China's Big Bid For Germany's Industry 4.0 Technology

Klaus E. Meyer for Forbes:  Midea, the Chinese household appliances (“white goods”) manufacturer just made what analysts called an ‘incredibly high’ bid for German robot maker Kuka. This acquisition would take the Chinese investor right to the heart of Industry 4.0 : Kuka is a leading manufacturer of multifunctional robots that represent an important building block for enterprises upgrading their factories with full automation, the latest human-machine interface functionality, and machine-to-machine communication. Midea want a 30% stake in Kuka and have offered €115 per share. Kuka’s shares traded at €84 the day before and had already increased 60% since the beginning of the year. This offer values Kuka at €4.6 billion, which means Midea’s 30% stake would be worth €1.4 billion – on par with Beijing Enterprise’s February 2016 takeover of recycling company EEW which was the largest Chinese acquisition of a German firm to-date. Midea’s takeover bid underscores Chinese interest in German Industry 4.0 technology; in January 2016, ChemChina paid €925 million for Munich-based KraussMaffei machine tools, in part because of their advances into Industry 4.0. Recent smaller Chinese acquisitions in the German machine tool industry, which include the partial acquisitions of H.Stoll by the ShangGong Group and of Manz by the Shanghai Electric Group are, in part, motivated by the objective to partake in the latest Industry 4.0 developments.   Cont'd...

German manufacturers take aim at smart factories, mass customization

TOMOHISA TAKEI, Nikkei staff writer:  It has been five years since Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution, was first unveiled at the Hannover Messe industrial technology trade fair in Germany.      Industry 4.0 was more of a conceptual model at that time. This year, however, the trade show witnessed an emerging trend toward "smart factories" that can provide mass customization.      On April 25, SEW-Eurodrive's booth at Hannover Messe drew crowds of visitors. The German industrial motor maker demonstrated its automated vehicles for next-generation assembly plants, what it calls the "Lean Smart Factory."      In SEW-Eurodrive's demonstration, about 10 such "smart vehicles" moved about as five workers assembled products. One vehicle approached its target worker, displayed a procedure on its screen and instructed the worker to do the assembly work. After the worker completed the task, the vehicle received the product and moved on to another worker in charge of the next process.      These smart vehicles were connected over a network and programmed at the company factory. But it looked as if the products themselves were driving the vehicles and moved to where the tasks needed to be done. SEW-Eurodrive has already introduced the system at its factory in the southwestern German town of Graben-Neudorf, intending to make individually tailored products in the future.   Cont'd...

These Five Exponential Trends Are Accelerating Robotics

Alison E. Berman for Singularity Hub:   If you've been staying on top of artificial intelligence news lately, you may know that the games of chess and Go were two of the grand challenges for AI. But do you know what the equivalent is for robotics? It's table tennis. Just think about how the game requires razor sharp perception and movement, a tall order for a machine. As entertaining as human vs. robot games can be, what they actually demonstrate is much more important. They test the technology's readiness for practical applications in the real world—like self-driving cars that can navigate around unexpected people in a street. Though we used to think of robots as clunky machines for repetitive factory tasks, a slew of new technologies are making robots faster, stronger, cheaper, and even perceptive, so that they can understand and engage with their surrounding environments. Consider Boston Dynamic’s Atlas Robot, which can walk through snow, move boxes, endure a hefty blow with a hockey stick by an aggressive colleague, and even regain its feet when knocked down. Not too long ago, such tasks were unthinkable for a robot. At the Exponential Manufacturing conference, robotics expert and director of Columbia University’s Creative Machine Labs, Hod Lipson, examined five exponential trends shaping and accelerating the future of the robotics industry.    Cont'd...

46% of German companies use Industry 4.0 - survey

Almost one in two companies in the manufacturing sector (46%) use Industry 4.0 applications, while another 19 percent have specific plans to implement them, according to a recent Bitkom survey among 559 industrial companies with more than 100 employees. About 65 percent of the German industrial companies are already active in the Industry 4.0 sector. Around 23 percent of the companies asked have no concrete plans to use Industry 4.0 but will consider use for the future. Only 12 percent stated that this is not an issue currently. The study also showed that companies are still careful when it comes to investments: although 57 percent of the companies use or plan to use Industry 4.0, the budget for this is on average only 4 percent of the total revenue. Users and planners of Industry 4.0 primarily aim to optimise processes (69%) and to improve the capacity utilisation of their factories (57%). Half of the respondents expect a faster realisation of their customers’ individual wishes. 44 percent want to reduce their production costs with Industry 4.0 and 19 percent their personnel costs.   Cont'd...

