Celebrating Northern Europe’s Automation Engineers Engineering.

08/12/2017

NIDays welcomed hundreds of delegates from across Northern Europe to the historic Sandown Park Racecourse in England in November 2017, for its annual conference and exhibition. Each event was designed to educate and inspire the engineering community. Delegates to NIDays were given exclusive access to innovative technologies and could explore NI’s latest software, in a full day of keynote speeches, technical presentations and hands-on sessions.

Northern European Engineering Impact Awards
The night before, some of Northern Europe’s best engineers attended the prestigious Engineering Impact Awards.  The well-respected Engineering Impact Awards celebrated the most innovative engineering applications based on NI hardware and software.

Coventry University’s Dr Bo Tan won ‘Application of the Year’ for his system that combines passive WiFi sensing hardware and machine learning algorithms to monitor the health, activity and well-being of patients within nursing homes, allowing staff to improve their levels of efficiency and care.

Other winners include:

Advanced Manufacturing: Paving the Way for Industry 4.0 with Smart, Reconfigurable Manufacturing Machines
Biomedical: Combining Passive WiFi Sensing and Machine Learning Systems to Monitor Health, Activity and Well-Being within Nursing Homes
Education: Teaching Electronics to the Next Generation of Engineers using VirtualBench
Innovative Research: Unlocking Fusion Energy – Our Path to a Sustainable Future
Test and Validation: Saab Elevates Testing of the World’s Most Cost-Effective Fighter Plane
Wireless Communication: Using the LabVIEW Communications System Design Suite to Increase Spectral Efficiency for Wireless Communication

“The Northern European EIA’s were incredible this year. The breadth of applications showed what our products can do in the hands of world-class scientists and engineers!” says Dave Wilson, Vice President – Product Marketing for Software, Academia and Customer Education.

NIDays
Professors, researchers and design engineers were amongst the audience of the morning keynote ‘Testing and Deploying the Next Generation of Technology’ hosted by NI VP Dave Wilson. In this session, NI experts explained how the NI platform is accelerating innovation in applications ranging from transportation safety to the IoT.

During the afternoon keynote, Stuart Dawson, Chief Technology Officer at the University of Sheffield’s (GB) Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) was welcomed to the stage to discuss how super-trends like Industry 4.0, energy and the electrification of transportation are changing the way we live and work. Charlotte Nicolaou, Software Field Marketing Engineer, walked through how NI are continuing the LabVIEW legacy with the evolution of the world’s most productive and efficient engineering software, introducing LabVIEW NXG 2.0 and other new software releases including NI Package Manager.

Delegates had a chance to ‘dirty their hands!’

Delegates also had the opportunity to view application specific demonstrations that showcased the latest NI products and technology in the Expo Area, with plenty of NI engineers on hand to discuss their engineering challenges and technical questions. Participants also enjoyed an array of track sessions that included LabVIEW Power Programming and Test & RF Hands-On, giving users the opportunity to learn practical skills and network with specialists and peers.

Throughout the day, several guest presenters took to the stage including Jeff Morgan and Garret O’Donnell of Trinity College Dublin (IRL) and Niklas Krakau from Saab Aeronautics who discussed their incredible application enabling efficient testing of the world’s most cost-effective fighter plane, the Saab Gripen E.

Attentive Audience!

“NIDays allows us to highlight game-changing industry trends, whilst unveiling new, innovative technologies. However, it is the attendees, presenters, partners and exhibitors that provide the conference’s true highlights. What was my favourite part of the day? Learning how Coventry University is using WiFi signals to wirelessly monitor patient health through-walls? Meeting elite researchers and heads of industry during the dedicated networking sessions? Taking a tour of Cardiff University’s historic race car? Or sampling a ‘perfect pint’ of ale, courtesy of the robot bartender from Leeds University? NIDays was packed with inspiring moments and experiences that I will remember for a long, long time to come” says Richard Roberts, Senior Academic Technical Marketing Engineer.

