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3D-printed PPE 02/07/2020

The success of the UK's National 3D Printing Society’s initiative allows RS to refocus its efforts on the international need for 3D-printed face visors during COVID-19 pandemic.

RS Components is broadening its focus to help frontline healthcare workers around the world access 3D-printed personal protection equipment (PPE). The company’s DesignSpark engineering community has been very active in supporting the National 3D Printing Society’s (N3DPS) UK campaign, which has now officially drawn to a close.

3D printing has played a key role in the UK, helping to keep medical staff and key workers safe since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. Enlisting 3D printers to manufacture PPE provided the vital fillip needed until more conventional manufacturers were able to ramp up production.

Mike Bray, Group Vice President of Innovation and DesignSpark at RS, said: “We are proud to be continuing to assist in the 3D printing effort. The UK was hit hard by the first wave of COVID-19, with global supply chains for PPE stretched to breaking point. Every volunteer who has given their time and effort across all of these initiatives should be very proud to have played their part."

Support from igus

In April, RS set up a 3D printing farm in Corby, Northamptonshire, to support the collective effort and has since printed hundreds of visor frames. Fellow Northamptonshire company igus was responsible for assembling the face visors, with staff volunteering their time to add the plastic sheets to the community printed frames for distribution. Part of the company’s Northampton facility was quickly repurposed as an emergency production line, which at the peak was turning out 1000 pieces of PPE per day.

Matthew Aldridge, Managing Director of igus UK commented: “When we became aware of this project, we volunteered to help with the assembly of the face visors. Within hours the production line was set up, within days PPE was being delivered to frontline workers, all using igus people, usually working in their own time to make it happen."

over 250,000 visors have been produced in just two months

Thousands of other volunteers, schools and businesses across the UK have also supported not only this initiative but many others, including 3D Crowd UK and Makers 4 the NHS. Collectively these groups have helped to ensure that over 250,000 visors have been produced in just two months.

This period of support through 3D printing relieved the sudden pressure on injection moulding companies around the UK, including igus, allowing them time to build production to thousands of visors each day, using a much more efficient and sustainable method of manufacturing. Injection moulding not only produces the visors in larger quantities, but also increases the product consistency and quality.

Stock levels of traditional PPE are also returning around the UK. RS now has over 140,000 PPE Class I certified face shields in stock and available for free next working day delivery, along with a host of other equipment including disposable face masks.

As a result, there has been a significant reduction in the demand for auxiliary PPE prints. This, coupled with a recent UK Government guidance document which required some significant changes to be made to current processes being used by voluntary organisations, has led to many initiatives pausing or ending production completely.

With thousands of assembled visors remaining within the National 3D Printing Society’s network which have not cleared the new guidelines set by government, these will instead be diverted to countries outside of the EU that are able to use them, working with the Red Cross. RS and igus are also working to explore support for other initiatives in Africa and Moldova respectively.

Any remaining funds from the £14,472 crowdfunded for the N3DPS campaign, are being donated to MedSupplyDrive UK, an organisation run by volunteer NHS doctors and medical students to purchase PPE for frontline workers. MedSupplyDrive UK has been a key partner in the initiative, alongside igus, RS Components, ByBox, the Gap Partnership, SHIELD and the Nottinghamshire Community Foundation.

Key Points

  • 3D printing has played a key role in helping to keep UK medical staff and key workers safe since the start of the Covid-19 crisis
  • In April, RS set up a 3D printing farm in Corby, Northamptonshire, to support the collective effort and has printed hundreds of visor frames
  • igus was responsible for assembling the face visors, with staff volunteering their time to add the plastic sheets to community printed frames

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Global design challenge to combat isolation 18/05/2020

RS Components has joined forces with Nordic Semiconductor and the UK's largest gas network operator, Cadent, to launch a global 'Connect the Community' competition calling for practical examples of how technology could transform the lives of people in isolation.

Using their extensive network of customers and stakeholders, the three companies hope to engage with creative minds to devise new solutions, and then connect the people behind those solutions with sources of funding that can help make their ideas a reality. The competition is open to engineers, entrepreneurs and enthusiasts, whatever their technical skill levels.

