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Keeping track of critical alarms during a pandemic 18/05/2020

As the impact of COVID-19 continues to cause disruption, some critical infrastructure sites are still operating with a skeleton crew of staff, while other industrial sites begin the slow process of coming out of lockdown.

Over the last few weeks, alarm specialist Omniflex has seen a surge in demand for its SMS and web-based alarm alert equipment that is used by its customers to remotely warn them when alarms sound. Now, the company is rolling out the technology to others in the mission-critical sectors to keep sites safe.

This remote alarm monitoring technology is designed for applications including electrical substations, utilities, nuclear, environmental and effluent monitoring, computer rooms, facilities management and unmanned sites. The systems also work with intrusion alarms and to deliver production downtime alerts.

Omniflex has three products that can be used for these applications: the SMS-based Teleterm Silent Sentry remote terminal unit (RTU), and the web-based Teleterm D3 and M3 series of programmable RTUs.

Silent Sentry connects to existing alarm annunciators using a standard Modbus serial connection

The Silent Sentry connects to existing alarm annunciators using a standard Modbus serial connection and can take up to 12 configurable analogue or digital signals. Once it detects an alarm condition, it can send up to 64 SMS messages to 10 different mobile numbers using its built-in GSM quad-band antenna.

Not only can the user acknowledge these alarms using their phone, the unit sends daily ‘I am alive’ status messages to let the user know the system is operational. The unit has a power rating of 9-30Vdc so that it can be used with a standby battery-backup.

“Many critical businesses are worried about monitoring their emergency alarm systems during lockdown, with many relying on their key workers to periodically visit their sites or have someone permanently on site,” explained Gary Bradshaw, UK director at Omniflex. “By fitting SMS and web-based technologies to their alarm systems, businesses can allow their workers to remotely monitor and control their alarms from the safety of their homes.

“It’s more important than ever that companies minimise the risk of fires, break-ins, electrical faults and other failures. This is why, over the last few weeks, Omniflex has been supporting its customers to fit this technology in some key sectors. One of these customers is Caltex, a brand name of Chevron Corporation, and Australia's largest fuel network, with over 1900 service stations across Australia. Caltex is using the Silent Sentry on many of its fuel distribution depots to monitor alarms during unmanned times of the day.”

For businesses that need the additional convenience of accessing their alarms remotely using a web-based system, Omniflex is offering its Teleterm D3 and M3 series of programmable RTUs. These units make use of Omniflex’s Data2Desktop web service, which allows customers to login using a desktop or mobile device to see the status of their alarms at any time and can receive email and app-based updates.

These units offer additional connectivity in the form of Ethernet for wired, desktop use, as well as two serial ports, 3G and a microSD card slot used for local alarm logging back-up. Both offer battery backups and configurable inputs and outputs and are fully programmable.

Both the SMS and web-based units are available at a competitive one-off cost per unit, with a small additional subscription cost for the web-based tools.

To find out more about how you can set up SMS and web alerts for your critical application, call 01614 914144 or visit the Omniflex website today.

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Fast fashion, faster robotics 18/05/2020

In the first application for Hikrobot in the UK, global fashion brand, Superdry, is leveraging the flexibility of intelligent mini-robot carriers to transform order picking and put-away at its UK hub – just part of a phased roll-out of goods-to-person robotics that will boost productivity across its international network of multi-channel fulfilment centres.

Superdry is an iconic, global fashion brand operating through 768 store locations in 65 countries. Since its foundation in Cheltenham in 1985, the business has experienced phenomenal growth and in 2019 reported revenue of £871 million – a success story built on a reputation for providing distinctive, high-quality products that fuse vintage Americana and Japanese inspired graphics with a British style.

As an omni-channel retailer competing in the fast-moving fashion sector, maintaining high product availability, efficient fulfilment and the rapid processing of returns is essential for ensuring the best possible customer experience across multiple channels – retail, wholesale and ecommerce. Critically, all of these competitive differentiators depend upon the fast, accurate and efficient picking of products from across Superdry’s extensive range of over 60,000 SKUs, held at the company’s three regional distribution centres in the UK, Europe and USA.

However, keeping pace with demand during peak periods can place a heavy burden on manual picking processes, especially when labour resources are tight – a challenge many businesses in retail face. To support future growth, Superdry’s multi-channel distribution operations are being radically transformed through automation in order to boost capacity and productivity across its order picking processes, globally.

