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BARA (British Automation And Robot Asscoiation)

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Cutting-edge automation and robotics 17/04/2024

RECOGNISED FOR bringing industrial automation and robotics to life, Automation UK returns to the CBS Arena in Coventry on 18-19 June.

From showcasing the very latest innovative technologies and solutions, to providing an abundance of thought-provoking seminars where visitors can soak up the knowledge and be inspired to improve their own businesses, the wide spectrum of features in the show ensures it delivers something for everyone. The free-to-attend event also provides many great networking opportunities where visitors can both develop new contacts and build on existing contacts.

Automation UK provides a platform for automation and robotics technologies to be demonstrated throughout the hall, giving visitors a vast array of opportunities to see for themselves what can be achieved. An impressive list of well-known companies will be showcasing their cutting-edge products and services including robots, robotics systems, systems integration, automation control parts and systems, and sensor and machine safety. The leading experts from the exhibiting companies will be eager to answer questions, provide technical guidance and recommendations on the most suitable solutions for specific needs as well as highlight the advantages their solutions can bring to businesses.

Integrating these remarkable technologies offers many benefits including enhanced productivity through accelerating production, increased operational flexibility, a safer work environment, an ability to manage routine tasks efficiently, an attractive return on investment, and innovative solutions to address labour shortages. When combined, all of these benefits can deliver significant business improvements and enable the business to thrive in the future.

Throughout the two-day show, visitors will be treated to a broad range of inspiring seminar sessions delivered by the industry leading speakers. These captivating sessions will provide visitors with a wealth of knowledge and inspiration to take away and digest how it can be used to deliver benefits to their business.

In between fascinating presentations, visiting numerous interesting companies showcasing their products and services, experiencing live demos, and hearing about new product launches, there are many opportunities to meet new contacts and develop existing business relationships. These can be mutually beneficial for sharing knowledge, industry insights and problem solving.

www.automation-uk.co.uk

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Line up the easy wins 17/04/2024

BARA chair George Thomson draws on his end-of-line experience

IN ONE of my recent columns for Controls, Drives & Automation, I mentioned the relatively quick wins around the End-of-Line solutions available. I thought that perhaps I should elaborate more on how this could work in a typical manufacturing environment. I have toured countless facilities in my career where I could see several opportunities for the elimination of manual handling through the introduction of relatively simple automation. There are others that I could see more complex solutions that would completely revolutionise their production!

Push pull risks

If I use a typical food processing company as an example, ingredients are moved around the facility in either wheeled totes or perhaps using a manual pallet mover where the products are manually depalletised. If we look at this first step, there are risks associated with the pushing/pulling of the moving the product tote or pallet coupled with the bending, twisting, lifting element of the depalletising – assuming the products are in a suitable container for a single person lift of course.

In an ideal world, the transfer of the product to the area for depalletising could easily be accomplished by using an AGV/AMR, which would eliminate the risk of the push/pull action used in the manual operation. The AMR/AGV could automatically load the pallet or tote into the depalletising cell, which could then load the ingredients into the appropriate machine. If this is a bagged item, there are existing solutions that are used in the Injection Moulding Machine loading applications that could easily be modified to depalletise, cut and decant the bags and deposit the empty bag into a bin / shredder / compactor ready for recycling, which perhaps the AMR/AGV could collect the completed bale on the return journey as part of its overall mission schedule.

The decanted product would then be dosed into the production cycle in a measured and controlled manner to ensure the recipe is followed exactly.

If we assume that the AMR/AGV doesn’t always pick a recycling bale, which it wouldn’t, perhaps on the return journey it could collect a completed pallet or trolley of product to be taken to goods out. Before we get to that stage, there are several areas that could also be automated relatively easily.

Another quick win is case packing, especially if this is coupled with a case or box erector and a box closer. Not all boxes are created equal, however most box styles can be loaded into the erector and closers.

Case in point

Case packing is another relatively easy win for most companies. The operators that are putting products into boxes, generally speaking, do not add any value to this process or the product. I know it is a necessity, but it would be far better to use automation to pack the cases and use the operators to conduct more value-added operations within the business.