Product concepts should be driven by low-power wireless technologies such as Bluetooth LE, Thread and Cellular IoT (LTE-M or NB-IoT), be easy to use, and accessible to people in a range of vulnerable circumstances. Ideas could focus on the purely practical, such as new ways to detect hazards in the home, or the fundamental, like ways of maintaining mental and physical fitness, and even the critical, such as raising alarms or requesting support from authorities and utility providers.

Technical skills are useful, but not essential, as the winning designs will be offered product development support by RS and Nordic to bring the concepts to life. Both companies offer extensive free design resources through their online engineering communities: RS’ DesignSpark (https://www.rs-online.com/designspark/home) platform and the Nordic DevZone (https://devzone.nordicsemi.com/). In the latter stage of the competition, Cadent will consider the winners for further support to access various funding mechanisms, which, if they are successful, will help them take their ideas through to production and implementation.

Sam Presley, Lead Inspiration Engineer from the Grass Roots team at RS Components, said: “We’re inviting people to think big to transform the lives of those living in isolation. This is a fantastic opportunity for budding innovators to showcase their ideas, skills and ambition – working towards a cause that truly matters.

“By taking part, there is also the potential to win prizes and awards and gain further exposure to companies on the lookout for innovators.

“We’re delighted to offer special support to innovators under the age of 25 through The Youth Group’s Mentor Me programme, which matches young people to business mentors for virtual guidance and advice on entrepreneurship.”

Claire Steed, Regional Sales Manager at Nordic Semiconductor, added, “We don’t want to limit creativity by dictating the scope of the challenge – all we’re stipulating is that solutions must be easy to use and accessible to people in a range of vulnerable circumstances.”

“This competition isn’t just for engineering or design experts. Whether you're a master of digital technology or you simply just have a great idea, we want to hear from you.”

Jo Giles, Cadent Customer Safeguarding Manager, said: “We’re looking for innovators and creatives to make the most of the lockdown and to come up with inventions that will help transform the lives of the isolated in regard to both their physical and mental wellbeing.

“Typically, we may think of people who are elderly or ill as being most affected by isolation, however, the coronavirus pandemic has shown how anyone can become
isolated by circumstances. We’re on the hunt for innovative solutions that can help people stay safe, warm and connected as they remain in their home.”

The ‘Connect the Community’ challenge is hosted on RS Components’ engineering platform DesignSpark, which has a global engineering community of over 950,000 members.

For more information and to submit ideas, go to https://www.rs-online.com/designspark/connect-the-community. The closing date for submissions is 09:00 GMT on Friday 3 July 2020.

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Quick & cost effective equipment status indicators 25/02/2020

RS Components has launched the RS PRO range of preassembled, prewired and modular LED signal towers, providing OEM automation engineers and maintenance buyers with a cost effective means of visually signalling equipment faults and other machine states.

Besides preassembled signal towers, the RS PRO range of nearly 120 products includes individual LED light elements, sounder units and prewired tower base units that can be user assembled according to individual requirements.

RS PRO preassembled, prewired signal towers include “elliptical” dome-shaped and cylindrical tower-shaped variants designed to improve the safety and productivity of control and automation equipment. Supplied with either two (red and green) or three (red, amber and green) LED light modules, they are quick to install on 100mm, 70mm or 50mm diameter bases. Prewiring makes it easy to map colours to functions, and to switch the signal output of individual coloured modules. Light element options include steady or flashing settings and various light effects.

Preassembled signal tower modules can be disassembled and reassembled quickly without tools or disconnecting the power supply — to add or exchange LED modules, for example. All are ergonomically designed, and ingress protected to IP66.

Individual light elements are available with blue, amber, red, green, yellow and clear LEDs. Also available are piezoelectric acoustic alarm modules, which provide up to 16 continuous or intermittent sound output options, and red LED warning bars.

RS PRO prewired base units have seven electrical contacts, allowing each to support up to seven LED modules or six LEDs and a sounder module. The electrical connection is made safely via an IP20 touch-proof connector. A wide range of mounting accessories includes surface-mount bases for flat surfaces, wall mounting brackets, and extension poles of various lengths.

