wider region. UKEF is providing a guarantee to support a loan of $325 million to the Turkish Ministry of Treasury and Finance to enable the purchase.

UKEF’s annual report and accounts show the department has had a landmark year, providing £6.8 billion in support for UK exports, a record since 1991*. Analysis shows that these exports have supported an estimated 47,000 UK full time jobs as demand for British goods across the globe continues to grow. 

Rt Hon. Dr Liam Fox MP, Secretary of State for International Trade, said: “Over the course of the last 100 years UK Export Finance has led the way in delivering innovative finance to help British companies achieve international success across a wide range of industries across the world. 

“I am delighted UKEF is marking its centenary with a record year, and as it continues into its second century is supporting not only the UK’s exporters, which are growing in number all the time, but also transformational projects which have a direct impact on the lives of citizens across the globe.

The report reveals that UKEF has supported 181 companies' exports to 72 countries. 79% of these companies were SMEs. A further 81 UK companies secured business by supplying to a project supported by UKEF.

During the year UKEF supported its largest ever transaction, providing a £5 billion package to support BAE Systems’ and MBDA UK’s contract with the government of Qatar. It also connected more than 300 companies with opportunities on overseas projects, and provided over £600 million in support for projects in sub-Saharan Africa as the Government looks to boost trade links between the UK and African countries.

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Wood product manufacturer fined after worker dragged into rotating shaft 03/07/2019

A St Helens wood product manufacturer and a company director have been fined after a worker was dragged into a rotating drive shaft at their site at Normans Road, Sutton, St Helens.

Liverpool Magistrates Court heard how, on the 30 June 2016, an agency worker  had been working on a production line making parts for staircases when her hair caught on a rotating drive shaft, resulting in the loss of her full scalp, ears and one of her thumbs. She suffered severe physical and mental trauma and has undergone numerous reconstructive operations and has been unable to return to work since the incident.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to adequately guard the production line, allowing access to dangerous parts of machinery, including conveyors and drive shafts, by employees and agency workers, during both operation and cleaning.

A return visit was made in April 2018 where it was discovered that the company had changed the layout of the production line, leaving accessible dangerous parts, including an identical shaft to the one which the victim was injured on. A Prohibition Notice and an Improvement Notice were served to address the risks.

The subsequent investigation showed that mill operatives were regularly accessing the strapping section while the machinery was still running, and the Production Director was aware of this.

Cheshire Mouldings and Woodturning Limited of Unit 7, Normans Road, Sutton, St Helens pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) and Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £466,666 and ordered to pay costs of £7,475.90 and a victim surcharge of £170.

Paul Carney of Springburn Gardens, Woolston, Warrington pleaded guilty to breaching Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £10,800, ordered to pay £43,241 in costs and £170 victim surcharge.

After the hearing HSE Principal Inspector Helen Jones said: “This incident, which was easily preventable, has had a devastating impact on the victim involved and those close to her. The company failed to prevent employees accessing dangerous moving parts of machinery. Had they ensured the machine was adequately guarded employees would not have been able to access moving parts and this tragic accident would have been avoided.”

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Manufacturing downturn deepens as UK PMI falls to lowest level since February 2013 02/07/2019

The UK manufacturing sector continued to feel the reverberations of the unwinding of earlier pre-Brexit stockpiling activity during June according to the IHS Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers’ Index.

The already high stock levels at both manufacturers and their clients led to a scaling back of output and new order intakes, with demand from both domestic and export markets weakening. At 48.0 in June, down from 49.4 in May, the headline seasonally adjusted IHS Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell for the third consecutive month to its lowest level since February 2013.

The PMI has posted below the no-change mark for two months in a row, the first back-to-back declines since early-2013.Manufacturing production contracted at the fastest pace since October 2012. Output was lowered in response to reduced intakes of new business, which fell to the greatest extent for almost seven years. There were reports that high stock levels, ongoing Brexit uncertainty, the economic slowdown and rising competition all contributed to the decreases in new orders and production.

Demand from domestic and foreign markets weakened during June. New export orders declined for the third straight month and at a rate close to May's four-and-a-half year high. Softer global economic growth and continued Brexit uncertainty were the main factors underlying the latest decrease. There was specific mention of reduced intakes of new work from the US, mainland Europe and Australia.

The intermediate goods sector was the worst affected by the downturn, seeing the steepest drops in output and new orders of the industries covered by the survey. Investment goods also saw contractions, with the rate of decline in new orders especially marked. Although the consumer goods sector eked out further growth, rates of expansion in output and new work suffered sharp slowdowns.

Business optimism dipped to its third-lowest level in the series history during June. That said, a number of companies still maintain a positive outlook. Almost 44% forecast that output will be higher in one year's time, compared to only 14% expecting a contraction. Hopes of a recovery in the autos sector, new product launches, planned growth and higher exports were all mentioned as factors underlying confidence.

Brexit uncertainty and softer global and domestic economic growth weighed on some firms' outlooks. Employment fell for the third straight month in June, with job losses seen in the intermediate and investment goods sectors. Reduced staffing reflected lower workloads, economic slowdown, Brexit uncertainty and hiring freezes. Backlogs of work fell at one of the fastest rates for six-and-a-half years. June saw a further increase in stocks of finished goods, although the rate of growth was down sharply from earlier in the year. Inventories of inputs meanwhile fell for the second month running, reflecting the depletion of Brexit stockpiles and reduced purchasing activity.