In a significant departure from the company’s traditional approach to warehousing, where mainly manual processes have been used, Superdry has launched a major initiative to roll-out intelligent goods-to-person robotic systems across its international network of regional distribution centres. The robots work in unison with manual pickers, automatically selecting and lifting modular pick-walls and transporting them to pick-to-light stations where a predetermined pick-face is presented to the operative. Under the guidance of pick-to-light technology, items are manually selected scanned and placed for maximum speed and accuracy. Walk-time is eliminated, giving a design capability to offer up to 600 picks per hour, with 99.9% accuracy.

A successful pilot project for handling ecommerce returns was conducted in 2018, involving six autonomous Hikrobot carriers at the company’s UK distribution centre in Burton-upon-Trent – a site operated by its logistics service provider, Clipper Logistics. The robots were trialled under the most testing conditions, beneath an 8,000 sq ft mezzanine area of the warehouse to see how they performed. Following the success of the project, Superdry went on in January 2020 to deploy a further fleet of 20 Hikrobot carriers to handle continental ecommerce returns at its European DC in Belgium run by Bleckmann Logistics.

In the UK, Superdry’s ecommerce returns rate is around 25%, however, in Germany and other EU member states, that figure is far higher. Across Europe, including the UK, Superdry has 245 owned stores, 497 franchised and licensed stores, and 26 concessions.

Significant benefits have been realised through the introduction of robots. At the Burton-upon-Trent facility put-away of returns have dramatically risen from under 100 units per hour to rates of 300 – 350 per hour. Some 99% of returns can now be processed and re-dispatched within 24 hours, with many being re-dispatched within an hour. Present volumes allow for 180 picks an hour from mixed sku locations, double that of the previous manual operation, however, with higher volumes, single sku bins will enable picks of around 300 items per hour, or more when taking multiples from the same bin.

Other benefits from the robotic goods-to-person system include: increased accuracy, reduced cost per pick, no major infrastructure changes, enhanced flexibility and scalability, as well as greater storage density, which has reduced warehouse space requirements.  

This spring, the Burton-upon-Trent site sees the installation of 40 more Hikrobot robots in an expansion of the existing goods-to-person system. The enlarged operation will handle the entire picking and put-away of womenswear for retail, ecommerce and wholesale. Over 80,000 sq ft of the warehouse is being set out with 1000 transportable pick-wall modules and the area is being equipped with a total of twelve pick-to-light stations. The site is also being prepared for the 46-unit strong robot fleet by positioning QR codes on the floor for the robots to follow.

The simplicity of the robot guidance system allows for fast and flexible layout changes and the inherent flexibility of this modular approach facilitates easy expansion of the system. Should more robots be needed to boost capacity, they can be simply added.

Menswear will follow later with an estimated requirement for 60 more robots and expectations are for the further deployment of Hikrobot carriers in Belgium and the USA, as the project progresses.

Gordon Knox, Director of Logistics at Superdry, explains the reasons behind the investment: “The adoption of robotics has come about through a requirement to cut operating costs and to reduce our reliance on labour. The headcount we needed to attract during peak periods was resulting in us having to adjust our pay structure beyond what we ideally wanted to pay.”

He adds: “To increase outbound capacity, it wasn’t just a matter of hiring 10 more pickers, it was a case of ramping up other activities, such as replenishment, to support those additional pickers.”

Interestingly, the use of robots did not feature in Superdry’s initial thinking when it came to the use of automation. A few years ago, faced with an issue of mounting returns from stores, the business considered investing in an automated storage and retrieval system. The project would have required a commitment to heavy equipment being bolted to the floor and so was not seen as being flexible enough for any future changes that may occur in the business. As it happens, it was the right decision – the business model changed and store returns were dramatically reduced.

“This was a wake-up call on the level of flexibility we required,” says Gordon Knox. “So when it came to looking at using automation to speed-up the processing of ecommerce returns – making them available for sale again quickly – we looked at the huge flexibility robots could offer us in an automated goods-to-person system.”

After a review of the robotic solutions available on the market, Superdry partnered with UK based warehouse solutions provider, Invar – supplier of Hikrobot systems in Europe. Hikrobot is part of one of China’s largest technology companies, making a wide range of intelligent warehousing solutions centred on mobile robot systems. Invar Systems has decades of industry experience, developing and implementing warehouse management and control software that connects people with automation, and so was a natural fit for providing a full turnkey solution to Superdry.

