Category Archives: Features

You could be seeing things that aren’t there: Google Glass finds new home in old industries

google glass with manual

On the left is an assembly engine manual that GE’s mechanics used to consult. Now they use Glass Enterprise Edition on the right. Picture: Google X

About four years ago, when Google first showed off its Glass product – a pair of hi-tech spectacles capable of running augmented reality apps – it was met with some scepticism, incredulity even. 

Few people thought it would take off, as interesting as the idea was. Maybe people generally couldn’t see themselves walking around wearing glasses which could be seen as intrusive.

Theoretically, Google Glass could display images on pretty much everything and everyone you looked at while wearing them – and would people in your eyeline appreciate that? 

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    Nick Boughton, sales manager at Boulting Technology, discusses best practice for obsolescence management from a systems integrator point of view…
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Kollmorgen and VH Vertical Packaging realise new potential with a separate labeler

The art of reduction: the packaging machines from VH Vertical Packaging have a simple structure

By Jens Depping

A Dutch packaging machinery manufacturer has now developed a labeller as part of a retrofit with servo-drive technology based on 48 volts.

This is designed as an optional module for the company’s own vertical packaging machines on the one hand and as a functional enhancement for retrofitting older machines of well-known producers on the other.

The combination of the new 48 volt DC Servo Motor low voltage from Kollmorgen and a motion control solution from SigmaTek makes it possible for the labeling module to be integrated easily into new machines or for existing machinery to be retrofitted. 

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Dassault Systèmes boss talks about generative design and whether humans are necessary

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Damen recently selected Dassault Systèmes software for its engineering design process

Nothing is as straightforward as it might first sound. So, for example, one might imagine that, by using generative design software, a designer could set parameters for the computer to produce a structure and then use a 3D printer to output that structure, whether that structure is a single molecule of steel or a larger, more complex structure, like a car body. Basically, you could get the computer to do almost all of the design work.

The technology is available to do those things. And any designer who’s produced countless iterations of one basic design would certainly appreciate such powerful software. But is it really as simple as that? Probably not.

If anyone would know the answer for sure, it would be Stephen Chadwick, managing director of Dassault Systèmes for the north European region, or EuroNorth, and he says it’s possible to remove humans from the design process completely. 

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North American robotics market growing and creating new types of work, says A3

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The fast-growing North American robotics and automation market is creating new kinds of jobs, according to the Association for Advancing Automation, or A3. 

The association says new technologies, such as collaborative robots and advanced vision systems are driving growth and diversity of employment in the sector.

Jeff Burnstein, who has a number of roles in the association including A3 president, says: “Automation technologies are fueling entirely new categories of jobs – really creating the jobs of the future – in addition to enabling companies to become more productive and create higher-quality products in safer environments.” 

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Prefabricated construction using robots set to increase in next few years

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Prefabricated construction is where the individual components and parts of a building are manufactured in a factory and then transported to the building site and assembled together to form the final house or commercial building, or whatever it may be. 

This construction technique or methodology has been around for quite some time and its proponents have probably often wondered why it doesn’t become the main way dwellings and office blocks are built.

Its supporters say it reduces the costs of construction significantly and enables more accuracy and quality in the final building process. 

Genesis Robotics accelerates development of prototypes based on its ‘revolutionary’ LiveDrive actuator

genesis robotics actuator

Well-funded startup Genesis Robotics has accelerated the development of a range of products based on its “ground-breaking” technology, which the company claims will transform the entire industry. 

All of the new products Genesis has developed are based on something it calls LiveDrive, an actuator system which uses a gear with no teeth, invented by the company itself.

Making a gear work without teeth sounds impossible – how does it move connected parts without teeth? Imagine a gear on a bicycle without teeth and you’ll get the picture. 

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World’s largest automotive companies and an intro to their autonomous and electric vehicle tech moves

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A picture of a car production line, this one in an Audi factory

In the first of a series of articles about large industrial companies, we list 20 of the leading automakers in the world in order of their last reported annual revenue amount, and highlight some of their more interesting developments in autonomous technologies. 

Automakers are have long been the largest market for industrial robotics and automation systems, but also, more recently, the vehicles they produce have become more robotic.

The design and development of road vehicles are becoming increasingly an exercise in developing computing technology – both hardware and software. Add to that the growing importance of artificial intelligence to run the advanced driver assistance systems that many new cars already have.

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Solar power revolution ‘unavoidable’ in Asia, says industry expert

REC solar panel manufacturing plant in Singapore

A robot operates at a production line during a tour of an REC solar panel manufacturing plant in Singapore. Reuters / Edgar Su

By Henning Gloystein and Vera Eckert, Reuters

Investors are increasingly excited about the prospects for much faster growth in the solar power industry in Southeast Asia, which has until now been a backwater for renewable energy.

They say that the region is in a perfect position to benefit from rapidly declining prices in solar panels. It has strong economic growth, relatively high costs of electricity and a shortage from traditional sources, undeveloped infrastructure in more remote areas, plenty of sunshine, and backing for more renewable energy from many of Southeast Asia’s governments.