The next stage is obviously End-of-Line (EoL) palletising where we have very similar manual handling concerns as I mentioned earlier for depalletising. Regardless of what type of EoL solution you pick, and there are numerous options, they will undoubtedly be more efficient than manual stacking pallets. Before the AMR/AGV collects the pallets, why not use an automatic pallet wrapper to ensure the pallets are secured and protected for transport. By the way, did you know that on average, an automatic pallet wrapper will use 30% less wrap when compared to most manual application of stretch film. This is not only good for the bottom line, but also better for the environment!

www.automate-uk.com/our-associations/bara/

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Food for thought 14/02/2024

BARA chair George Thomson chews over some food and drink sector challenges

AS MOST of us are aware, food and drink is our largest industrial sector by a considerable margin and has both similar and different manufacturing challenges to other market sectors. One of the biggest challenges that I hear on a regular basis is the lack of suitable operatives available in the employment pool. I think those of us in the Automation industry can give a different perspective on how to solve those resourcing issues, as well as improving efficiencies and traceability at the same time.

I’m sure by now, every manufacturing company is aware of the relatively quick wins around the end-of-line solutions, however there are numerous options available throughout the manufacturing process. For example, I have lost count of the production facilities where totes were being manually filled and then pushed around to the next process, then manually emptied into the next vessel. Another way to approach this would be to use simple flow control automation to dose the product into a tote, which is then collected by an AGV/AMR and taken to the next process where again we use simple automation to automatically decant into the same vessel.

Another example would be lifting bags, buckets, or boxes of ingredients to decant into mixing vessels. These ingredients could be brought to the lineside by conveyors or AMR/AGV and then using food compatible robotics to effectively depalletise and decant. This is a process that is already used in the plastic industry for feeding Injection Moulding Machines, so it would be repurposing an existing solution from one industry sector to another. Yes, there will be some changes made to robot type and perhaps the gripping technology may need to be modified to suit the high care environment, but the bones of the solution would be VERY similar.

Make the connection

If we now couple these examples with one of my favourite topics, which is connected manufacturing – also described as Industry 4.0 – which is FAR more than just data. If the facility is connected as a cohesive manufacturing system, each production area can work together for smooth production flow. What this means in practice is that if there is an unplanned stoppage in one area, the upstream and downstream processes can slow down to allow for the unplanned stoppage to be rectified. Yes, the data is collected by the control system to allow for a root cause analysis to be carried out, but more importantly the production itself can balance itself to match the flow. 

Why is this important you may ask? Simply speaking, it helps to reduce the ‘feast and famine’ that is created by suddenly having to stop production due to the back-up caused by the stoppage downstream, or the starvation caused downstream by the same stoppage. If I’m honest, this is exactly what I see when I visit a factory that wants me to look at a specific process that has been identified as the problem area. It is likely to actually be upstream or downstream of this process where the actual issue lies. 

Examples like these are evident throughout our industry and are some of the many reasons that I am an advocate of going to a wide range of trade shows, even those not in your market sector, to see how other areas are approaching similar manufacturing challenges.

If you would like to start your automation journey, but don’t know where to start, I would highly recommend visiting the BARA website where we have outlined several topics under the Expert Advice section to give some initial information. Whilst you are there, why not register for our next Roundtable discussion or catch up on a previous session?

www.bara.org.uk

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Automation UK 2024 doubling in size to meet exhibitor demand 02/02/2024

THE INAUGURAL Automation UK show in June 2023 proved to be a huge success. The show provided an opportunity for exhibitors to showcase their latest innovations in automation and robotics to a wide range of visitors. Buoyed by this success, the show will return in 2024, taking place on 18 and 19 June at the CBS Arena in Coventry.

The show’s prime purpose is to promote the importance of automation and robotics to the future growth of the UK economy. By highlighting the potential of these technologies, the show seeks to encourage more businesses to invest in these areas.

The show organisers, British Automation & Robot Association (BARA), have responded to the increased levels of interest and participation by doubling the exhibition space for next year’s show. The 2023 show already featured big brands as exhibitors, showing that there is an appetite for an exhibition of this type in the UK. Some of the founding companies include ABB, Fanuc, Mills CNC, Piab, Pilz, Yaskawa, KUKA, RM Group, Schubert, CKF, Festo, and RARUK Automation.

