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From virtual reality to the real thing!

12 November 2019

Engineering apprentices at the Make UK’s Technology Training Hub can get their hands on the latest robotic programming and production trouble-shooting systems thanks to a development partnership between The Automated Technology Group’s Systems Division (ATG), a Wood PLC Company, and SMC UK Ltd.

ATG and SMC have brought together their design engineering and automation experience to design, build and install a state-of-the art robotic training cell at Make UK’s Technology Hub in Birmingham. This multi-functional training cell is now live and ready for use by the 250 apprentices and other engineers joining the Make UK training courses this year.

This significant investment in the latest robotics and production automation – including both software and hardware – complements the systems already installed at the Technology Hub which is now equipped with an unrivalled range of industry standard components from a variety of manufacturers. 

Students using the facility, including apprentices and experienced engineers who are looking to update their skills, will be able to experience a range of tasks including the inspection, conveying and robotic transfer of component shafts into and out of the cell and the robotic pick and place of automotive body panels.

The cell also allows multiple fault scenarios such as disabled sensors and switches to be created. Students are then tasked to identify and rectify the faults.

A fundamental element of the training cell is the wireless communications system that enables the entire suite of control systems and robotics to operate and talk to each other. To achieve this in such a demanding environment, ATG worked with SMC UK to create a secure wireless communications and data capture system which is unique in the marketplace.

Central to this system is SMC’s wireless EX600-W Fieldbus system for serial input/output transmission. With its instant power-up facility, the EX600-W operates over a radius of up 10m so can easily control all the systems in the training cell. The EX600-W can also be monitored from a remote PC so tutors and students can check functionality or trouble-shoot away from the physical training cell. Working in such a busy environment, this Wi-Fi system uses the 2.4GHz ISM frequency band but can frequency hop every 5ms to provide stable communications and minimise the risk of disruption from other electronic devices. Its data encryption system maximises security and prevents unauthorised access. The EX-600 is supported with SMC’s EX-260 Fieldbus output only transmission system.

To perform a variety of pick and place tasks, the training cell is fitted with SMC’s latest 2-Finger MHZ2 Series pneumatic grippers with an integrated linear guide for high rigidity. To maximise versatility, these grippers can be fitted with standard, narrow or flat finger options, all with a task repeatability rate of +/- 0.1mm.

With safety training an integral part of the training cell’s functionality, it is also fitted with two SMC valve pressure release systems from the VP-X555 and VP-X585 Series. Both units comply to the ISO 13849-1 safety standard.

All the SMC systems in the training cell are also being used for part tracking and data capture aligned with Industry 4.0 functionality.

Svetlana Tauchmanova, Sales Engineer at SMC UK Ltd said “We are delighted to have worked with ATG on this exciting training project. This has been the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities of some of our latest wireless control systems and the compatibility of SMC components with the demands of Industry 4.0 and beyond. It really is a state-of-the-art facility that the UK manufacturing sector can be proud of.”


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