Importantly, as Invar is based in the UK, and its software is developed and maintained locally, the company is able to respond quickly to any future system requirements – allowing for simple expansion of the solution by plugging-in hardware as needed, without any disruption to the operation. This phased introduction of technology, to match changing business needs, helps smooth Capex.

“The more we looked at the capability and flexibility of robotic systems the more we could see how they could be used within our operations,” says Gordon Knox. “So we decided to test the concept. In the Autumn of 2018 we brought in six Hikrobot robots, which we viewed as having just about enough capacity to deal with our UK ecommerce returns – getting them back and ready for resale as quickly as possible.

“As the system involved putting stock away and picking at various velocities and volumes, it was a great test-bed for multiple applications of the system. We found that inventory accuracy was significantly improved and the tests far exceeded our expectations on throughput and productivity,” he says.

“The installation of the Invar pick-to-light system and the setting up of the Hikrobot carriers to follow the QR codes all went really well,” says Gordon Knox. “It has been a real partnership experience working with Invar and Hikrobot, and we’ve certainly benefited from learning about the full capabilities of the robots and the flexibility of the system.”

He concludes: “The proof of the success of the relationship between Superdry, Invar and Hikrobot is that we have continued to expand the solution and have plans to further roll-out the system to our facility in the USA.”

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€60 million for Europe’s innovators 14/05/2020

As part of the EU’s collective efforts to tackle the COVID-19 crisis, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) is announcing the launch of the ‘EIT Crisis Response Initiative’.

The EIT Governing Board has decided to mobilise EUR 60 million of additional funding to innovators powering high-impact solutions that tackle this unprecedented social and economic challenge. The financing will allow the launch of new innovation projects to address the immediate crisis as part of the ‘Pandemic Response Projects’, and will support highly innovative start-ups, scale-ups and SMEs crucial to the economy’s fast recovery to benefit from additional funding under the ‘Venture Support Instrument’.

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, responsible for the EIT said: "In a time of crisis such as we are facing today we have to ensure that resources are targeted to deliver results expeditiously. We are ensuring financial support is increased and disbursed more quickly to those who are working on the most promising answers to the difficult questions Covid-19 poses. Thanks to the EIT Crisis Response Initiative, innovators in the EU will benefit from additional support helping them to overcome this unprecedented situation and continue delivering innovative solutions for Europe and its citizens."

Dirk Jan van den Berg, Chair of the EIT Governing Board, added: "To win the fight against the disruption COVID-19 has wreaked on Europe, we must work closely together and mobilise our resources. I have been impressed by entrepreneurs’ resilience; the EIT Crisis Response Initiative will ensure they benefit from financial support at a critical time. It will also help the recovery focus on creating a healthier, greener and more sustainable future for our planet and its people."

The new EIT initiative consists of two main tracks of activities to be implemented by the EIT’s Knowledge and Innovation Communities across Europe:

  • Venture Support Instrument: Start-ups, scale-ups and SMEs have been enormously impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, with investment drying up and significant cash flow issues emerging. Additional EIT support (financing, technical assistance and network) will help highly innovative ventures weather the crisis and accelerate their growth.
  • Pandemic Response Projects: More than ever, innovations and new solutions are needed to tackle the current crisis and prevent its resurgence. The EIT ecosystem is agile and will mobilise innovators to address the COVID-19 crisis impact, both in terms of the immediate health concerns and the wider response needed.

The EUR 60 million financing will power innovations in health, climate change, digitisation, food, sustainable energy, urban mobility, manufacturing and raw materials. Reflecting the EIT innovation model’s flexibility, the EIT’s eight Knowledge and Innovation Communities have responded decisively to the crisis and will launch additional pan-European calls for these activities in the coming weeks.

Learn more about the EIT Crisis Response Initiative in this factsheet.


What is the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)?

The EIT strengthens Europe’s ability to innovate by powering solutions to pressing global challenges and by nurturing entrepreneurial talent to create sustainable growth and skilled jobs across Europe. The EIT is an EU body which is an integral part of Horizon2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. The Institute supports the development of dynamic pan-European partnerships - EIT Knowledge and Innovation Communities - among leading companies, research labs and universities.