Supply voltage options include 12–24VAC/DC and 120/240VAC.

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RS launches DesignSpark Power Technology Hub 06/02/2020

RS Components has announced the creation of a new technology hub on its DesignSpark website. A valuable resource for design engineers and students, it includes free design tools and a breadth of key product and system development information.

Sponsored by Maxim Integrated Products, a leader in power semiconductors, the DesignSpark Power Technology Hub (https://www.rs-online.com/designspark/power) features learning material, application examples, new products, reference designs and free software tools for use by design engineers working on the next generation of power systems for the diverse requirements across a multitude of applications.

Effective power management –and especially low-power technology–is critical for all electrical and electronic circuits: from battery-management ICs for low-power applications using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) communications, for example, to motor-drive ICs and DC/DC converters up to complete power supplies.

In addition to working with Maxim on the new hub, RS recently signed a distribution agreement with Maxim. RS is significantly expanding its Maxim portfolio to include new power components such as DC-DC converters, as well as devices such as sensors and microcontroller development kits for internet of things (IoT), industrial IoT (IIoT) applications and the growing expanse of wearable applications.

“Our new power tech hub is not only an excellent learning resource for design engineers who are new to power design but is also a point of reference for seasoned designers looking to discover the latest power products and technologies,” said Mike Bray, Vice President of DesignSpark at RS. “We continue to prosper in our relationship with Maxim, working in close collaboration to expand the choice of power ICs for our customers, along with many other devices such as sensors, analogue components and products for IoT development.”

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High power density for IIoT applications 23/01/2020

RS Components has announced availability of a new series of encapsulated switch-mode power supplies (SMPS), offering the smallest 3W AC/DC power solution available on the market.

Manufactured by Recom, a leading European developer and maker of AC/DC and DC/DC power devices, the highly versatile RAC03-K series of modules has been designed for a wide range of applications and comes with international safety certifications for use in IT equipment and various household devices, as well as being well suited to IoT power designs in home and industrial automation and Industry 4.0 applications.

Offering a very high power density, the series comes in a highly compact 1in2 footprint and delivers 3W single-output power across the –40 to +60°C operating temperature range and 2W up to +80°C. In addition, a key metric is the series’ no-load power consumption of less than 150mW, supporting the EU’s Ecodesign Lot 6 power design study for optimised standby-mode and off-mode power losses.

Offering the universal input voltage range from 85 to 264V AC, the series offers 3.3, 5, 12, 15, 18 and 24V output voltage options with output currents from 900mA down to 125mA. In addition, the series comes with a reinforced class II installation rating and a significantly wide margin for class-B emissions compliance without external components.

The Recom RAC03-K series is shipping now from RS in the EMEA and Asia Pacific regions.

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RS supports future skills with Data Academy initiative 20/01/2020

RS Components is investing in the future skills and capabilities of its employees with the launch of a Data Academy, which allows participants to learn vital data visualisation skills, arming them with valuable knowledge for the current and future state of this rapidly evolving industry.

After inviting employees to apply for the Data Academy, around 80 people are now on the programme, funded largely through the Apprenticeship Levy, which allows large businesses to upskill existing employees or recruit and train. RS is working in partnership with DECODED – a pioneer of transformative digital learning - to deliver monthly sessions to participants, teaching them new skills in data analytics which they can then apply in their job role. These skills include Python coding, visualisation and storytelling, and data ethics.

Simon Gibson, Learning & Development for RS EMEA, explains: “The world is going through a data revolution, and we know that to remain competitive it is critical to harness our ever-expanding data in innovative ways. We felt our data was hugely under-exploited, but by transforming the ways we utilise it we can make what’s impossible today, possible tomorrow.

“As an innovative, forward-thinking business, we were already on a journey to bring our data to life, but by giving our employees the exciting opportunity to get involved and become ‘Data Pioneers’ for our business, through the RS Data Academy, they can access a new learning experience and become qualified in today’s most critical skill. This investment is in both our people and to the future skills agenda. By democratising data we can make better, more informed decision-making across the business and facilitate better communication, which makes perfect commercial sense,” he adds.