One of the exhibitors, Rachel Duckworth, Marketing Manager at Beckhoff said: “We have found the show extremely rewarding - we’ve already booked a stand, double the size for 2024! Most people visiting the stand have been decision-makers looking for automation solutions to their industrial challenges. So, the quality of the visitors is what has really sold the show to me.”

The World Robotics 2023 report by the International Federation of Robotics reported that the robotics industry is predicted to continue to grow year-on-year, a 7% increase is forecasted for 2024. BARA urges automation and robotics suppliers to ensure that they are best positioned to capitalise on this growth by exhibiting at Automation UK. This event is the perfect platform for suppliers to showcase their state-of-the-art solutions, enabling their businesses to stay ahead of the competition.
In 2023, visitors to the show included the following well-known brands: Amazon, Arla Foods, Bentley Motors, BMW Group, DeBeers, DHL, Ferrero, Gillette, Greggs, GSK, Hachette UK Distribution, Hotel Chocolat, Jaguar Land Rover, Kellogg’s, Kraftheinz, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, Mitsubishi Electric, Morrisons, Muller UK & Ireland Group, Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK, Ocado, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Rolls Royce, Royal Air Force, Royal Mail, Siemens, Sony, Tata Technologies, Tesco, and UPS.

Mark Stepney, Managing Director at Schubert said: “The quality of visitors to the show has been exceptional, over 80% of the visitors that came to our stand were from companies that we had never met before. It was also outside of the process and packaging market, giving us a wider scope to market to.”

The show attracts many different types of companies. In 2023, the top five visitor company types were OEM, end user, machine builder, systems integrator, and engineering consultancy. These visitors were looking for solutions such as robotics, robotic systems, automated assembly machine systems, industrial automation control, robotic tooling, grippers, end effectors, parts handling equipment, conveyors & materials, autonomous mobile robots & guided vehicles, motion control equipment, systems integration & consulting, and machine safety and safety equipment.

The versatility of automation and robotics solutions have already proven successful in many industries. Automation UK attracts a vast amount of visitors from industries such as manufacturing, retail/consumer, automotive, electrical, electronics, engineering, aerospace, maritime, food, drink, logistics, transport, oil, gas and nuclear.

Automation UK will once again be co-located alongside Machine Vision Conference (MVC), organised by UK Industrial Vision Association (UKIVA), giving visitors an opportunity to visit the MVC conference for the latest vision technology and services from world-leading companies in industrial vision and imaging.

BARA, UKIVA and PPMA (Processing and Packaging Machinery Association) are part of Automate UK (formerly the PPMA Group of Associations). Automate UK is the leading trade association for automation suppliers and end users of technology across processing, packaging, robotics and machine vision.

www.automation-uk.co.uk

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To automate is to innovate 14/02/2024

BARA chair George Thompson on the the PPMA Group of Associations rebrand to AutomateUK

FROM 1 December 2023 I am pleased to announce that the PPMA Group of Associations has rebranded to AutomateUK. Don’t worry, PPMA, BARA and UKIVA will continue to be important divisions of the new AutomateUK. Each Association will be represented, BARA and UKIVA by their committees, and PPMA by a newly formed innovation panel, providing sector specific insight to our group leadership.

PPMA (Processing and Packaging Machinery Association) was established in 1987 as the UK’s trade association for suppliers of processing and packaging machinery to both the domestic and overseas markets. BARA (British Automation & Robot Association) and UKIVA (UK Industrial Vision Association) joined forces with PPMA in 2009.

For those who aren’t aware, UKIVA promotes the use of image processing technology throughout UK industry. In a nutshell, they help Automation to be able to see. Each of us play an essential role in representing our members and providing essential information to those who are looking to start their journeys within those respective fields. 