12 exhibitors joined the lively atmosphere of the main exhibition hall, including Amfax, Austin Consultants and The Formula Student Silverstone 2017 winners, Cardiff Racing, who proudly displayed their history making Formula 1 car. Many more NI customers and partners filled the hall with their impressive applications, some of which won awards at the Engineering Impact Awards the previous evening.

@NIukie #PAuto #TandM #NIDays @NIglobal
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Simulating the Effect of Climate Change on Agriculture.

01/12/2017
Increased atmospheric CO2 levels and climate change are believed to contribute to extreme weather conditions, which is a major concern for many. And beyond extreme events, global warming is also predicted to affect agriculture.1,2

While climate change is expected to affect agriculture and reduce crop yields, the complete effects of climate change on agriculture and the resultant human food supplies are yet to be fully understood.2,3,4

Simulating a Changing Climate
In order to understand how changes in CO2, temperature and water availability caused by climate change have an impact on crop growth and food availability, Researchers often use controlled growth chambers to grow plants in conditions that mimic the predicted atmospheric conditions at the end of the century. These controlled growth chambers enable precise control of temperature, CO2 levels, humidity, water availability, light quality and soil quality, allowing Scientists to study how plant growth changes in response to elevated temperatures, elevated CO2 levels and altered water availability.

However, plant growth / behaviour in the field considerably varies from in growth chambers. Owing to differences in light intensity, light quality, evaporative demand, temperature fluctuations and other abiotic and biotic stress factors, the growth of plants in tiny, controlled growth chambers does not always sufficiently reflect plant growth in the field. Moreover, the less realistic the experimental conditions used during simulation experiments of climate change, the less likely the resultant predictions will reflect reality.4

Several attempts have been made over the past 30 years to more closely stimulate climate change growing scenarios including free air CO2 enrichment, open top chambers, free air temperature increases and temperature gradient tunnels, although all these methods are known to have major disadvantages. For instance, chamber-less CO2 exposure systems do not enable stringent control of gas concentrations, while other systems suffer from “chamber effects” such as changes in humidity, wind velocity, temperature, soil quality and light quality.4,5

Spanish Researchers have recently reported temperature gradient greenhouses and growth chamber greenhouses, which are specifically designed to remove some of the disadvantages of simulating the effects of climate change on crop growth in growth chambers. An article reporting their methodology was featured in Plant Science in 2014, describing how the Researchers used temperature gradient greenhouses and growth chamber greenhouses to simulate climate change conditions and study plant responses.4

Choosing the Right Growth Chamber
Compared to traditional growth chambers, temperature gradient greenhouses and controlled growth chambers offer increased working area, allowing them to work as greenhouses without the necessity for isolation panels while still allowing precise control of various environmental factors such as temperature, CO2 concentration and water availability.

Researchers have used these greenhouses to investigate the potential effects of climate change on the growth of grapevine, alfalfa and lettuce.

CO2 Sensors for Climate Change Research
Researchers investigating the effects of climate change on plant growth using greenhouses or growth chambers will require highly accurate CO2 measurements.

The Spanish Researchers used Edinburgh Sensors Guardian sensor in their greenhouses to provide accurate and reliable CO2measurements. As a customer-focused provider of high-quality gas sensing solutions, Edinburgh Sensors has been delivering gas sensors to the research community since the 1980s.4,6

The Guardian NG from Edinburgh Sensors
The Edinburgh Sensors Guardian NG provides precise CO2 measurements in research greenhouses simulating climate change scenarios. The sensor provides near-analyser quality continuous measurement of CO2 concentrations, operates in temperatures of 0-45 °C and relative humidity of 0-95%, and has a CO2 detection range of 0 to 3000 ppm. These features make Guardian NG suitable for use in greenhouses with conditions meant to simulate climate change scenarios.

In addition, the Guardian NG can be easily installed as a stand-alone product in greenhouses to measure CO2, or in tandem with CO2 controllers as done by the Spanish Researchers in their temperature gradient and growth control greenhouses.4,6

Conclusions
In order to understand the potential effects of climate change on plant growth and crop yields, it is important to simulate climate change scenarios in elevated CO2 concentrations. For such studies, accurate CO2 concentration measurements are very important.