EIT powers innovative solutions to global challenges

The EIT’s eight Knowledge and Innovation Communities work to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy (EIT Climate-KIC), drive Europe’s digital transformation (EIT Digital), lead the global revolution in food innovation and production (EIT Food), give EU citizens greater opportunities to lead a healthy life (EIT Health), achieve a sustainable energy future for Europe (EIT InnoEnergy), strengthen the competitiveness of Europe’s manufacturing industry (EIT Manufacturing), develop raw materials into a major strength for Europe (EIT RawMaterials), and solve the mobility challenges of our cities (EIT Urban Mobility).

Together with their leading partners in Europe, they offer a wide range of innovation and entrepreneurship activities. This includes education courses that combine technical and entrepreneurial skills, business creation and acceleration services and innovation driven research projects.

EIT Facts & Figures

Proposed budget of EUR 3 billion between 2021 and 2027 under the EU’s Horizon Europe Research and Innovation Framework Programme
Europe’s largest innovation network: 2 000+ partners from top business, research and education organisations across Europe in 60+ innovation hubs across Europe
Europe’s tried, tested and proven innovation engine: powered more than 2 000 start-ups and scale-ups, created more than 900 new products and services. More than 2 200 students have graduated from EIT labelled master and doctoral programmes. To date, EIT-supported ventures have raised more than EUR 1.5 billion in external capital

More information: EIT in a nutshell Infographic

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Vodafone Ireland sees IoT connections grow 18% 22/05/2020

Vodafone Ireland has announced that the adoption of its Internet of Things (IoT) technology in Ireland has significantly increased by 18% year-on-year as more and more technologies connect to its global and local IoT networks.

Digital health, which is the convergence of digital technologies with healthcare, living and society, is one specialist area that has grown significantly in the last 12 months. More recently, industry and healthcare services have advanced efforts to develop new IoT solutions in the response to the COVID 19 pandemic. Through a strategic partnership with the UCC ASSERT Centre – the world’s first 5G connected training and telemedicine training centre – and 8West, Vodafone is providing IoT connectivity for the COVID-19 Remote Early Warning System (CREW). This system remotely identifies healthcare staff who may be developing a temperature, symptomatic of COVID-19 and is currently being trialled by frontline staff at Cork University Hospital and staff at a care-home in Cork.

Additionally, Vodafone’s Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), a low power wide area network, continues to support the development and expansion of Irish companies through unrivalled coverage and low battery consumption. Pest Pulse, based in Dublin, uses NB-IoT connected smart devices to monitor commercial sites for pests 24/7.  When there is a trigger, the software signals to dispatch a technician quickly, providing round the clock support to manage issues in real-time. The wide area coverage and extended battery life with NB IoT allows for devices to be placed in basements and back areas for long periods of time whilst staying connected. Pest Pulse currently operates throughout Ireland and the UK with plans to roll-out its technology across Europe and the US.

Trends over the last year, in comparison to previous years, show significant interest and uptake of IoT solutions among traditional industries, like manufacturing. This is an area set to increasingly adopt IOT and 5G solutions for automation and efficiency in the production of goods and services as Ireland embraces industry 4.0 – the digitisation of manufacturing through the use of artificial intelligence, robotics, IoT and cloud-based solutions.

Ireland continues to be a leader and significant test-bed for the use and adoption of IoT solutions

Debbie Power, IoT Country Manager at Vodafone Ireland, said: “Ireland continues to be a leader and significant test-bed for the use and adoption of IoT solutions through a growing ecosystem across multiple sectors from healthcare, agriculture to fleet and transport.

“What has been critical in terms of the current environment and the response to COVID-19, is the increase in uptake and awareness of IoT solutions among logistics, healthcare and med-tech providers in the last 12 months. Significant progress was already being made in the area of digital health in Ireland, especially though our partnership with the Assert Centre in UCC, and this has paid dividends in terms of being able to bring partners together to fast-track solutions such as CREW. As we look beyond the crisis, the changes we are embracing now will bring about long-lasting benefits for healthcare provision. Measures like remote patient care and monitoring through IoT connectivity will help reduce clinic and hospital visits and ultimately infection risk as the crisis continues. There is a clear need to continue this momentum and realise the impact IoT solutions will have in aiding recovery and further innovation across all sectors as our society becomes digital.