Expertise overlap

The trouble is, there are huge areas of overlap between the three organisations’ areas of expertise. There are times when end users will need advice from within each organisation, so where do you start. I am biased, and always suggest that BARA would be a good starting point, which of course would be highly contested by both PPMA and UKIVA. As a group of associations, we have recognised this issue and, well, we had a plan…

This plan has enabled us to take direct action and change to AutomateUK, simply put, Automation is at the heart of everything that we do, and at the heart of everything that our members do as well. That is why we have put Automation front and centre of our new branding.

The PPMA Show will continue at the NEC on 24 – 26 September 2024, just with a bit of a facelift. The new branding of AutomateUK instead of PPMA being the obvious change.  AutomationUK and the Machine Vision Conference, which are co-located events at the Coventry Building Society Arena in Coventry on 18 - 19 June 2024 will also continue; however, they will be reflecting the updated branding of BARA and UKIVA respectively.

So, what else will be changing I hear you ask?  Well, we are busy working on our new website and improving our Social Media presence to help end users find the information they need faster, and easier as well as directing them towards solutions that will help them solve the issues they are facing. We will also be lobbying and discussing issues that affect our industry with policymakers and influencers; highlighting the challenges that face our members and end users. We’ll advise on strategies that government and other regulatory bodies can utilise to help overcome these challenges. Helping to guide regulatory and technical issues for the benefit of everyone.

Defining voice

We will make our voice louder by using our existing channels, having a greater presence throughout traditional media platforms as well as social media and through new innovations such as the UK Automation Forum. Rest assured that AutomateUK will continue to be a defining voice, not only for our members, but for the automation and manufacturing industries as a whole.

If you would like to start your automation journey, but don’t know where to start – I would highly recommend visiting the AutomateUK website which will be able to guide you and give some initial information. Whilst you are there, why not register for our next webinar. You could also watch some of our previous webinars again as there is likely to be just the information you have been searching for contained within the discussions. Remember, to automate is to innovate.

www.automate-uk.com/our-associations/bara/

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Not all integrators are created equal 06/10/2023

George Thompson, chairman of the British Automation and Robotics Association (BARA) looks at how knowledge is power when it comes to integration expertise

If you have read my recent articles, you will remember that I feel that the system integrator plays the most important part in specifying an automated solution for your production challenges. I have explained that if you choose the right one, they will be able to provide an efficient solution that meets the agreed scope of supply. That being said, how do you know HOW to choose a reputable company that will deliver on their promises? Well, that is the tricky bit!

If only there was an independent body that could provide some suggestions based on defined set of criteria. Well that is exactly what the BARA System Integrators Certification Scheme is designed to accomplish! We have partnered with A3 Robotics, which is the BARA equivalent in the USA, to set the benchmark to evaluate the integrator's technical knowledge and safety practices and collaborated to agree a framework for certification here in the UK.

The scheme is designed to evaluate the integrator's knowledge of robots, controls architecture, best practices, and most importantly safety standards, which is far more than ‘just’ the Machinery Directives (Directive 2006/42/EC – also know as Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008: Great Britain) and CE Marking, as well as a myriad of other legislation that may apply depending on the application and/or solution.

Each of the Certified Integrators completes a 25-point self-assessment and, assuming they meet the required criteria, are then subjected to a formal audit. This audit is carried out by an independent auditor and follows a set process and covers areas such as their ISO certification status, customer service and reporting, safety training and risk assessment methodology, service and maintenance procedures, employee satisfaction, factory assessment test procedures and, most importantly, their processes around robot programming, engineering, controls, vision solutions and network capabilities.

The scheme is also not a ‘one and done’ audit; they will need to be recertified every two years. So if the solution provider is a BARA certified integrator, you can rest assured that they continually meet or exceed the high standards set by A3 / BARA.

Our aim is to ensure that end users of an automation solution can rest assured that the integrator will deliver the solution to a suitable standard. 

Please do not misunderstand our intent, there are large number of integrators that will deliver a very high-quality solution without being one of our Certified Integrators. The intent of the scheme is to help end users to be able to filter out the solution providers that may not follow the standards to the same level of those that provide high-quality solutions. After all – not all integrators are created equal, or so they say.

If you are an integrator, why not see if you can meet our exacting standards? Perhaps you are an end user looking for a solution provider but aren’t sure where to start? In either case there is more information available in the Integrator Certification area on the BARA web site.