References

@Edinst #agriculture

VR means low design costs.

27/11/2017

Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director at EU Automation discusses how virtual reality (VR) can be used to improve the design engineering process.

In 1899, Wilbur and Orville Wright, the inventors of the aeroplane, put their first model to flight. They faced several problems, including insufficient lift and deviation from the intended direction. Following a trial flight in 1901, Wilbur said to Orville that man would not fly in a thousand years. Since this occasion, good design has dispelled Wilbur’s theory.

The history of VR
With the invention of computer-aided design (CAD) in 1961, on-screen models could be explored in 3D, unlike with manual drafting. This made it easier for design engineers to visualise concepts before passing their design on for manufacturing.

From there, the technology continued to develop, until we reached cave automatic virtual environment (CAVE). This consisted of cube-like spaces with images projected onto the walls, floor and ceiling. Automotive and aerospace engineers could use CAVE to experience being inside the vehicle, without having to generate a physical prototype.

The latest advancements have introduced VR headsets, also known as head-mounted displays (HMDs) and haptic gloves. They enable users to visualise, touch and feel a virtual version of their design at a lower cost than CAVE technology would allow.

Benefitting design engineers
VR was first used in design engineering by the automotive and aerospace sectors to quickly generate product prototypes for a small cost.

Using the latest technologies, these prototypes can be visualised in real space and from different angles. Engineers can walk and interact with them, and can even make changes to the design from inside the model. This makes it possible to gain a deeper understanding of how the product works and improve the design before it is passed on for manufacturing.

Design engineers can also use VR to identify issues with a product and rectify them before a physical prototype is made. This saves time and money, but also avoids any potential problems that might arise for the end-customer, if the product is manufactured without a design error being rectified.

To study specific parts of a product and understand how it operates in greater detail, engineers often deconstruct prototypes. With physical models, this can be challenging and often leads to several prototypes being made. However, with VR they can be easily pulled apart, manipulated and returned to the original design.

The ergonomics of a product can also be analysed using VR. Decisions can then be made in the early stages of product development to ensure the final product is of the best possible standard.

Furthermore, engineers can use VR to determine whether it will be feasible and affordable to manufacture a product and to plan the manufacturing protocol. This streamlines the product development process and reduces the wasting of materials and time often made with failed manufacturing attempts.

Had VR been available in 1899, the Wright brothers would not have faced so many problems designing the world’s first aeroplane and the outcome would have been achieved much more quickly. Just imagine the designs that VR could help make a reality in the future.


Disinfection robot with robust wireless access.

31/10/2017

STERISAFE-Pro is a disinfection robot from the Danish company INFUSER. It disinfects surfaces in any given room – for example patient rooms, operating theatres or hotel rooms – removing up to 99,9999% of pathogens. The robot fills the designated room with an Ozone-based biocide agent which kills unwanted bacteria, viruses and fungi, while purifying the air from small particulate matter in the air. STERISAFE-Pro is controlled from outside the room using wireless technology from HMS Industrial Networks.

The unit produces Ozone (O3) by using the oxygen (O2) already present in the room. All that is needed is electricity and water. By diffusing Ozone and a fine mist of water, it is possible to expose all surfaces in a room. The Ozone oxidizes the membrane or shell of bacteria, viruses and fungi, leading to total deactivation of these micro-organisms.

The Ozone-saturated atmosphere in the room is sustained for a defined period of time, during which the pathogenic micro-organisms are killed on surfaces and in the air. Ozone naturally turns back to Oxygen after having reacted with pathogens and other pollutants, leaving no chemical residue.

Robust wireless access needed
Although ozone is a naturally occurring gas, it is harmful at high concentration levels and the STERISAFE-Pro requires that the operator is outside the sealed room while the robot runs its cycle. The operator uses a tablet which is connected wirelessly to the PLC inside the robot. INFUSER has created an app which the operator uses to control the robot. The app interfaces with the built-in webserver in the PLC.

OK, so that sounds easy enough, but accessing a PLC which is inside a hermetically sealed, stainless steel machine which performs surface disinfection, demanded a wireless solution with high performance.