Tim Beasley, Apprenticeship Programme Manager at RS, is on the Data Academy programme. He says: “Understanding and interpreting data really simplifies my work life. Gone are the days of making ‘gut decisions’ - now we can make truly data-based decisions. The uses for this are not limited to one department and I can see value for this everywhere, from looking at our customer sales data to our existing people data. The Data Academy is guiding me through the process and empowering me to find the right solutions”.

RS joins other companies such as M&S and NatWest Bank, which have also launched Data Academy initiatives, in the quest to arm employees with skills to enable them to understand and harness data, in an increasingly connected world.

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RS launches Allen-Bradley PLC starter kits 14/01/2020

RS Components has introduced two programmable logic controller (PLC) starter packs from industrial automation specialist Allen-Bradley, part of the Rockwell Automation group.

The Micro850 and Micro820 Starter Packs contain all the hardware needed to get up and running with the Allen-Bradley Micro850 and Micro820 PLCs, respectively, including power supplies (PSU), controller accessories and graphic terminals. OEM machine builders can develop standalone applications quickly and inexpensively, without the need to invest in full automated systems.

The Micro850 PLC provided with the Micro850 Starter Pack is designed for larger standalone applications expandable up to 192 digital I/O points, including simple motion control. The pack also includes a PSU, seven digital inputs and one analogue input simulator, a two-channel analogue input plug-in, a PanelView 800 4-inch graphic terminal, 1m Ethernet and USB cables, an instruction manual and a quick reference guide.

The Micro820 Starter Pack includes the nano-size Micro820 PLC, which supports up to 36 I/O points with embedded features such as Ethernet, a microSD slot for data logging and analogue I/O. The Micro820 PLC is well suited to small standalone machine control and remote automation applications with Ethernet connectivity, such as remote terminal units (RTUs) for SCADA. The starter pack also contains a 24V power supply, seven digital inputs and one analogue input simulator, a PanelView 800 4-inch graphic terminal, a 1m Ethernet cable, an installation manual and a quick reference guide.

The Allen-Bradley PanelView 800 4-inch panel-mount graphic terminal included in the standard starter pack features keypad and touchscreen input options and is optimised for use with Micro800 Series PLCs. There is an option to purchase a “Starter Pack Lite” if a graphic terminal is not required.

For application design, easy PLC programming, device configuration and integration with an HMI editor, the Standard Edition of Connected Components Workbench design software is free to download from the Rockwell Automation website.

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Value-added development 04/09/2019

Charlotte Stonestreet caught up with RS Component's Pete Malpas to learn about the company's evolution from distributor to all-round value-added technical service provider

When Pete Malpas took on the role of Regional Managing Director, Northern Europe at RS Components towards the end of last year it seemed like a natural progression. Malpas was part of the team which, under the leadership of now President EMEA at RS, Mike England, helped formulate the the company’s current five-to-seven year development plan, which will see RS evolve from a high service distributor to a high service value-added technical distributor.

At just over three years into the plan, RS is says Malpas, reaping the rewards. However, he sees the business as still pretty much being at the beginning of what it is possible to achieve, and key to this is continuing to change the way that employees within RS think. “We really do have a have a huge opportunity here, and part of that is about getting people to think differently, to have that confidence and belief. It’s amazing, we are seeing now that success breeds success, our people are starting to look at the positive numbers and enjoy delivering a good result.”

Although Malpas himself does admit that it might come across as a bit cliched, it really is all about delivering the best possible end result for the customer. “What we’re really talking about here is, how do we create value for our customers? I think people are starting to feel good about it because they’re not just growing the figures, but they are seeing that they adding value to their customers. We’re not just selling more widgets any more, we’re actually providing a better solution for the customer.”

In the past, while RS has always had a fantastic reputation for being able to provide a quick response – indeed for many years the company’s logo was ‘Mr Speedy’ – Malpas feels that it did not necessarily aspire to the first or strategic choice for its customers, something that is the business is now flipping on this head.