If you would like to start your automation journey, but don’t know where to start – I would highly recommend visiting the BARA website below where we have outlined several topics under the Expert Advice section to give some initial information. Whilst you are there, why not register for our next Roundtable discussion. You could also watch some of our previous Roundtables again as there is likely to be just the information you have been searching for contained within the discussions. 

www.ppma.co.uk/bara

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Inspired solutions! 06/10/2023

George Thompson, chairman of the British Automation and Robotics Association (BARA) looks at how knowledge is power when it comes to integration expertise

IN MY last column for CDA, I discussed the importance of system integrators and how they are the key to making a new automation project successful. I would like to elaborate further on the importance of what the integrators bring to potential solutions for manufacturing or production issues.

The most obvious thing is knowledge. By this, I do not just mean of their products within their portfolio, but also within their specific area of expertise. One of the first things that most integrators would like to understand is how their potential customer's current processes work.

First step

Personally, I want to have a discussion with the line operatives to learn what ‘improvements’ they have already made to the official process. Once this information is obtained and the detailed models of the parts to be handled or assembled have been studied, we can then start the process of developing the initial concepts for the automated process.

There are times when perhaps an integrator is chosen from an area outside of their area of expertise because of either how they approach challenges or maybe because their expertise is close enough to the manufacturing challenge that it would be deemed to be advantageous for them to at least look through the challenges.  An example of this could be for a company that is known for its work in pharmaceutical or aerospace being asked to look at a project in food and drink because of its experience in traceability control procedures. Another may be for an integrator known for automotive / tier1 experience being asked to look at a project in general industry to give insights on how to rework the end product with, for example, automated assembly in mind.

Cross pollination

This also links back to an article that I wrote in May last year, which describes the advantages of ‘cross pollination’ between industry sectors. In this article, I described how no single industry has all of the answers and sometimes the inspiration for a solution will have origins in a completely unrelated application.

As another example, I recently was looking at a project where the product needed to have a specific process that is unusual for the raw product – sorry, but I cannot elaborate more as the project is protected by an NDA! However, I can divulge that inspiration for the solution came from a machine tending application that I sold several years ago. The only similarity between the projects is that they use robots to achieve the end result. They are completely different industries, and the materials could not be more different. It was only as a direct result of looking at the information gathered from my site visit and one of those ‘operator improvements’ to the manufacturing process that made me even think – I wonder if this would work…

So, if you are an end customer and you have a manufacturing challenge, when you are researching system integrators, make sure that you carry out your due diligence and make sure that the integrator that you are thinking about engaging with has a wide range of experience within its pool of employees. You never know where the inspiration for the solution you have been looking for may come from!

If you would like to start your automation journey, but don’t know where to start – I would highly recommend visiting the BARA website detailed below where we have outlined several topics under the Expert Advice section to give some initial information. Whilst you are there, why not register for our next Roundtable discussion. You could also watch some of our previous Roundtables again as there is likely to be just the information you have been searching for contained within the discussions. 

www.ppma.co.uk/bara

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Orchestrating with expertise 19/06/2023

George Thompson, chairman of the British Automation and Robotics Association (BARA) looks at the importance of the system intergator

I WAS having a discussion recently about what I thought the most important part of an automated solution was. My reply could have been the robot, which I consider to be the beating heart of the automated solution – or perhaps the controls architecture, which I would describe as the system’s brain and central nervous system. If we add in vision, then the system can see... the list goes on and on. For me, the most important part would be the System Integrator and the core knowledge they have about a particular process or application should never be underestimated or assumed.

Think of it as the posts I’m sure we’ve all seen on Social Media platforms where a mechanic or appliance repair technician gives a bill for what appears to be a simple repair. When questioned about the end price and the customer requesting an itemised invoice it would read something like – turning the bolt: £10 – knowing which bolt to turn and by how much: £110...  The experience of the technician is what you are paying for and the same should be expected for the Integrators.

