Don’t ignore these automation trends

Think Again: No one wants to miss the next big thing. What if the next big thing in automation for your applications has been here all along, and you haven’t noticed?


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Courtesy: Omron


Technological advances tend to sneak up on us, and we may not implement automation advances quickly enough for our own good. I’m particularly reflective on that point in Control Engineering’s 65th anniversary year because:


  • There’s wisdom in the adage, “You look, but do not see.”

  • It coincides with my 25th anniversary with the publication.

  • Lost in thought at the library with my granddaughter recently, I asked myself, “Where’s the technological future I thought we’d have by now?” Then I slowly looked around the relatively normal library/playroom and counted more than 20 things that couldn’t have existed when I was my granddaughter’s age, 53 years ago.

  • April includes the Manufacturing Awards dinner highlighting, which features the Control Engineering Engineers’ Choice Award winners (best products of the year chosen by subscribers), after a day of discussing innovations at the CFE Media Marketing to Engineers conference.

  • April’s Automate show in Chicago’s McCormick Place (co-located with ProMat) offers a technologically tasty smorgasbord of advancements.

Automation not to miss


Automation trends you may not have noticed, but should, follow. In the online version of this article, see the related automation vendors April 8 to 11 at Automate 2019, a conference held every other year, coordinated by Association for Advancing Automation (A3) and its constituent organizations, RIA, AIA, MCMA. Conference sessions at the show include: Automation return on investment (ROI), system integrator selection, safety for collaborative applications, 3-D vision, making industrial robots collaborative, cloud robotics and automation, improving industrial robot accuracy, autonomous robots, robotic bin-picking motion control.

On April 10, seven start-up automation companies pitch innovations to a panel of judges for five minutes each; the winner receives $10,000.

See other innovations below.


Enhanced motion control


Motion control is available with precision less than 100 nm 3-dimensional 6-axis points from Alio Industries.


Motion control is available with precision less than 100 nm 3-dimensional 6-axis points from Alio Industries, as shown at the 2019 Automate show in Chicago. Courtesy: Alio Industries


Extend the reach and utilization opportunities for a robot with an overhead (wall or floor mounted) linear track giving the robot another axis of motion. The application extends the robot work envelope for material handling, machine tending, welding, and other applications, according to Güdel Inc.


Automated material handling technologies are enhanced with intelligent software to help optimize the connected distribution center with robotic unloaders, robotic picking, and a goods-to-robot system, along with collaborations with Carnegie Mellon University and others, according to Honeywell Intelligrated as shown at Automate and ProMat.


Vision integration, performance


The CoaxPress 2.0 standard, expected to be released in June 2019, offers high frame rates over long distances for demanding machine vision applications. New machine vision cameras, frame grabbers, and embedded vision options are being developed to take advantage of the high-performance capabilities, according to Basler, a Silicon Software company.

Autonomous machine vision systems can be installed in minutes to bring quality assurance to more applications, without a system integrator’s expertise, according to Inspekto, an Israeli company.


Digital connectivity, wireless


Radio-frequency identification (RFID) and sensors can combine wireless identification and condition monitoring to enhance Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) capabilities, according to Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, said to be Europe´s largest application-oriented research organization.

Digital transformation is enabled with smart factory elements, such as better data management, cloud-based services, rapid IT integration with edge devices and high high-end robotics combined with ROS vision technology (ROS, robot operator system open source software), according to Austria-based Keba AG.



Posital magnetic Kit Encoders support 2 and 4-Wire implementations of the single-cable BiSS line communications interface, as shown at the 2019 Automate show in Chicago. Courtesy: Posital


Single-cable connectivity for servo and stepper kits offers significant cost savings from reduced component count and simplified installation procedures. This is especially true with smaller motors where finding space for two connectors can be awkward. With the 4-wire version, separate wire pairs for power and data transmission include wire pairs packaged in a single cable. For 2-wire implementations, modulated data signals share the conductor pair with the power supply, according to Posital.


Integrated robotics


A three-robot mini-factory will simulate the assembly and packaging of USB flash drives with a single-arm collaborative robot, an invert-mounted SCARA, and a light-weight, compact 6-axis robot, driven by the same controller, according to ABB Robotics.


Navigation technology and robotics intelligence can be applied to enable some warehouse equipment such as lift trucks, to move and function autonomously, according to Balyo, a French company.

Advanced automation technologies enable the factory of the future with traceability and flexible manufacturing using robotics, sensing, control, motion, vision and safety technologies. Laser marking and pick-n-place robotics are part of an interactive demonstration, according to Omron.


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