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Routeco LIVE conference successfully educates engineers

05 December 2016

Routeco LIVE conferences educate engineers on the latest industrial control and automation advances.

On the 4 and 6 October, Routeco held LIVE conferences in Manchester and Milton Keynes respectively. The two events drew an encouraging crowd of industry professionals that was eager to keep up to date with the latest developments in the industrial control and automation sector. 

The subjects covered in the conference were wide and diverse, including regulation, the general industry situation, safe working practices, as well as the latest product releases. Top of the agenda though was the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The IIoT has been discussed for a quite a long time, mainly at a high level, along with its potential benefits. However, at a lower level, many engineers have read about the subject but are struggling for information on how to take advantage of the situation, or even future-proof their own installations. Routeco LIVE provided a wide variety of information that was intended to fill that information gap from different angles, allowing engineers to choose the route that suited their needs best.  

The two conferences were set up to provide three different streams - manufacturing, machine building and system integration and panel building. Each stream had talks presented by a range of companies leading the way in that particular discipline. As well as engineering, there were practical business sessions on unlocking the value of apprenticeships and claiming R&D tax credits. 

Rockwell Automation 

Routeco was the first company Rockwell Automation connected with outside the US, and the pair have maintained a strong partnership for 25 years. As such, Rockwell played a major part in the two Routeco LIVE conferences, led by the company’s President of Europe, Middle East & Africa, Thomas Donato, who gave a lunchtime Keynote at both LIVE events. Representatives of the company also gave a talk on the IO-Link standard, launched a new range of drives and gave us a sneak preview of the company’s latest innovation before its official launch at the Automation Fair in November.

Thomas Donato outlined the importance of automation and modernisation in today’s connected world and how a connected and modern enterprise leads to an increase in productivity, efficiency and sustainability. 

Focusing on the UK, Donato went on to detail why the automation space is so important for UK industry to grow. Remaining competitive means investing in new technologies and providing enhanced services. He also challenged the government to take the lead by implementing policies to help industry. 

Donato then continued by outlining Rockwell’s strategy for connecting people, data and machines to provide a completely ‘Connected Enterprise’, Rockwell’s term for the IIoT. Adopting a Connected Enterprise methodology will increase the UK’s productivity, enabling businesses to become agile and make better business decisions. 

New products

The event continued with two significant launches from Rockwell – a new range of intelligent AC drives and a platform designed to allow the remote monitoring and control of a plant from mobile devices. 

The new drive, the Allen-Bradley PowerFlex 527, is designed to work exclusively with a Logix-based programmable automation controller (PAC). The drives use Rockwell Software Studio 5000 Logix Designer to help simplify machine development and operation.

The PowerFlex 527 drive offers a low-cost solution for machine applications that need simple speed control for induction motors. The servo drive handles the more precise motor control operations involving speed, torque and position control.

Once programmed, drive configuration files can be easily transferred to a new machine without line-by-line copying. The PowerFlex 527 drive is available in five frame sizes, power ratings from 0.4 to 22kW, and global voltage ratings of 100 to 600V.

The other new Rockwell product was one of the main launches at Rockwell’s Automation Fair, which was held in November in Atlanta. Designated TeamOne, the platform aims to introduce a greater level of visibility into automation systems. 

TeamOne is centred around a new app platform, built in conjunction with Microsoft, which can be installed and used straight away on company or personal devices. 

There’s no need for a Wi-Fi connection as your mobile phone acts as its own webserver. The app comes with a set of modules that allow colleagues to store and share device data, create incident reports and remotely keep connected to all aspects of a company on a global scale. Most importantly, the app contains a library of knowledge based articles that users can search through for advice and answers to on-going issues.

TeamOne’s mission is to increase productivity by 33 seconds per hour. Although the figure doesn’t sound large, achieving that target for a plant of 2,000 people can increase productivity by approximately $1.4M/year.

GAMBICA 

The second keynote address was delivered by Steve Brambley, the Director of Public Affairs at GAMBICA. GAMBICA is the national organisation representing the interests of companies in the instrumentation, control, automation and laboratory technology industry in the UK. 