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Nuclear fusion facility under construction 28/06/2019

Scientists have started to build Britain’s largest privately owned nuclear fusion facility which will generate a plasma temperature hotter than the surface of the Sun at a site in Buckinghamshire.

The location near Bletchley, home to World War II’s codebreakers, is being developed by Pulsar Fusion, a company spearheaded by nuclear entrepreneur Richard Dinan. 

Mr Dinan and his team have shipped in state of the art equipment from around the world to fit out the new ground-breaking 10,000 sq ft facility. 

He is confident they will achieve the temperature target within the next three months which means they have created matter hot enough to replicate the temperature of the Sun right here in the UK. 

Mr Dinan is pictured below inside the vacuum chamber which will form the heart of the reactor and will soon reach temperatures above 100 million degrees Celsius. 

Once the facility is fully operative, Mr Dinan and his team of nuclear physicists plan to harness the technology to power a host of space exploration and advanced clean energy innovations. 

Facility

They claim fusion rockets hold the potential to halve journey times to Mars and even offer humanity the ability to leave our solar system.

The new technology will allow nuclear fusion to fuel propulsion; revolutionising space exploration could lead to the dawn of the  Star Trek  age where planets can be travelled to in days rather than months. 

Mr Dinan, (pictured right before the equipment moved in), is the author of The Fusion Age, a bestselling book on the possibilities of modern nuclear technologies. 

The former star of TV reality show  Made In Chelsea , has been working on nuclear fusion for six years. Last year he built a plasma space thruster by hand and has recently lectured at the Oxford University Science Society on private Nuclear Fusion reactors.

He said: “The opening of our facility at Bletchley is the culmination of several years work, not only by myself but by a dedicated team of talented clean nuclear visionaries. 

“It’s incredibly exciting to watch our plans and preparations come together to create something quite literally out of this world.

“Within three months from now we fully expect to reach first plasma, which in layman’s terms means we will have a device with a core temperature which replicates that of the sun.

“Not only does nuclear fusion have the potential to solve the world’s energy crisis but it will also lead to countless other technological innovations not least the tantalising possibility of high speed space travel.  

“Nuclear has a bad name because humans initially used its power to create weapons, but there is a totally safe, clean other side to it that is demonstrated by the stars. The same technology that allowed us to do the worst thing we have ever done, will give us the ability to do the best thing we will ever do, generate abundant, powerful clean energy.

Pulsar Fusion was set up out of a relationship with a lot of nuclear physicists who know the science is there now. Why should something that is possible today wait for tomorrow?”

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UK engineer firms leading the way in apprentice recruitment 28/06/2019

More than 50% of engineering firms in the UK have taken on an apprentice in the last two years a new survey by the Manufacturing Technologies Association and Close Brothers Asset Finance, has found.

The survey looked across a range of sectors, including Food and Drink, Retail, Recruitment and Services, finding that the only other sector employing apprentices at a similar rate to Engineering firms was Construction.

The survey also found that the biggest barrier to employing an apprentice was not the Apprenticeship Levy, but the lack of suitable candidates and problems with training providers.

Steve Gee, CEO of Close Brothers Asset Finance's industrial equipment division, said: “Over the past four years Close Brothers Asset Finance, working in partnership with the MTA and University of Sheffield AMRC Training Centre, have funded the training of 60 apprentices. It is very encouraging to see the results of this survey and we are proud of the part we have played.”

Under the scheme, Close Brothers Asset Finance has helped pay for apprentices to learn their skills at the University of Sheffield AMRC Training Centre, funding half of the new recruits’ wages during the first year and a quarter in the second. This has meant participating SMEs have not had to bear the full cost of employing the apprentices until they are making a positive contribution to their business. The first intake was in September 2015 and the scheme is still going strong today.

James Selka, CEO of the Manufacturing Technologies Association, said: “It is fantastic to see that engineering firms are leading the way in terms of recruiting the next generation of engineers. At the MTA we are committed to helping our members take on fresh talent by offering training grants and loans to help ease the financial burden of taking on new members of the team.”

He added: “The work we have done alongside Close Brothers Asset Finance and the University of Sheffield AMRC Training Centre has so far given 60 apprentices the best possible start to their careers. We will continue to champion our sector and the opportunities it provides.”

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Robots could take 20 million jobs by 2030 02/07/2019

Robots could take 20 million jobs across the globe by 2030 according to a new report from Oxford Economics, the global forecasting and quantitative analysis firm.

'How robots changed the world' suggest that about 8.5% of the global workforce could be displaced by robots with every new robot that is commissioned currently displacing an average of 1.6 manufacturing workers. 

Trends suggest the global stock of robots will multiply even faster in the next 20 years, reaching as many as 20 million by 2030, with 14 million in China alone.

The report says that automation is creating new jobs for those it displaces but rural areas are suffering with Cumbria set to be the worst hit area in the UK while London prospers worsening inequality. 

Transport, construction and maintenance and office and administration are highlighted as the most vulnerable to automation over the next ten years. 

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