Thomas Clapper

“When we first started developing STERISAFE-Pro, we used a regular commercial access point, but we soon realized that we needed something more robust and advanced,” says Thomas Clapper, production responsible at INFUSER.

“We needed an access point that was omni-radiant and also 100% sealed. This is when we came across the Anybus Wireless Bolt from HMS Industrial Networks.”

The Anybus Wireless Bolt™ is a wireless access point for on-machine mounting. It can communicate via WLAN or Bluetooth up to 100 meters and is built for harsh industrial conditions both when it comes to the physical housing and the wireless communication.

It was a perfect fit for STERISAFE.
“We use WLAN to communicate between the PLC inside the robot and the tablet and really benefit from the robust communication that the Wireless Bolt offers. We also needed to design unique connections for each robot/tablet-pair, so that it is possible to run several machines in the same area without radio interference. This is also something that the Anybus Wireless Bolt allowed us to do.”

Wireless Bolt

Tough demands
But the project has not been without challenges. One issue that INFUSER ran into was that Ozone sets tough demands on durability. Although the Wireless Bolt is IP67-classed (meaning that it is waterproof down to 1 meter’s depth), INFUSER still found that the rubber washer on the Bolt was not Ozone proof.

But since the Anybus Wireless Bolt is mounted in a standard M50 hole, it was easy to find a replacement – a washer that HMS now can offer as an alternative to their offering too.

“Implementing the Wireless Bolt was very smooth indeed,” says Thomas Clapper. “We had communication set up in a matter of minutes and have really not had any issues when it comes to the wireless communication. The Wireless Bolt is simply a very reliable and sturdy wireless solution.”

@HMSAnybus #PAuto #Robotics #Wireless

Challenging designs.

26/10/2017
Ian McWha, key account manager at industrial systems integrator Boulting Technology, explores the importance of recognising and overcoming challenges when designing a switchboard.

Sir Sean Connery, most famous for his award-winning portrayal of James Bond, once said “there is nothing like a challenge to bring out the best in man.” These are wise words as we all continually face our own challenges, throughout every aspect of life.

A bespoke MCC designed in an L-shape to meet space restrictions.

When plant managers look to install a new switchboard in their facility, they are often presented with a range of challenges that they must address. Identifying these challenges as soon as possible is imperative to the success of the installation and the functionality of the switchboard. If not addressed, these issues can have drastic consequences, causing production downtime or even damage to other systems and employees.

Design challenges
Each facility is unique and as such will have its own design requirements, dependant on the function of the plant.

Many plants have limited space that they are keen to maximise, so the footprint of the switchboard needs to be as small as possible, while ensuring its integrity is not compromised.

Boulting Technology’s designers are experienced in creating bespoke systems that meet client specifications, particularly in space-short environments. Bespoke MCC designs include, integrated back to back systems with shared riser and main distribution bars, custom made U shape centres, L shape units that fit round corners and bridges that extend above equipment and wall partitions.

The specific needs of each job may also present additional challenges that the design engineer must be aware of. When working with pumping stations for example, a switchboard may be required to be near water. In these cases, the ingress protection (IP) rating, which classifies the degrees of protection provided against solid objects, dust, and water must be adhered to.

As challenges are often individual to a facility, a unique switchboard may be the answer. Bespoke solutions such as Boulting Technology’s can make the most of limited space or other restrictions, while meeting client specifications exactly.

Maintenance
Forward planning is essential when installing new equipment, especially when establishing a regular maintenance programme. Planned and predictive maintenance is crucial to keep machinery working efficiently for as long as possible, avoiding production downtime. To solve this, plant managers should work closely with the switchboard manufacturer to develop a robust maintenance programme.

Boulting Technology offers an all-encompassing maintenance solution, which includes a comprehensive survey that assesses control systems across a facility. An initial online survey assesses areas, such as obsolete parts, equipment life cycle and efficiency.

From the survey, a series of multi stage recommendations provide a hierarchy of risk, allowing plat managers to focus on high risk critical systems in the first instance and implement an appropriate plan of action.

