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Our review of the Machine Building show 2007

16 March 2007

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MachineBuilding.net's editor, Jon Severn, provides a round-up of some of the highlights from the 2007 Machine Building show held at the NEC, Birmingham, on 14 and 15 February.

According to Trident Exhibitions Ltd, organiser of the 2007 show 'Machine Building, Drives & Automation, including PneuMotion', over 4200 people preregistered and visited this event and the others located alongside, namely 'Mtec - Sensors, Measurement & Instrumentation', 'IPOT - Machine Vision & Displays Technology', and 'Practical Vacuum'. With plenty to see, it would be impossible for anyone to visit every stand in just two days. There are also plenty of designers and engineers that did not go to the shows for whatever reason. So if you fall into either category, sit back and enjoy our own review of the Machine Building show.

Aerotech was showing its new ALAR rotary stages that benefit from large-diameter apertures, brushless direct-drive motors, integral encoders, backlash-free bearings and high load capacity. They are targeted at applications that might normally use a wormwheel rotary stage - though the ALAR stages can operate up to five times as fast, with greatly improved reliability and life expectancy. Another product family of interest on Aerotech's stand was the Ensemble CP/MP/CL intelligent drives that offer deterministic high-speed serial networking for up to ten axes. Each unit can be configured independently for use with brushed, brushless or stepper motors. Part of the same Ensemble family, the Epaq unit is a standalone multi-axis motion control and integrated drive system that is offered in a choice of desktop or 19inch rack-mounted formats.

Automotion (International) used the Machine Building show to launch its new 800-page Mechanical Components handbook. This covers linear and rotary motion components such as linear rails, slides, lead screws, ball screws, bearings, chain and cable drive systems.

Baldor's stand seemed to be busy for the whole two days of the show, thanks largely to the MotiFlex Ethernet-compatible three-phase AC drive range that was being shown for the first time in the UK. While this is, in itself, a significant development, it has to be seen in the context of the other Ethernet-compatible products that Baldor already offers: single-phase drives, a machine controller and a development environment. Machine builders can now source a complete real-time Ethernet-based motion control system from a single supplier. Typical applications will be small to medium-sized multi-axis systems, with savings achieved through simplified engineering, reduced control hardware requirements, quicker/easier cabling and faster assembly.

The BARA-supported Robotics Demonstration Area was popular, with plenty of 'live' robots to attract the attention of visitors. One item that caught the editor's eye was a new vision system that integrates directly with the Fanuc Robotics RJ3iC controller. Vision is becoming increasingly important with robotic cells today, so the Fanuc iRVision system is welcome because it makes 2D and 3D vision integration straightforward, saving both installation time and cost for machine builders and system integrators.

For visitors seeking high-precision/high-torque gear reduction, Heason Technologies was displaying the new TwinSpin gearbox that is said to have an industry-leading output torque-to-size ratio. With reduction ratios from 33:1 to 191:1, and acceleration and brake torque ratings of up to 700Nm, these zero-backlash reducers certainly have a lot to offer. And if you want more, the company was also showing a new range of rotary actuators that are, effectively, TwinSpin reducers combined with a choice of motors: thin-ring brushless torque motors, flat pancake-style brushed motors, or conventional brushless servomotors.

HepcoMotion had a number of products on its stand to interest machine designers, such as the UtiliTrak linear guideway that is a better quality system than its predecessor, plus it is easier to install and very competitively priced. The SW series carries loads up to 16,800N at a maximum speed of 8m/s and accelerations to 5G, while the lower-priced PW series has chemical-resistant polymer wheels overmoulded on a stainless steel bearing, with the wheels running on a rail made of anodised aluminium instead of hardened and ground carbon steel. Other products worth a mention are the GV3 universal linear motion system, the SBD Sealed Belt Drive, and the MCS Machine Construction System (an aluminium framework system that is now claimed to be the most comprehensive of its type on the market).

HPC Gears was, as ever, giving away copies of its catalogue of standard parts, emblazoned with the claim 'Never Knowingly Outpriced' - which is worth remembering.

Jet Press is a name that is almost synonymous with fasteners - which was backed up by the company's display of recently launched fir tree buttons and ratchet rivets with tough coloured finishes - but many visitors were surprised to see that Jet Press also now offers the Alumas aluminium framework system. Other non-fastener products on show included ball bearing slides, couplings, hinges, knobs and handles, and electrical switches.

LG Motion was highlighting its new medium-precision XSlide that is based on a well-proven PTFE bearing system with a simple leadscrew drive. This compact unit has a cross-section of just 31mm high x 48mm wide, yet it packs an impressive dynamic load rating of up to 15.9kg with eight travel lengths available from 50-750mm.

Machine Building Systems had one of the biggest stands, with plenty for visitors to see. Something in particular that the company was keen to promote was the new 40x40mm stainless steel profiles from Item. These are aimed at applications in the food and drink industry, some medical sectors, and corrosive and high-temperature environments.

The main attraction on the MiniTec stand was also a new stainless steel profile and a stainless steel version of its Powerlock fastening system. Importantly, this requires no drilling, which is an even greater advantage in the stainless steel profiles than in the aluminium profiles for which this fastener was originally designed. The price of the 45x45mm stainless profile is said to be very competitive compared with others that are currently on the market.