Conductor is key

I often describe system integrators as being like the conductors of a world-class orchestra. Even if you have the best musicians and the best instruments, the conductor is the key to it all. Just as the conductor understands how to get all the different component parts of the orchestra to work together and to squeeze the very best out of each part to create beautiful music, so does the system integrator. They understand how each component works and how to incorporate each part together to create a highly efficient Automation Solution for our customers.

It also must be said that there can be vast differences between Integrators, and I would encourage anyone to go through the due diligence to ensure you make an informed decision. There are a lot of really good and highly skilled integrators, and some that may not be as skilled in a particular application. Ask loads of questions and speak with a couple of Integrators to compare the solutions that are offered by the Integrators. Compare them both individually as well as against each other.  

The most important question for you is – could you work with them? Most Integrators will involve you in their design concepts to ensure that they are answering your needs. Regardless of what may be indicated, there are few true ‘copy/paste’ solutions – in most installations, there will be slight differences in the positioning of conveyors, access doors, robot mounting positions or any number of ‘small’ changes that can have a bigger impact than you may think.

There are numerous drivers for automating a process and most can be measured in pounds and pence, but not all of them. There are also some that are softer, such as waste reduction, manual handling reduction, or removing operatives from unpleasant or possibly dangerous environments. Whatever your reasons, chances are that some of our members either have a ready-developed solution or the knowledge on how to create a solution to fit your individual requirements and that solves your pain points.

If you would like to start your automation journey, but don’t know where to start – I would highly recommend visiting the BARA website below where we have outlined several topics under the Expert Advice section to give some initial information. Whilst you are there, why not register for our next Roundtable discussion? You could also watch some of our previous Roundtables again as there is likely to be just the information you have been searching for contained within the discussions.  

www.ppma.co.uk/bara

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Bringing industrial automation to life 05/05/2023

AUTOMATION UK will highlight the latest products, developments and solutions in robotics and automation, with solutions on display to help visitors to improve efficiency and productivity

OWNED AND organised in conjunction with BARA (British Automation & Robot Association), Automation UK, is designed to promote the use of, and assist in the development of, industrial robots and automation in British industry. Being owned by the industry, for the benefit of the industry, means there are many BARA members exhibiting – each showcasing their latest products and services, with experts on hand to offer advice and support.

Big names exhibiting include ABB, CKF, FANUC, Festo, KUKA Robotics, Mills CNC, Piab, Pilz Automation, RM Group, Schubert and Yaskawa. Joining them will be nearly 40 other companies all active in the sector and looking to raise their profiles and generate new business.

Co-located with Automation UK is the UKIVA’s (UK Industrial Vision Association), Machine Vision Conference (MVC), a well-established and successful machine vision confex event. This means visitors to Automation UK will also be able to cross-over and see the latest developments in industrial vision and imaging systems.

Recognising the vast potential of automation and robotics to British industry, BARA’s aim in establishing Automation UK is to shine a spotlight on the disruptive technologies and to highlight their true value to the wider economy. Automation UK also promises to be the largest annual gathering of industry experts under one roof in the UK.

Live demos

The event has been specially designed for businesses operating in the automation and robotics markets. Showcasing the latest products and services, the show will feature live demonstrations of the latest machines.

Visitor registration for this free-to-attend event is now open, and attendees will have the opportunity to meet new suppliers, learn about new technology and new techniques as well as explore how this rapidly developing sector can help improve their business efficiency, productivity and accuracy.

Face to face meetings will allow visitors to clearly convey the complexities and challenges they face in their own operation. With multiple suppliers, technicians, experts, advisory bodies and advocates all under one roof, a day spent at Automation UK, finding out more about these exciting, transformative technologies, will save a visitor hours of internet trawling and weeks of arranging meetings.

A vibrant seminar programme, located in the arena’s exhibition hall and led by BARA, will deliver a range of informative, content-led topics around the opportunities of automating equipment, processes and systems as well as the benefits this highly repeatable and reliable process can bring to a visitors business.

Machine vision conference

The co-located MVC is an established industrial vision confex that regularly attracts more than 500 visitors a day and features a wealth of sector-specific exhibitors and expert presentations. Organised by UKIVA, the MVC event promotes the use of image processing technology throughout UK industry and allows visitors to experience the benefits of automated inspection, combining the latest machine vision systems with automation.