Safety
Not properly addressing design challenges can cause safety issues. For example, it is essential that the switchboard has the correct rated short time withstand rating. This is the rating of current that the assembly can withstand for a set period of time without the aid of a short circuit protective device (SCPD). The short time withstand rating, used by engineers to determine the ability of the assembly to protect itself and other devices, is made up of two parts: the fault current rating in kiloampere (kA) and the duration time.

Manufacturers also need to be aware of the prospective short circuit current (PSCC) or fault current. The PSCC is the highest electric current which can exist in a system under short-circuit conditions.

While engineers should always be aware of the PSCC, specific applications such as when operating transformers in parallel, can present dangerous situations if not managed correctly.

Legislation, such as BS EN 61439 is the first step to ensuring switchboard safety. BS EN 61439 is a mandatory standard for all low voltage switchboard assemblies (LVSAs) and helps the manufacturer and plant manager ensure the board achieves acceptable levels of performance, safety and reliability.

It is important to choose a manufacturer and integrator which understands the relevant legislation, how to meet them and how to ensure the product is safe, while also meeting customer requests and requirements.

While meeting legislation standards is important, it does not automatically mean the switchboard is fit for the desired purpose. Safety requirements can easily be met without the equipment meeting client specifications or even working correctly. Legislation should be one of many considerations when installing new equipment.

Thinking outside of the box means design challenges can not only be overcome, but can become useful, resulting in bespoke ideas and revolutionary products. This is just as true for engineers designing industrial products such as low voltage switchboards, as it has been throughout the brilliant Sean Connery’s life.

@BoultingTech #PAuto @StoneJunctionPR

#SPS17 Gearing specialist exhibits.

17/10/2017

Aerospace, medical and automotive engineers will be able to speak with Harmonic Drive AG to improve the accuracy and efficiency of their applications at this year’s SPS IPC Drives show in Nuremberg (D). Harmonic Drive AG will be launching its FHA-C Mini Servo Actuators with Absolute MZE encoder at stand 119 in hall four, from November 28-30, 2017.

The exhibition brings together suppliers of electric automation technologies from all over the world to discuss the future of automation and new innovative products. Visitors will have the chance to eat sushi while talking to Harmonic Drive AG engineers about its range of servo actuators and learn how its multi-turn absolute motor feedback system can increase productivity.

Designed to offer high transmission reliability, even in environments with high electromagnetic interference (EMI), the FHA-C Mini Servo Actuator has a specially developed output bearing, which uses preloaded precision and high tilting capacity.

With a multi-turn absolute encoder mounted directly on to the motor shaft, the actuator can provide accurate signals for positioning directly at the load. This is ideal for design engineers working in the medical and automation sector, where creating accurate and reliable devices is imperative.

“Automation provides a number of opportunities for businesses to improve the efficiency of their processes,” explained Graham Mackrell, managing director of Harmonic Drive UK. “Harmonic Drive FHA Mini Servo Actuators have been created so that they can be combined with the YukonDrive® Servo Controller. When connected, the actuator can be tailored for use in demanding dynamic applications.

“In addition to being customisable, the actuators feature a multi-turn absolute motor feedback system that acquires the absolute position directly at the load, with maximum accuracy over more than 600 revolutions. The productivity of the servo actuator is increased because unproductive referencing is no longer required, allowing it to deliver smooth and quiet running characteristics.”

• The SPS IPC Drives show brought together 63,291 people at last year’s event, with over 500 exhibitors coming from countries outside of Germany.

Quality Managers are the Leaders!

09/10/2017
Jennifer Sillars, Product Marketing Executive for Ideagen tells why quality managers are the leaders that manufacturing needs.

Having previously worked in business intelligence for Ideagen, Jennifer Sillars brings a passion for data driven decision making to the realms of quality, compliance, audit and risk. As Product Marketing Executive at Ideagen, Jennifer’s key objectives are to understand how customers use Ideagen’s software and how the company can better serve them in their GRC challenges.

