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|Technology continues to soar||23/10/2019|
With the global space market valued at £400 billion, of which the UK Government through its industrial strategy hopes to capture a significant share, Consulting Editor Andy Pye reviews some of the key developments taking place in the military and aerospace sector, both at home and abroad
“The UK Space sector has huge potential for growth, with a current value of £14.2bn and productivity three times the national average." says Professor Edmund Burke, Acting Vice-Chancellor, University of Leicester.
Located on the former John Ellis site in Leicester within the Loughborough and Leicester Science and Innovation Enterprise Zone, a new purpose-built Space Park in Leicester has just received planning permission approval for the first phase of construction. Construction at the John Ellis site is expected to start in the autumn and will be completed by late 2020. When completed, the £100 million Park will create a hub for space and space-enabled industries to flourish.
Space Park Leicester will be home to some of the UK’s leading space research, businesses and world-renowned academics. It will create a highly collaborative commercial and academic community and will have accommodation suitable for established multi-national businesses right through to the small start-ups. It is intended that Space Park Leicester will create more than 2,500 high-value jobs.
The first phase is predominantly focussed on Earth Observation, including relocating the famous National Centre for Earth Observation, run by the University of Leicester. There will also be new teaching and laboratory facilities and some business hosting - allowing industry partners to collaborate and innovate with University researchers.
Mass casualty field trial
Four years ago, academics, emergency responders and industry partners from across Europe came together with a common goal – to create new technologies and systems that would save lives during a chemical, biological, radioactive or nuclear (CBRN) incident.
This summer, the true capabilities of these life-saving technologies, developed as part of the Loughborough University-led TOXI-Triage project, were demonstrated at a mass casualty field trial in Finland. TOXI-Triage is funded by the European Commission and consists of 18 teams spanning emergency and health services, defence, industry, and university academics.
During the project’s Exercise DISPERSE the emergency services of Mikkeli, Finland, diagnosed and decontaminated more than 100 people affected by a simulated chlorine gas escape using the ground-breaking TOXI-Triage devices and systems.
“Exercise DISPERSE has demonstrated just what is achievable when the expertise of academics, emergency services and industry leaders from across Europe come together with a common goal," said Loughborough University’s Professor Paul Thomas, who is leading the TOXI-Triage project.
The field trial was the largest ever undertaken by the project team and took years of planning. Technologies and systems put to the test during the three-hour exercise included:
- Drones containing radiological and poison cloud monitoring instrumentation to collect data directly from the incident ‘hot zone’
- A Tag and Trace system for casualties that provides real-time data on their status and location to aid the management of decontamination activity
- BreathSpec – a new system to rapidly determine the level of casualty exposure to poisons by analysing the skin, salvia and breath
TOXI-Motive – a way toutilise social media to track a crisis situation as it develops, aiding the deployment of the emergency services and tackling the spread of fake news
- An integrator system that pulls together all the data from the diagnostic technologies to give command control the most comprehensive information on an incident and its casualties in real-time
In nature, animals such as chameleons and cuttlefish are able to change colour thanks to chromatophores: skin cells with contractile fibres that move pigments around. The pigments are spread out to show their colour or squeezed together to make the cell clear.
Now, Cambridge University researchers at the Cavendish Laboratory have developed artificial ‘chameleon skin’ that changes colour when exposed to light and could be used in applications such as active camouflage and large-scale dynamic displays.
The material is made of tiny particles of gold coated in a polymer shell
The material is made of tiny particles of gold coated in a polymer shell, and then squeezed into microdroplets of water in oil. When exposed to heat or light, the particles stick together, changing the colour of the material.
When the material is heated above 32C, the nanoparticles store large amounts of elastic energy in a fraction of a second, as the polymer coatings expel all the water and collapse. This has the effect of forcing the nanoparticles to bind together into tight clusters. When the material is cooled, the polymers take on water and expand, and the gold nanoparticles are strongly and quickly pushed apart, like a spring.
“Loading the nanoparticles into the microdroplets allows us to control the shape and size of the clusters, giving us dramatic colour changes,” says Dr Andrew Salmon from the Cambridge Cavendish Laboratory.
The geometry of the nanoparticles when they bind into clusters determines which colour they appear as: when the nanoparticles are spread apart they are red and when they cluster together they are dark blue. However, the droplets of water also compress the particle clusters, causing them to shadow each other and make the clustered state nearly transparent.
At the moment, the material is in a single layer, so is only able to change to a single colour. However, different nanoparticle materials and shapes could be used in extra layers to make a fully dynamic material, like real chameleon skin.