“What has also been very interesting is the growth of IoT adoption in manufacturing, where greater awareness and recognition among Irish enterprises is leading to increased automation and efficiency for those embracing digital transformation. Combined with the advancement of 5G capabilities and the possibilities brought through Mobile Private Networks, there is significant potential to revolutionise this sector in Ireland in the coming years.”

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Achieve a low cost and low carbon future 12/05/2020

Ask a manufacturer for their thoughts on green business and, privately, they may tell you that it does not necessarily equate to good business. Probe a little deeper and they might even tell you that you can have one or the other – sustainability or profitability – but not both, asserts Graham Coats, Sales Director at CMCNV

Thankfully, this viewpoint is changing.

Firstly, there is the linear relationship between energy usage and cost; the more a manufacturer uses, the higher its energy bill – and as the cost of energy continues to increase, this symbiotic bond becomes even more apparent. On that basis alone, there is a clear incentive to limit energy usage to an essential level. In doing this, carbon footprint naturally decreases.

Secondly, there is a wave of new technology, primarily driven by cloud-based, IoT-led systems and that also includes control and monitoring products. These not only offer manufacturers forensic levels of data about the performance of their compressed air assets, but in many cases also facilitate the automatic adjustment of them, individual or grouped, to optimise performance where any operational gains or energy reductions can be made.

Lastly, there is a wraparound framework in the form of ISO50001, a global standard for energy management systems that was launched in 2011 and subsequently revised in 2018. The standard exists to help organisations, from SMEs to expansive conglomerates, continually reduce energy usage – and therefore cost and carbon emissions – through the provision of a structure that manufacturers can systematically follow and scale up and down accordingly.

A bird’s eye view

I have worked in the compressed air performance and monitoring industry for many years. I have also been behind the scenes of many successful organisations that rely heavily on compressed air, and it never fails to amaze just how much potential there is for manufacturers to make energy saving and performance gains – with relatively minimal effort, too.

More often than not, the reason for manufacturers not spotting and exploiting this potential is the absence of a coherent energy management system, or an organisation-wide lack of understanding of how to get the most from their assets.

a manufacturing facility without an energy management system is unlikely to get the best from its compressed air system

In the same way that a military unit without a commanding officer lacks a sense of purpose or structure, a manufacturing facility without an energy management system is unlikely to get the best from its compressed air system. If we think of ISO50001 as that overarching framework for an organisation to follow, then we can begin to see how the global standard can be used to get the best from a facility.

For an organisation to prove that it meets the standard it has to undergo a management system audit, either internal or external. The question, therefore, is how can those utilising compressed air effectively evaluate their assets’ performance as part of an ISO50001 energy management system and, in doing so, grow their bottom line and minimise their negative environmental footprint.

The road to compliance

The current ISO5001 standard guidance is a 42-page document, so in the interests of brevity I have distilled its essence into six clear areas. This is not meant as a substitute; it is essential that all manufacturers interested in implementing an energy management system that meets ISO50001 standards work through the guidance. However, this aims to provide a broad illustration of the main points that need to be considered when embarking on the journey.

Be clear from the outset

What are the drivers behind achieving ISO5001? Is it part of a cost cutting exercise? Is it a way in which to bolster your CSR programme? Or are you looking to add value to your business? By identifying what you really want from the outset, you are more likely to stick to the plan – and make it easy for your team to stick to the plan – as you move through the process.

Meaningful data is everything

Only by truly understanding your performance data can you understand where your compressed air system can be improved. Data is the bedrock on which your ISO5001 goals should be built. This is of particular significance to me, given how my organisation has created AIRMATICSTM, a cloud-based air compressor monitoring, performance and control solution that provides real time data, analytics and insights and can manage an infinite number of locally interconnected fixed speed, variable speed or variable output air compressors. Of course, there are other solutions that allow manufacturers to get under the skin of their compressed air systems. The key thing is to use them, not only to help you on your journey towards becoming compliant – but also remaining compliant.

Consistency is key

Gaining accurate, meaningful and actionable data is one thing. Ensuring it remains so at every tier of an organisation is another, particularly for global organisations with multiple sites. Making sure that there is standardisation of data and that nothing can be left open to interpretation as it passes from team to team – or even country to country – is essential for working within an ISO50001 framework.

