A grand day out

Written by: Justin Cunningham | Published:

Eureka's Design Days provided engineers with the lowdown on motion control and automation technologies. So what did you miss, Justin Cunningham reports

UK firms need to be faster, more flexible and have lower costs if they are to be able to complete globally. It is up to design engineers to rise to the challenge and make this happen. That was the message to delegates who attended the recent Eureka Motion Control and Automation Design Days.

Like most sectors, motion control and automation has been affected by the global economic downturn. But despite the apparent doom and gloom, it was pleasing to see that delegates at the events had a subtle optimise about the future and realism of the challenges ahead.

Overview
As a sector, motion control and automation was expected to grow from $6.2 billion 2007 to over $9billion in 2012. Admittedly, this research carried out by ARC was before the economy plummeted south. New figures from IMS Research point to a general slowdown in demand with robotics and machinery down 15% to 20% compared to this time last year. However, aerospace, defence, medical and renewable power do seem to be reasonably buoyant and show little change in demand over the last 12 months.

It is important to remember that this is the sort of technology that is going to improve the bottom line of many companies as they look to improve efficiency during these tough times.

In general there is a consensus, especially from engineers, that life cycle cost must be considered over purchase costs. Long term strategic planning must replace short-term cost cutting if UK companies are to stay competitive globally, especially when equipment and systems can have payback periods as short as just a few years. Companies need to be more efficient and they need to be able to add more value to products and processes.

Keynote thoughts

The keynote speaker, Airbus test engineer Piers Talbot Keyzar, talked about his involvement to help design and develop much of the landing gear test rig for the A380. He had to handle some 22tonne of landing gear and simulate lateral loads caused by wind pressure, experienced during take off and landing, as well as the axial loads felt on the gear as it turned during taxi, simulating the 500tonnes plus that the three landing gear support. It was a fascinating insight into the role that motion control technology played in the development of the world's largest airliner.



Dr Benjamin Drew, from the Centre for Power Transmission and Motion Control at the University of Bath also gave an independent view of how motion control technologies application could help to make the urban vehicle of future a reality. The Clever was on show at the event in Nottingham and though it caused some initial bemused looks, most were impressed with the innovative design concept and the technologies to make the vehicle tilt as it cornered.

Innovative Design

Diversification of automation solutions and drives was the focus of the presentation by Festo. Nigel Dawson, product manager of handling and positioning described how the product range in 2009 aims to accommodate every type of company and functionality requirement, from low cost to intelligent, very large to very small actuators and drives.

His presentation also described how innovative design and control could be achieved using all off the self-components. He showed how a number of standard drives, actuators and linear systems could be assembled to make up a tripod shaped pick and place robot.

Sensor selection

Motion control and automation systems rely on information and data from sensors. This was the topic from Chris Jones, managing director of Micro Epsilon. He talked through correct sensor selection as well as recent innovations from the company.

"Unfortunately, there isn't a sensor that will do everything," he says. He spoke about the trade off between contact and non-contact sensors and the application that each of these could typically be used for. He also said that sensor selection, and getting the best data, is a combination of the mechanics, electronics and software of a system.

Practical steps

Automation control specialists, Aerotech, went through practical steps and advice to get the most out of a motion control and automation system. Examples included 'tuning' machine tools to eliminate vibration and get extremely accurate position readings, down to the submicron level.

Simon Smith, European manager for Aerotech's Control Systems division talked through how to improve existing systems just by optimising the control system. Examples were speeding up a process without compromising positional accuracy and therefore quality.

Workshops

The afternoon breakout sessions saw Festo, Micro Epsilon and Aerotech give practical examples of the technology on offer to smaller groups. Delegates got the chance to ask specific questions that they had about live projects and gain some advice from the experts.

Nigel Dawson from Festo talked through drive and linear system selection. This free piece of software sizes actuators, motors, and drives with pretty much everything that is needed for a complete system. Engineers were amazed that something that would usually take days to work though can now be done in a matter of minutes.

Micro Epsilon had a display of the sensors and gave in depth explanations into how each worked, the potential applications, and how they should correctly be used.

And Aerotech gave delegates a practical demonstration on how its software can minimise harmonic resonances of a system using its controlling software. This can then improve the throughput of a system and operate a machine much more effective and efficiently.


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