Jennifer Sillars, – Ideagen

Companies are becoming more aggressive in their financial goals, with cost cutting being the mantra for many years. Indeed, in some organisations, when all the obvious cuts have been made, making the less obvious ones can begin to jeopardise the smooth-running of the business.

In Manufacturing, we see an industry under pressure. An industry trying to do more with less. A more proactive approach is needed now to break out of this cycle of simply fulfilling demand. While it may seem unlikely to some, your Quality Manager or Quality Director, is in the perfect position to guide this strategy.

Reason One – A focus that is principled and positive
Quality leaders are focused on…quality. By this I mean customer satisfaction and reputation building are inherent in their goals. ‘Quality’ often means meeting the customer requirements or meeting safety objectives. They are high integrity individuals who make analytical decisions based on fact and with no hidden motive. It is this type of input that is needed when difficult choices have to be taken.

John Burrows – HepcoMotion

HepcoMotion, a manufacturer of linear motion systems and automation components, is an example of a company who lead with quality. As HepcoMotion manufacture everything in-house, no responsibility for quality can be delegated away. John Burrows, Group Quality Manager, defines his job as “ensuring that our customers get the best possible products.” In industries striving for blocked out order books filled with repeat business, the Quality department’s smooth operation can make this a reality.

Quality departments are often unfairly profiled as the inspector who comes in looking for problems at the end of a project. The truth behind this is that quality leaders, like John Burrows, believe the company can achieve greatness. So, if something goes wrong, there is a process or control that needs to be fixed. John is trusted at an operational level as someone to turn to when an issue is found. Leading from the front like this allows issues to be addressed earlier in the manufacturing process, instead of hidden from the inspector.

Reason Two – Business intelligence in non-conformances
They understand how the business runs. They know the small details, the daily struggles as well as the big picture strategic goals. They work beyond silos to understand the internal processes that take requirements and turn them in to commercial products. This gives Quality Managers a deep understanding of where things can, and do, go wrong. They see where the trends are that provide opportunities for improvement. Quality leaders track non-conformances and the cost of these issues.

“The ability to cost Corrective Action Preventative Action (CAPA’s) allows me to highlight areas that require attention,” John continues: “where costs have been accrued from a variety of different reasons (work in progress, customer issues, final inspection issues for example). This gives us a much better picture of particular products that may require different processes or additional inspections. We can easily add costs of re-work, extra inspections etc. to an issue and so can get an accurate picture of what it has cost the business.”

This is the kind of data-driven decision making that all companies are striving for. Executives often overlook the Quality department as a partner in business intelligence. HepcoMotion have made great efforts to improve reporting and analysis, keeping in mind the strategic needs of the company.

Reason Three – A stabilising force
In many companies, each location operates within its own rules and business constraints with little sharing of best practices. Each location focuses on optimisation. In itself a worthwhile activity that can have significant cost saving benefits, however at the public level it may not be enough to make an impact.

In a competitive market customers put a premium on suppliers that they can rely on. Reliability and repeatability are fundamental goals within the quality leader’s principled and positive focus. It is part of “ensuring that our customers get the best possible products”, as John says. When every customer knows they will get exactly what they need, orders grow. The wider market notices and the effects are transformative.

When sub-contracting part of the manufacture to suppliers, a part of the burden of reliability is taken. This is as long as you have chosen wisely, set the requirements and been realistic with lead times. The situation is different where you are the sole provider. This is the position that HepcoMotion is in as they do all their manufacturing in-house.

In recent years John’s day to day focus has shifted as HepcoMotion adapt to deal with demand. Downtime is minimal and many of their machines run 24/7. Their order books are full; their focus on quality is undoubtedly a contributing factor. Customers expect the “HepcoMotion” standard, not the standard of a particular site. John Burrows understands that it takes more than a written policy to ensure success. For that reason, John spends increasing amounts of time at different manufacturing sites engaging people and establishing a true Group-wide approach to quality.

Because when the reputation for quality and reliability is built, the impact of failing to meet a customer’s expectation in a single instance can be devastating.

It is for these reasons that Quality Managers are the leaders that manufacturing needs.

@Ideagen_Plc #PAuto @HepcoMotion