“In terms of quick response, absolutely, we need to keep that, we need to keep the customer experience at the heart of everything we do, but we also need to wrap that up with a more solutions-oriented approach – whether that be a procurement- , inventory-, or engineering-based solution, or any combination there of – and it’s a very different sort of conversation that we are having with customers these days.”

it’s a very different sort of conversation that we are having with customers these days

Complementing RS’s newly enhanced service propositions, last year parent company Elcomponents acquired outsourced MRO solutions provider, IESA. “Where customers are looking to outsource all of their indirect procurement, particularly in industrial MRO, and also often the management of their engineering stores, IESA acts as a network orchestrator, sitting between the end customer and a myriad of suppliers and vendors.” IESA is retaining standalone status with the Electrocomponents group and RS acts as one of its many suppliers.

Another recent acquisition, Monition, is a UK-based pioneer in the design, development and application of reliability and condition-monitoring systems. With more than 50 field-based engineers, the Monition has access to a huge a mount of data which, says Malpas, will provide a platform upon which RS can look at building some interesting new software solutions.

Commenting on where both acquisitions sit within the enterprise structure, Malpas says: “At one end of the scale you’ve got IESA which is providing a service proposition around a straight forward outsourcing model and at the other end you’ve got Monition who are really providing the technical compentency and capability needed to have much richer engineering and application based discussions with our customers.”

SME applicable

And while it might seem that much of this is aimed at larger corporate customers, Malpas is quick to point out that the technical consultancy and engineering offering being developed are equally, if not more, applicable to SMEs. “In fact, if anything I would say it’s potentially more valuable to the SME,” he asserts. “Bigger corporates tend to have a bit more resource available to do it themselves, whereas the SME doesn’t always have that available, so for us provide it on a subcontract or third party basis I think is a more attractive proposition for them.”

This seems particularly pertinent in the face of the skills shortage being faced by the engineering sector as a whole, something that RS is also addressing in a range of measures championing STEM education. The company has 150 STEM ambassadors who recently took part in the inaugural STEMFEST event at the UK headquarters in Corby. Over three days, 500 local school children attended and were able to get hands-on with areas such as 3D printing, code robotics and DrillArt.

“Engineering has such an important and exciting role role to play, and that’s why we are trying to get everyone in the company to think about how to we inspire people to ‘make amazing happen’,” says Malpas. “It’s a journey we are on fundamentally because we are a distributor of engineering equipment, but if we can can combine that with, for example, the DesignSpark community or letting people have free software to design amazing things, or getting young people coding then hopefully we can make a difference and ultimately create some more value for our customers and the engineering sector as a whole.”

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Layered defence helps ensure compliance 02/09/2019

Machine safety should be high on the agenda of any manufacturing organisation. The best approach is a layered defence and underpinning management controls to ensure compliance and good practice, reports Richard Jeffers

Industrial machines are undoubtedly dangerous. In 2018/19, 26 UK workers were killed in manufacturing, of which 14 were killed by contact with moving machinery. Around a further 7,100 people suffered a RIDDOR reportable accident for the same reason, according to HSE accident statistics.

Machine safety is a subject particularly close to my heart after receiving a call in the middle of the night to report an accident at my factory – I’m pleased to say the individual recovered, but it was a long journey.

In all EU countries, machine safety is covered by the Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC, and enacted in the UK through the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations, amended in 2011. The latter document calls out three fundamental principles that must be applied, in the order given, as Essential Health & Safety Requirements of the regulations:

- Eliminate or reduce risks as far as possible (inherently safe machinery design and construction)

- Take the necessary protective measures in relation to risks that cannot be eliminated

- Inform users of the residual risks due to any shortcomings of the protective measures adopted, indicate whether any particular training is required and specify any need to provide personal protective equipment.

The first of these is very much in the hands of the original equipment manufacturer, applying best practice around machine design and ensuring the asset achieves its CE marking. The second, to an extent, and the third, fully, are in the hands of the operator.