The Questions Executives Should Ask About 3D Printing

Channing Flynn for Harvard Business Review:  Most hearing aids in the U.S. are now custom-made on 3D printers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first 3D-printed pills. Carmakers have started using 3D technology to produce parts. And last year saw the first demonstration of a digital printer producing multilayer, standards-based circuit boards. Imagine the changes afoot in the pharmaceutical, medical device, automotive, and consumer electronics industries. 3D printing is poised to redefine global manufacturing and distribution. It could upend supply chains, business models, customer relationships, and even entrepreneurship itself. It may do to physical goods what cloud computing is now doing to digital services; what the PC, internet, and smart mobility have done to personal computing; and what outsourcing did to software development and business processing — take mass distribution and innovation to the next level while realigning the very geography of work and trade.   Cont'd...

Swagway Teardown: What Makes a Safe Hoverboard?

From Andrew Goldberg at Ifixit.org: The board is also smart enough to not drive around without you. Riders need both feet firmly planted on the board or it won’t be going anywhere. Just how does the board know you’re properly mounted? Each foot pad has two infrared sensors—one at the toe, one at the heel. Stepping down on the pad pushes a peg between emitter and receiver. Only when all four sensors are blocked are you ready to roll... ...Those sensor switches live on the backs of the two gyro boards—one for each wheel. These boards are largely responsible for the “smart” part of smartboard. Each board is home to an Invensense MPU6050 6-axis gyroscope+accelerometer, and a GigaDeviceGD32F130 ARM Cortex-M3 32-bit microcontroller (thanks, Ken!). The ARM chips are responsible for reading the infrared switches, controlling the sweet underglow headlights and top-mounted indicator LEDs, and collating and sending data from the MPU6050 to the main board (more on that later)... ( full article )  

Industry 4.0: When humans and robots go hand in hand

Kristie Thong for Eco-Business:  Amid concerns that the rise of industrial robots may soon render humans obsolete, Swiss automation giant ABB’s latest innovation may help shine a new light on what the future will look like when humans and robots can work together as partners.   Full Article:

LSIS offers glimpse into smart factory

Lee Min-hyung for Korea Times:  LSIS, the nation's top electric equipment maker, aims to apply integrated automation systems into all of its manufacturing facilities as a core strategy to slash operating costs and dominate the nation's energy efficiency market. The so-called "smart factory" initiative comes amid growing popularity for efficient management systems in the age of the Internet of Things (IoT). Global equipment manufacturers are jumping on the "smart" bandwagon for management efficiency, but only a few companies here have achieved significant feats on the area. LSIS's manufacturing facility, however, offers a glimpse of what automated factory is all about, ranging from assembling parts to packaging. In particular, the company's G production line is equipped with fully-automated production system operated by its programmable logic controller (PLC). The PLC is interconnected with the manufacturing execution system (MES), serving as a network hub to manage every level of manufacturing processes within the factory.   Cont'd...

U.S. manufacturing isn't dead; factories are running at close to a record pace

Rex Nutting for MarketWatch:  U.S. manufacturing sector doesn’t get any respect. Ask a random sample of people on the street and you’re likely to hear that America doesn’t make anything anymore, that China, Mexico and Vietnam took all of our factories, and that the only jobs left in America are flipping burgers and cleaning hotel rooms. “Throughout history, at the center of any thriving country has been a thriving manufacturing sector,” says presidential candidate Donald Trump. “But under decades of failed leadership, the United States has gone from being the globe’s manufacturing powerhouse — the envy of the world — through a rapid deindustrialization.”   Cont'd.. .