Now in its seventh year, the MVC has been up until this year, a standalone event. Benefiting from being co-located with the inaugural Automation UK, visitors numbers are expected to be strong. The confex is a content-packed event providing visitors with a wealth of new, up-to-date information and a strong technical seminar programme dedicated to machine vision users and engineers.

Promoted and organised by UKIVA, MVC is the leading event for the industrial vision industry in the UK and annually brings together an array of leading exhibitors and speakers with the aim of being a deep learning experience for all involved.

The seminar programme will draw upon the expertise of leading speakers from across the sector combined with academics and thought leaders. Topics being covered at the event range from camera technology to optics and illumination, from 3D vision to vision in robotics.

www.automation-uk.co.uk

Key Points

  • The inaugural Automation UK exhibition takes place 20-21 June at the Coventry Building Society Arena
  • Showcasing the latest products and services, the show will feature live demonstrations of the latest machines
  • Automation UK is co-located with the established UKIVA Machine Vision Conference

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Navigating the automation journey 19/06/2023

The latest insight from George Thompson, chairman of the British Automation and Robotics Association (BARA)

I RECENTLY took part in an interview for a trade publication where I was asked a series of questions about robotics and automation and how I thought they could be used within a specific industry sector. I answered one question with a question of sorts.

The question was about the latest developments in robotics, and my answer was "That depends on how much the reader understands about robotics and automation". If they are early in their automation journey, everything is cutting edge. Whereas if a company is already experienced in at least the basics of automation then the answer is very different.

If a company is looking to dip its proverbial toe into the incredible world of automation, perhaps a collaborative robot could be a good starting point. One word of caution would be that despite what some may indicate, collaborative robots are subject to the same set of legislation as all other industrial robots and ignorance of the rules is never a valid defence in court.

This led to a discussion about what rules apply – and there are many – but the main ones are the Robot Standards (ISO 10218-1:2011 - Robots and robotic devices and ISO 10218-2:2011 - Robot systems and integration) and The Machinery Directive (Directive 2006/42/EC). In addition, there are others such as the HSE Manual Handling Operations Regulations which asks questions about how to reduce hazardous manual handling, specifically around the possibility of using automation or mechanisation to reduce the instances of manual handling. In fact, reducing manual handling risks could be a topic for a whole article all by itself!

All of this really got me thinking about how we as automation providers need to find a way of reaching a larger audience to introduce the many benefits of adopting automation. There is so much that automation can achieve, from improvements to production efficiency or waste reduction to quality improvements or gains in operative safety, to name just a few. There are also the ‘softer’ benefits like improving workplace morale by offering ‘better’ jobs to operatives by automating the menial or low ‘value add’ operations and leave the higher value add tasks to the humans.

And you knew that I couldn’t resist banging on the sustainability drum again, so here goes… IF existing and new equipment is interconnected and controlled by a central PLC, then the individual processes can increase or decrease production based on what is happening elsewhere within the production facility. As an example, if the production facility has 10 production processes for simplicity’s sake, and station 7 has an unplanned stoppage, stations 8 – 10 will eventually be starved of product while stations 1 – 6 will be over saturated.

The big issue with this is if one or more of the stations has a time sensitive component for this process or perhaps the product itself is time sensitive, then there is the risk of the product or component effectively becoming waste. One way of tackling would be to purge dispensing tubes of components that may be approaching their critical time or increasing / decreasing temperatures to extend the life of the product or components. Although this may seem like it could be increasing waste, it is more likely to prevent the entire batch needing to be purged by only wasting a small amount of the component to save the larger amount.

If you would like to start your automation journey, but don’t know where to start – I would highly recommend visiting AutomationUK and The Machine Vision Conference, which are both being held at the Coventry Building Society Arena in Coventry on 20-21 June. At these co-located and linked events, you will be able to meet with some of the Automation Industry’s leaders covering everything from safety devices to Robots to the latest developments in Vision technologies. I hope to meet you there on the BARA Stand!

www.automation-uk.co.uk

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