“Dramatically falling costs for solar energy technologies means businesses and governments are choosing renewable energy not for environmental reasons but for economic ones,” said Roberto De Vido, spokesman for Singapore-based Equis, one of Asia’s biggest green energy-focused investment firms with $2.7 billion in committed capital. “It simply makes good business sense. And that’s a trend that’s not going to change.” 

Uber’s autonomous truck journey off to a bumpy start

uber otto autonomous truck

An autonomous trucking start-up Otto vehicle is shown during an announcing event in Concord, California, US on August 4, 2016. Reuters / Alexandria Sage

By Heather Somerville and Julia Love, Reuters

Uber Technologies’ drive to become a major player in the trucking business is off to a bumpy start, with analysts and industry executives questioning what exactly the company can bring to the sprawling $700-billion industry.

The San Francisco ride-services giant had planned to disrupt freight hauling by offering a complete package of trucking technology including self-driving trucks and smartphone-based logistics services.

But what has emerged so far, industry watchers say, is a modest effort to build a brokerage service connecting truckers looking for loads to shippers with cargo to haul. 

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China’s enthusiasm for robots and electric cars creating oversupply of clean technology

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A jade-polishing robot produced by the HIT Robot Group, one of China’s largest robot makers

China’s enthusiasm for new technology, combined with its paranoia about being left behind in a globally intensifying high-tech competition, sometimes leads it to create small bubbles in its economy which may or may not dissipate in the disciplined manner in which the markets they encompass may have emerged in the first place. 

Two years ago, the government of the world’s most populous nation of 1.4 billion people launched a 10-year national plan to “transform China from a manufacturing giant into a world manufacturing power”, in the words of XinhuaNet, the state propaganda outlet. 

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Bosch to build gigantic semiconductor production plant in Germany

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German industrial giant Bosch is building a massive semiconductor production plant which would represent the single largest investment in the company’s 130-year history. 

The high-tech facility, to be located in Dresden, would employ around 700 staff working on 300-millimeter semiconductor chips which Bosch says has growing applications in the automotive market, smart cities and on the industrial internet, all strong markets for Bosch.

The construction of the high-tech factory is to be completed by the end of 2019, says Bosch, and production is expected to begin at the end of 2021 after a start-up phase. Overall, the investment volume for the site is estimated to be around $1.1 billion. 

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Got milk? How a Swiss company builds filling and packaging systems for milk, coffee and other products

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A piece of equipment manufactured by Swiss Can Machinery

Scaled technology and functioning interfaces are essential for Swiss Can Machinery, which is why the company’s filling and packaging systems have a modular design throughout, and why it uses a product program with a scaled structure for the drive technology. 

The filling and packaging systems at Swiss Can Machinery – which was established by brothers Marc and Michael Grabher – shows how this objective can be achieved.

The company turns to stainless steel motors for the actuators; for example, when these systems are used for filling and packaging pharmaceutical products. 

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Amazon could assimilate Whole Foods workers into robots and drones in some sort of cyber-physical dystopian Borg-like nightmare

The Whole Foods Market in Boulder, Colorado, US. Reuters / Rick Wilking

The Whole Foods Market in Boulder, Colorado, US. Reuters / Rick Wilking

By Lisa Baertlein and Harriet McLeod, Reuters

The merger that shook food and retail stocks on Friday – Amazon’s proposed deal to buy Whole Foods Market – rattled some employees of the upscale grocery chain who expressed fears ranging from layoffs to the loss of their laid-back corporate culture.

The online retailer hopes the $13.7 billion acquisition helps it disrupt the grocery business and expand its real-world store footprint.

Carmen Clark, 37, a six-year employee at a store in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, said some workers worry that Amazon-led automation could lead to job cuts. 

Engineering companies struggling to find and keep talented young workers

engineering graduates

Picture courtesy of WonderfulEngineering.com

To anyone looking for work, it might sound strange to hear that some sectors of the economy are struggling to find and retain workers, but that’s the situation many engineering companies find themselves in. 

Finding, educating, training and retaining talented young people is not just a dilemma for engineering companies in one region or country, it’s a global issue.

But, paradoxically, while companies in some countries say there’s a problem finding engineering graduates, in other countries such as India, large numbers of engineering graduates are reportedly not having much luck finding jobs.

In those countries where there is a shortage, such as Germany and maybe the US, it’s not at crisis levels yet, but it’s a complication that large industrial companies are trying to alleviate in a variety of ways. 

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Collaborative robotic system makes ‘monotonous and physically demanding tasks’ at BMW easier

bmw dingolfing kuka robot

A worker at BMW Dingolfing, with the Kuka collaborative robot

The employees at BMW Group’s Dingolfing Plant have a new, highly responsive assistant: an LBR iiwa lightweight robot from Kuka, which they say takes over “monotonous and physically demanding tasks”. 

Previously, BMW employees had to lift a differential case which weighed up to 5.5 kg, and had to manoeuvre it with millimeter-precision, in the assembly of the front axle.

Now the robot is taking over this “ergonomically demanding work”. 

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