Optimising processes for risk elimination

Eliminating the risks is often addressed through fixed guarding, but in many instances, this creates its own issues in terms of access for maintenance, operations and cleaning. These in turn often create their own human factor risks, as people are tempted to bypass the guards. Care should be given to ensure that guarding cannot be removed without the use of special tools and, preferably, removal of fixed guarding should break the safety circuits.

Movable physical guarding allows better access to machines, but, particularly where a person can enter the guarded space and close the movable guarding, some form of twin key system should be fitted to ensure that the machine cannot be restarted with a person in the protected area. The challenge becomes greater here when machines need to be operated at slow speed during changeover and maintenance activity.

Light barriers and other non-physical systems are excellent tools in the guarding armoury

Light barriers and other non-physical systems are excellent tools in the guarding armoury, but it is essential that they stop the machine in a safe position, with the stored energy released. A number of fatal accidents have occurred where palletisers have been stopped and an operator has stepped under the load, which has then descended rapidly under gravity.

The last line of defence is to supply/use the correct PPE that is fit for purpose, meets the standards required for the application and are readily available.
The importance of training

A critical factor in machine safety is training to inform users about the residual risks and, equally as important, to ensure users understand how the safety circuit operates. Palletisers will have an access route into the danger area where the pallets are removed. There should be regular training to ensure that these are never used for man access, as it will defeat many of the safety systems. To ensure the training is embedded and complacency does not creep in, many organisations will conduct routine audits of how the operators interact with the safety systems through discussion and observation – allowing regular feedback where issues have arisen, or new risks have been identified.

Machinery safety is of critical importance to all of us who work in industry. Safety lies not just in the machine and the enclosure design, but equally, if not more so, in the human factors. If people do not understand the risks and the physical means of mitigating them, there is always the risk that the protection layers may be breached, potentially leading to a dreadful night time call.

Richard Jeffers is Technical Director for RS Components in Northern Europe

Key Points

  • Eliminating machinery safety risks is often addressed with fixed guarding, but this can create issues in terms of access
  • Twin key systems fitted to movable physical guarding help ensure machinery cannot be restarted with a person in the protected area
  • The last line of defence is to supply/use correct PPE that is fit for purpose and meets standards required for the application

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Robot for educational markets & users 12/07/2019

RS Components has announced availability of the new MekaMon Berserker v2 robot, developed by Reach Robotics. MekaMon is not only the world’s first gaming robot, but is also ideal for robotics engineers and hobbyists, and for STEM students ranging from those still in the early stages of school, up to those studying engineering at university.

Offering an outstanding build quality, the MekaMon robot is a fully programmable four-legged unit that offers lifelike movement with three degrees of freedom per leg and exceptional flexibility. Designed to entertain, inspire and educate – the latter of these is a key application for MekaMon: specially developed for use with the robot is the ReachEdu app, which enables students and others to connect to their Apple or Android based device and helps them learn how to code.

Using visual programming suites, such as MekaDraw, MekaMotion and MekaCode, the ReachEdu app provides users with a comprehensive introduction to coding without the need for any prior specialist knowledge and enables them to create their own programs for the robot. At introductory levels, there are built-in guided-learning missions that take learners on a journey of adventures – with the eventual aim of transitioning the learning experience from simple block-based programming to writing code and enabling them to access a range of input and output commands and take full advantage of MekaMon’s suite of sensors and fluidic movements.

Available in three colours – black, white or grey – the MekaMon Berserker v2 robot offers Bluetooth LE connectivity, 1.5 hours of play for each 60-minute battery charge, and full modularity for easy storage. It is shipping now from RS in the EMEA region.

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PROFILE

RS Components and Allied Electronics are the trading brands of Electrocomponents plc, the global distributor for engineers. With operations in 32 countries, we offer more than 500,000 products through the internet, catalogues and at trade counters to over one million customers, shipping around 44,000 parcels a day. Our products, sourced from 2,500 leading suppliers, include electronic components, electrical, automation and control, and test and measurement equipment, and engineering tools and consumables.

Electrocomponents is listed on the London Stock Exchange and in the last financial year ended 31 March 2015 had revenues of £1.27bn.

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