Misumi is a name that was new to many visitors to the show, but its stand was well worth a visit. It is not just a question of the vast range of 70,000 standard products (from bearings and gears to ball screws and couplings), but the way these can be customised, finished and delivered in just three days. And this is supported by CAD part files that can be downloaded from an online library or CD-Rom, plus an e-commerce system, making the whole design and ordering process very slick indeed.

Mitsubishi is a well-known name and was using its presence at the show to demonstrate how its new FX3U PLC can provide a platform for a totally integrated architecture for factory automation. This latest in the Mitsubishi FX family is five times faster than its predecessor and benefits from eight times as much memory. A comprehensive range of plug-in modules makes it highly versatile - there is even a module for use with the recently launched MRJ3 servo motor.

Another highlight on the Mitsubishi stand was Projxstudio, a management tool for accessing MELSOFT applications. This software provides a system overview of the automation controllers, along with simple access to the associated codes and programming tools. In addition, users can access other automation software and related documentation, which makes it very useful for machine builders, system integrators and end users.

High-performance AC induction and brushless DC motors featured strongly on the Oriental Motor stand. Other products shown included a selection of linear and rotary actuators utilising Oriental Motor's own Alpha Step stepper technology.

Rittal decided to put the emphasis on software and height-adjustable TFT pedestals rather than the enclosures for which it is best known. The company's EPLAN division was therefore demonstrating EPLAN Electric P8, the latest version of its CAE tool for the design and documentation of industrial automation systems. Information was also available for EPLAN Cabinet and EPLAN Fluid software.

Robotunits was certainly not the only exhibitor of aluminium profiles and accessories, yet its system is claimed to offer a major advantage over competitive systems in that only one slot width is used for all extrusions, meaning that only one fastener size is ever required. Furthermore, joining the extrusions needs no drilling or machining, which makes it easy and quick to build frames and make those inevitable modifications. Another notable exhibit was a video showing a pallet transfer system that uses self-powered carriages that operate independently thanks to onboard motors and rechargeable batteries.

One of the most popular stands was that of Schmersal. The ompany had taken a fairground attraction and upgraded it to use it recently launched ESALAN Wireless control system. Although the system is suitable for safety-related applications, the demonstration used the handheld controller as a means of liberating teddy bears using a remotely operated grab. All good fun at the fair!

August Steinmeyer was showing its range of high-quality miniature ball screws, standard-sized ball screws and the new ETA+ ball screw that has 50 per cent higher rigidity and 67 per cent less friction than standard models. Also on display were examples of the Steinmeyer FMD (Feinmess) linear stages, capable of operating in nanometre movement ranges.

Teseo was showing its modular aluminium pipework and fittings for compressed air. These are said to offer considerable advantages over conventional steel pipes for use around factories, and the aluminium modular pipework system is also a very neat way of distributing air around machines. Prior to the official launch in Hannover, visitors were also able to see the new Teseo AP Multifluid modular pipework range, which is suitable for use with not only compressed air, but also oils and liquids at pressures of up to 25 bar.

Mtec - Sensors, Measurement and Instrumentation, featuring Industrial Networks

Of course, one of the attractions of the Machine Building show is that it is next door to Mtec. One stand that played host to a lot of visitors form the Machine Building show was that of the AS-Interface UK Expert Alliance. The multi-vendor demonstration conveyor system from the Manchester Metropolitan University's (MMU)Training Centre was operating throughout the show. This is fully controlled by AS-i and includes PLCs, displays, diagnostics, sensors, actuators, switches and functional safety elements, all linked by a single cable. Also being promoted was ASi-Tech 2007, the free seminar taking place in May 2007 - and which is sponsored by MachineBuilding.net.

Festo, which is making good headway in educating the market that it is much more than a pneumatics company, also chose to have its stand in Mtec. A lot of interest was shown in the new intelligent DC servo motors with their fieldbus interfaces for Profibus and CANopen. Numerous other new products were being shown, including a high-speed (2000 frames per second) camera that plugs into a laptop computer for applications such as troubleshooting on machinery, plus proximity sensors, colour sensors, analogue cylinder sensors that give a proportional output for piston travel over a 50mm range, and a cam-driven 90-degree pick-and-place unit. In addition, recently launched products on the stand were differential pressure sensors with a digital display, FRLs with built-in pressure and flow sensing, and the DNCE electromechanical rod actuator. This last unit is a screw-driven linear actuator with a non-rotating round piston rod. It is excellent as a direct replacement for standard ISO 6431 pneumatic cylinders.

IPOT, Machine Vision & Displays Technology

One stand in the IPOT show that that seemed to be particularly busy was that of Firstsight Vision. With a new version of its Vision Elements Machine Vision Handbook available, there was a constant stream of visitors wanting to take a copy. Also on display were over 20 new models of camera, components using Gig-E, PCI Express and 1394B, and new embedded vision systems.

Machine Building show 2008

The 2008 Machine Building, Drives & Automation incorporating PneuMotion event will be held in Hall 10 at the NEC, Birmingham, on 13 and 14 February. As usual, other industrial trade shows will be held in adjacent halls, making it well worth the trip. More information and a preview are available at www.machinebuilding.net/n/n0794.htm.

 
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