Brambley gave a high level overview of the industry in the UK, which detailed several current hot topics and future trends. Firstly, he backed up the point made by Thomas Donato earlier that the UK government needs to take responsibility for the future of manufacturing in the UK, and as such, should put an industrial strategy in place that would last beyond the lifetime of this government and its successor. Only a long term strategy could give the industry the stability and confidence to invest in technology and processes that would overcome challenges like Brexit. 

The keynote then went on to have a look at future trends in the industry that manufacturers would have to take notice of. The two most notable trends discussed were servitisation and the circular economy. Servitisation is the movement of the industry away from providing products and onto providing services. In an example of the trend, Brambly discussed how a UPS manufacturer had started charging for power by the hour, rather than selling individual products. This left the responsibility for power delivery with the UPS manufacturer, rather than the customer. To deliver a service like this requires products that are consistent and can be guaranteed to work when required. The circular economy is intended to protect the environment. It is a trend where every raw material used comes from recycling, rather than being taken out the ground. 

Brambley finished his keynote address by talking about GAMBICA itself, and the responsibilities of the organisation. GAMBICA has close ties to the government and provides a route that manufacturers can take to make their voices heard in Westminster. As a past example of this type of work, he detailed how GAMBICA had worked with the government on the apprenticeship levy and hopefully influenced the law to aid manufacturing. 

Conference highlights

Cisco provided a brief introduction to IIoT and how it applies to industrial manufacturing before moving on to what the company had done to assist customers make the changes required. Cisco’s Sean Hobday, who was presenting, used examples of recent case studies to demonstrate how its customers can leverage Cisco technology to improve productivity, reduce downtime, waste, and increase time to market. Boeing, for example, has used Cisco for asset tracking and part location of its 747’s. Cisco’s portfolio of IoT infrastructure technologies and products gives customers a deeper insight into IoT data and helps better secure physical and digital assets. 

Rittal’s presentation directly targeted the panel builder. The company started off by detailing changes in the industry, as well as regulations that have added time pressures to panel builders, and how this pressure is set to intensify through further changes. This time pressure is magnified because of the labour intensive nature of the job. There is also pressure from further along the supply chain to keep down costs, and this is harder for panel builders because there’s not much room to manoeuvre when there is little chance of reducing material costs. Rittal then pointed out the irony that panel builders are increasingly supplying products for highly automated tasks, while being behind the automation curve themselves. 

The company then went on to show how automation had the potential to make the job safer, quicker and cheaper, while freeing up staff to perform duties better suited to their experience. Detailing the timesaving products now coming on to the market, Rittal showed the gains in productivity and quality that could potentially be achieved. 

For example, machining centres, such as Rittal’s Perforex series, can take care of the mechanical processing steps that are required to prepare an enclosure for population – drilling, thread tapping and milling cut-outs. The whole process is automated after initial programming. Programs can also be saved for future orders, further speeding workflow. 

Other tools are available to help panel builders work more efficiently, while making the workplace safer. For instance, table-top working and lifting products, like Rittal’s Assemblex frames, can allow a single person to populate, transport and install heavy mounting plates or equipment. Cutting centres save the time spent measuring and cutting cable ducts and support rails and automated wiring could wire enclosure mounting plates quickly. Rittal’s Secarex range of products are a good example of this type of automated cutting system.  

Panduit’s presentation concentrated on critical infrastructure and network monitoring. The company emphasised the importance of designing and deploying future proof network infrastructures capable of unlocking the benefits of an Ethernet network and the importance of exploring tools to help manage business risk and troubleshoot network issues.

Other highlights included Iguana Security discussing cyber security and how to protect infrastructure and control systems. Stratus Technologies followed with a presentation on continuous availability of critical software applications. There was presentations from Molex about On-Machine Connectivity, SMC Pneumatics talked about a fully integrated ‘total machine solution’ and Hardy Process Solutions discussed Intelligent Weighing Solutions for OEMs.

The event was wrapped up by CP Automation giving advice on variable speed drives and how to save energy and Routeco providing an update on machine safety, compliance and legislation.

Summary

All in all, every presentation was useful and designed primarily to educate the engineer rather than push products. Each session was full, and the TeamOne launch was standing room only, both in Salford and Milton Keynes. The event fills a large gap in the market for the engineers that are charged with modernising UK industry, and the large attendance at both venues, showed that those engineers were in agreement. 


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