Lead from the front

This is where the military analogy is relevant. As with all ISO standards, compliance follows dedication and hard work. If you are responsible for leading the journey to compliance and are fully engaged, great. However, given the work involved, you will need to ensure that everyone has bought into the standard and that the aims and objectives are woven into the fabric of the organisation. Make sure that everyone in the organisation is working towards the same goal or risk losing some troops along the way.

Call in the experts where necessary

Compressed air consultants may well equal cost, but if they can share knowledge and best practice – and ultimately get your organisation to where it is going quicker – then maybe it is a worthy investment.

Painting the Fourth Bridge

So, you have made it. Your organisation is now ISO5001 compliant. Time to ease off? Sadly not. ISO5001 is about continual improvement, so you should always be looking to review, refresh or even revamp your plan. Just as painting the Fourth Bridge is a never-ending job, as new compressed air technology and techniques become available you should be exploring where and how these can be implemented within your energy management plan.

As far as ISO standards go, ISO5001 needs little justification. It saves energy, cuts carbons emissions and provides a framework for manufacturers to achieve and maintain best practice. However, it is a living framework and one that must be tended to on a regular basis in order to remain relevant. The technology required to yield actionable data and improve compressed air performance exists. As long as the willing is there, too, then manufacturers across the world can expect to simultaneously future proof their organisation, increase their bottom line and improve their sustainability credentials.

A true win-win.

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Will pandemic drive manufacturers back to the UK? 07/05/2020

The twenty two leading industrial engineering associations behind the Reshoring UK initiative, developed to assist manufacturers connect with trusted, accredited suppliers capable of delivering UK-based products and services, have applauded the recent poll conducted by The Engineer: ‘will pandemic drive reshoring of UK manufacturing?’

“Ever since manufacturers began outsourcing production to more competitively priced overseas economies there has been a race to the bottom based on price,” states CEO Julia Moore. “However, there is an intrinsic value attached to making things here in the UK, not least being the opportunities to innovate. Reshoring UK highlights the skills and resources of the UK supply chains and aids manufacturers when considering domestic production for new projects or for the relocation ‘onshore’ of existing work programmes.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic exposing the frailties of many of the UK supply chains, underlining in stark detail just how reliant many have become on the overseas supply of critical items, there should be more impetus put on re-establishing UK production of these parts and protect SME manufacturing.

Julia Moore adds: “Everyone behind the Reshoring UK platform appreciates the complexities involved when transferring manufacturing from overseas. The website portal has been created to help re-establish the capability required to meet manufacturers demands and those businesses that have used it in this current crisis have realised just how much capability and competence is available within the UK.

“We know it is a myth that the UK no longer manufactures anything, but it is often repeated and needs to be dispelled. In reality, prior to this pandemic we were the ninth largest manufacturing nation in the world contributing 10% of the UK Gross Value Added (GVA). The sector plays a vital role as an employer, with a workforce of around 2.7 million, and an innovator accounting for 70% of all business Research and Development (R&D) spend.”

Even before the global threat from COVID-19 there was a paradigm shift from OEMs looking at the benefits of reshoring, as highlighted by the Lloyds Bank report ‘Business in Britain: Manufacturing’. A sponsor of the Reshoring UK facility, research from Lloyds Bank showed more than a third (37%) of firms asked said they were planning to move manufacturing processes back to the UK that had previously been offshored to territories like Asia and eastern Europe.

The prime motive for this, cited by 71% of those with these plans, was to improve quality – a telling endorsement of the high standards that British manufacturers and workers uphold, which also has extremely positive implications for UK supply chains.

“With so much value to be gained for both sides, large manufacturers only need to look more closely at what is already available to them in this country, in terms of innovation, technology transfer across sectors, and quality."

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3D Hubs launches Online Engineering Summit series 04/05/2020

Leader in distributed manufacturing, 3D Hubs, has launched theO nline Engineering Summit Series. Over the course of six weeks, starting 29th April, industry experts will discuss a broad range of disciplines in manufacturing.

In these uncertain times, it's vitally important to learn new skills and remain engaged, even when working remotely. The Summit Series aims to help upskill and inspire engineers by focusing on specific innovations across different sectors.