Greycork Challenges Ikea With A Flat-pack Living Room In A Box

From Dezeen:   Rhode Island furniture company Greycork has created a collection of quick-assembly, flat-pack pieces that are intended "to be a better alternative to Ikea"... ...Each piece is shipped for free in a thin, flat box and is designed to be assembled by the customer in under four minutes... ...The company's first line, the Brooks Collection, featured a folding dining table, coffee table and bench – all made of wood and priced from $500 to $950... ( full story ) ( Greycork site )

Nanolights

From Nature.com: Ultimately, Goh, a PhD candidate at the National University of Singapore, hopes that the method will help her to find blood vessels that are leaking owing to inflammation, perhaps helping to detect malaria or predict strokes. Crucial to her technique are the virus-sized particles that give the solution its colour. Just a few tens of nanometres across, they are among a growing array of 'nanolights' that researchers are tailoring to specific types of fluorescence: the ability to absorb light at one wavelength and re-emit it at another. Many naturally occurring compounds can do this, from jellyfish proteins to some rare-earth compounds. But nanolights tend to be much more stable, versatile and easier to prepare — which makes them attractive for users in both industry and academia. The best-established examples are quantum dots: tiny flecks of semiconductor that are prized for their beautiful, crisp colours. Now, however, other types of nanolight are on the rise. Some have a rare ability to absorb lots of low-energy photons and combine the energy into a handful of high-energy photons — a trick that opens up opportunities such as producing multiple colours at once. Others are made from polymers or small organic molecules. These are less toxic than quantum dots and often outshine them — much to the amazement of chemists, who are used to carbon-based compounds simply degrading in the presence of ultraviolet light... ( full article )

4D-Printed Concept Car Will Predict Your Wishes

Viknesh Vijayenthiran for Discovery News:  New materials will also play a significant role in the further evolution of the car, according to BMW. This has already started with the increasing use of carbon fiber and other composites instead of conventional steel. Looking further forward, technologies such as rapid manufacturing and 4-D printing (3D-printed materials that change depending on conditions) will open up new possibilities. One of the more interesting aspects of the concept is a technology called Alive Geometry which consists of 4D-printed components that can change their shape and interact with the driver.   Full Article:

Mobile Robotic Fabrication System for Filament Structures

The project Mobile Robotic Fabrication System for Filament Structures, developed by ITECH graduate Maria Yablonina, demonstrates a new production process for filament structures. It proposes multiple semi-autonomous wall climbing robots to distribute fiber filament, using any horizontal or vertical surface, or even existing architecture, to support the new structures. Compared to larger scale industrial robots that are limited by position and reach, these robots are enabled with movement systems and a collection of sensors that allow them to travel and interact accurately along typical ground, walls, roofs, and ceilings. One can imagine a fabrication process where an operator arrives to the scene with a suitcase housing all the necessary robots and materials to create a large structure. These agile mobile robotic systems move robotic fabrication processes beyond the constraints of the production hall, exposing vast urban and interior environments as potential fabrication sites.

New Materials for Manufacturing: The Economist's Overview For 2015

From The Economist's Technology Quarterly: This is what some scientists describe as a “golden age” for materials. New, high-performing substances such as exotic alloys and superstrong composites are emerging; “smart” materials can remember their shape, repair themselves or assemble themselves into components. Little structures that change the way something responds to light or sound can be used to turn a material into a “metamaterial” with very different properties... ...When it comes to making chemical bonds, one element, carbon, is in a league of its own; a more or less infinite number of distinct molecules can be made from it. Chemists call these carbon-based molecules organic, and have devoted a whole branch of their subject—inorganic chemistry—to ignoring them. Mr Ceder’s Materials Project sits in that inorganic domain. It has simulated some 60,000 materials, and five years from now should reach 100,000. This will provide what the people working on the project call the “materials genome”: a list of the basic properties—conductivity, hardness, elasticity, ability to absorb other chemicals and so on—of all the compounds anyone might think of. “In ten years someone doing materials design will have all these numbers available to them, and information about how materials will interact,” says Mr Ceder. “Before, none of this really existed. It was all trial and error... ( full article )

Nobilia uses IoT to create smart factory

Kitchen maker Nobilia has rolled out IoT and automation systems in its German factories to enable real-time tracking of furniture as it progresses through the manufacturing process. The company, which has distribution in Australia, is using Beckhoff automation technology that is powered by Intel processors. A barcode that is attached to furniture is encoded with details including processing steps, components required to be added to complete it, and logistics information such as where the finished product is to be delivered. “Each processing machine scans the barcode and retrieves the associated machining data from a central database. Data connecting the whole factory together makes it possible to produce 2700 kitchens daily,” Intel said in a blog post. “Through real-time tracking enabled by Intel IoT technologies, Nobilia knows exactly where each part is in the production process at any time. “If one of the manufacturing lines shuts down, parts are automatically rerouted to another line.”

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