The 3D Hubs Summit Series takes place every Wednesday at 17:00 (GMT) / 18:00 (CET) and is then available on the 3D Hubs website. The line-up includes:

  • Available: Thomas Stock at Autodesk – During the webinar, Thomas provides a live demo of Fusion360’s FFF workflow, what it means to the FFF community having this functionality in Fusion 360, and how this technology really benefits from the complete Fusion 360 design to manufacture workflow.
  • Available: Scott Summit, Founder at Bespoke Innovations – Talk explores the intersection between the body, human needs, and technology. Scott discusses the how new technology tools allow the creation of customised products, based on business models previously considered unimaginable.
  • 6th MayAdditive Flow –  Looking at how intelligent and multi-functional digital solutions can allow designers and engineers to unlock performance from additive manufacturing and industrial 3D printing technologies.
  • 13th May: Brad Templeton from Singularity University – The developer of self-driving cars and board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who consulted on Google’s team designing a driverless car discusses emerging technology of automated transportation.
  • 20th May: Sam RogersAdditive Design Lead at Gravity Industries – Discusses the design of the Jet Suit at Gravity and how the business in pioneering aeronautical innovation in the pursuit of  the next frontier in human flight.
  • 27th MayJon Bruner, Head of Enterprise Strategy at Carbon - With customers including Vitamix & Adidas, Jon will discuss how  Carbon are breaking manufacturing boundaries, designing and creating completely unique products.

“With a global lockdown impacting our industry, all businesses and individuals must look to the future. We understand this period can be hard on individuals and want to do what we can to help,” said Brian Garret, Co-Founder and CPO at 3D Hubs. “Through our Summit Series, we hope to help engineers learn and be inspired, now and for the future.”

For more information and sign up, please click here

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BCAS urges best practice compressed air guidance is maintained during lockdown 30/04/2020

The British Compressed Air Society (BCAS) is urging manufacturers and processors to adhere to best practice guidance concerning the treatment, quality and maintenance of compressed air, during this period of lockdown.

The BCAS technical helpline is receiving an increasing number of enquiries during the Coronavirus pandemic from end-users concerned that their compressed air supply is adequately protected and seeking advice to ensure that there can be no risk from airbourne contaminants.

To assist, users are advised to refer to BCAS’s free guides, which can be downloaded from the website at www.bcas.org.uk,including BPG102 for compressed air purity and BPG104 for best practice advice on the filtration and drying of compressed air.

Managing contaminants

Air compressors draw in micro-organisms as solid particles contained within ambient air, first through panel filters and then through intake filters.  These micro-organisms consist of viruses, pathogenic bacteria, moulds and fungi, which, if left untreated, can survive as spores with the potential to grow in the downstream compressed air. 

Therefore the installation of appropriate inline coalescing filtration and its regular maintenance are essential, as these will remove multiple contaminants include micro-organisms, oil and water aerosols.

Ambient air contaminants would have to remain in aerosol form to pass through panel and intake filters in order to enter the compressor intake. This is highly unlikely, but even if panel and intake filtration was compromised, the contaminant would not remain in aerosol form during compression and therefore, would present no danger. 

This is because during compression, the air temperature is high (in excess of 120oC) and the heating time is short, meaning that viruses do not tend to survive the compression process.

BCAS Best Practice Guideline 102

To help avoid any contamination issues, BCAS advocates following Best Practice Guideline 102, in particular the specification for direct contact applications. 

The best practice guidance (BPG102) was prepared in conjunction with the British Retail Consortium Trading Limited (BRC) and is designed to help processors make informed decisions relating to compressor systems operating at a pressure greater than 0.5 bar.

The guide is available for free download from the BCAS website at https://www.bcas.org.uk/article/bcas-food-grade-compressed-air-best-practice-guideline-5.aspx

This guidance recommends using a dewpoint of -40 degrees C to inhibit the growth of micro-organisms, and filtration to reduce the micro-organisms and particulate.

The specification requires the installation of a minimum of two aerosol reduction filters (down to 0.01mg/m3of oil aerosol and particle reduction down to 0.01 micron).

These protective measures will ensure that, should the COVID 19 or other virus still survive the heat of compression, aerosol reduction filters in the compressor room combined with a very low dewpoint and point-of-use dry particulate filters will remove any risk from compressed air.

In addition, users should follow advice in BPG 104 entitled ‘The Filtration and Drying of Compressed Air’, which can be downloaded at www.bcas.org.uk/airtreatment.  It is designed to help demystify not only the selection of the correct air treatment equipment but to provide practical advice on which contaminants can be present and their impact on the processes that compressed air is being used for.

Strict maintenance program

A strict compressed air system maintenance program is required for direct and Indirect contact air when used in food and pharmaceutical production. BCAS has been advising end-users to continue their routine checks, adhering to social distancing guidance throughout servicing.

Customers should use proprietary spare parts and continue to follow recommended maintenance procedures and guidelines throughout this time.  The BCAS website provides a BCAS Member finder tool to help users find a qualified compressed air professional at www.bcas.org.uk/directory/

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3T and EOS 3D print 100,000+ face shields for frontline staff 30/04/2020

3T-am, a production additive manufacturing (AM) company, is utilising EOS’ global partner ecosystem to 3D print face shield headbands for frontline health workers in the UK.

3T is now producing 20,000 headbands per week, and will exceed 100,000 within the next few weeks. The face shields are being used by frontline workers, across the NHS and UK healthcare system, fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. 

During times of such uncertainty, manufacturers are under increasing pressure to deliver essential products and services. It has arguably never been more important for a flexible and efficient supply chain. 3D printing allows for tens of thousands of high-quality parts to be produced in a matter of weeks, when people need them most.

3T is working directly with NHS trusts across the UK, as well as various medical distribution companies to supply face shields to UK health workers. 3T has also provided the CAD for free, available to download from 3T’s website.

Daniel France, Chief Commercial Officer at 3T, said: “We’ve already seen countless examples of how 3D printing is helping people stay protected and fight the virus globally. It was of paramount importance for us, as a business, to play a role in this, and that’s why we are manufacturing these for as low a cost as we can to support.

“Working closely with our partners, we’ve been able to produce tens of thousands of parts using EOS’ powder-based 3D printing technology, which ensures frontline health workers are protected. The demand is far greater than one company can provide, but we will continue to do as much as we can to add to the supply.”

This coincides with EOS, as 3D printing technology supplier, launching an online platform to support the fight against COVID-19, bringing together the wider-3D printing community. The aim of the 3DAgainstCorona hub and its corresponding LinkedIn group is to share knowledge, data and downloadable files that could be used to combat the virus. The site will be updated on a regular basis.

Markus Glasser, Senior Vice President EMEA at EOS, said: “Improving lives through 3D printing has always been our aspiration. The current pandemic now calls for a joint approach, more than ever before. Today, we are asking all supporters to join us in tackling the challenges that lay ahead. Let’s continue to think differently and push the boundaries of what is possible. We are extremely proud to work alongside so many brilliant minds inside and outside of EOS who are developing and delivering critical solutions for those in need.”

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'Don't delay apprentice recruitment plans', urges Make UK 30/04/2020

Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation, is urging engineering and manufacturing employers not to delay their apprentice recruitment plans, as it has over 2,000 young people in its talent pool looking for apprenticeship opportunities.

Many engineering and manufacturing companies may be thinking about delaying  or cancelling their apprenticeship programs in light of the current COVID-19 crisis, but Stephen Mitchell, Director of Apprentices and Technical Training at Make UK’s Technology Hub in Aston, Birmingham, said companies must look at the long-term picture and not delay taking on new apprentices.

Stephen Mitchell said: “We completely understand that these are testing times for all employers, but apprentices are resilient and full of drive, they help to provide fresh ideas and are vital for business growth. During this time of unprecedented change, you still need to look at the future of your business, and apprentices play a key part in this.

“Even if employers are not in a position to take on apprentices immediately, we would encourage them to start the conversations now. We are constantly holding telephone interviews, and our streamlined recruitment process means employers can access applications and candidates with minimal fuss and delay.” 

Make UK's Apprentice Technology Centre in Aston is one of the UK's leading facilities delivering high specification training to around 1,450 apprentices across the UK.  

Despite the current lockdown, Make UK is still delivering training to its apprentice population through high quality virtual teaching and assessments.

It recently registered a daily record figure for students using its online teaching resources, with over three quarters of its apprentice population able to continue their studies online in the first week of virtual teaching and assessments.

For more information on apprenticeships with Make UK, call 0808 168 5874 or email asrecruitment@makeuk.org

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