AI for USAF
MIT and the US Air Force are launching a joint programme to make fundamental advances in artificial intelligence that could improve Air Force operations. The MIT-Air Force AI Accelerator, will combine the expertise and resources of MIT and the Air Force to conduct fundamental research directed at enabling rapid prototyping, scaling, and application of AI algorithms and systems. Under the agreement, MIT will form interdisciplinary teams to focus on topics in artificial intelligence, control theory, formal methods, machine learning, robotics and perception. “Our objective is to advance the underlying science behind AI and create solutions in fields like disaster relief and medical preparedness that are of interest to the Air Force,” says Daniela Rus, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).
Our objective is to advance the underlying science behind AI
The AI Accelerator research program will also aim to develop new algorithms and systems to assist complex decision-making that might help the Air Force, for example, better focus its maintenance efforts — an expensive and critical part of its aircraft operations.
Compact servo drive for airborne targeting
A new compact servo drive, for next generation airborne targeting technology, was previewed at this year’s Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI).
With a volume a tenth of previous Elmo servo drives and the ability to provide 5.5kW at 90A, the Platinum Bee has a high power to weight ratio, enabling the power use of the equipment to be increased as required. The small size means it can be sited much closer to the motor, reducing the need for cabling and cutting electrical noise that could interfere with the signals between the servo drive and the motor.
Platinum Bee offers flexible networking, ranging from official motion fieldbus like EtherCAT and CanOpen to serial communications protocols such as RS232 and RS422. Serial communications, preferred by many companies in the defence sector for their robustness, have been increased in speed in the Platinum Bee from 150 kB to 4 MB per second.
Rugged computing platform with accelerated processing
Also at DSEI, Adlink Technology, a global provider of advanced Edge Computing products, released its latest Extreme Rugged, SWaP-optimized VITA 75 COTS computing platform, the HPERC-KBL, designed for mission-critical applications such as C4ISR and use in the world’s most demanding military and aerospace environments.
Adlink formed its Small Form Factor Tactical Edge Server (SFF-TES) group to optimise products for one of the most in-demand and mission-critical computing needs: small systems that can handle both the data loads and physical stress common in edge and fog deployments. HPERC exemplifies how the company’s integrated research, design, and manufacturing capabilities can yield exceptionally versatile products for military and aerospace needs.
“The heavily ruggedised nature of ADLINK’s HPERC line lets the system function in virtually any environment, from arctic to tropical, while withstanding the levels of shock and vibration expected in military engagements, says Roy Keeler, senior product and business development manager at Adlink. “The HPERC-KBL delivers real-time graphics and video processing capabilities, enabling a wide range of mission-critical applications including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, radar, software-defined radio, sonar, and infra-red radiometry.”
Auto-ranging power supplies
RS Components (RS) has announced a new series of 200W and 400W high-specification and high-quality power supply units from Keysight Technologies. The E36200 series has been designed for applications that will require more power than that delivered by typical benchtop power units.
Primarily targeting engineers who are designing and testing devices that will use high currents, key applications will include: usage in electronics labs for the testing of components such as DC-DC converters, LED lighting drivers, sensors and connectors; automotive device testing at 12V, 42V and 120V; development of high-power portable devices such as power tools, robotics and industrial monitoring systems; and wide deployment in the aerospace and defence market sectors for the testing of various avionics systems.
Customisable 50GHz test assembly line
Huber+Suhner has launched a high-performing and customisable 50GHz Sucoflex 550S microwave cable assembly which provides the longest life-time currently available on the market, with a life-time of more than 100,000 flex cycles. Uniquely, it is also available in tailored lengths.
A patented rotary swaging technology gives this cable assembly the flexibility of a stranded inner conductor while maintaining the electrical properties of a solid inner conductor, such as low attenuation factor.
The Wind River Helix Virtualization Platform has achieved conformance to the latest Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Technical Standard, Edition 3.0. The certification establishes conformance as an operating system segment that supports the Safety Base and Security Profile. Software conformant with the FACE Technical Standard can be used — and most importantly, easily reused — by suppliers and integrators of avionics systems across different global defence programmes and aircraft.
Helix Platform is an adaptive software development environment for aerospace systems
Helix Platform is an adaptive software development environment for aerospace systems that enables support for multiple applications. It supports robust partitioning, symmetric multiprocessing (SMP), and RTCA DO-297 Integrated Modular Avionics (IMA) considerations to reduce safety certification costs and accelerate time to deployment. Applications can be based on industry standards such as the FACE Technical Standard, or on operating systems such as Linux and VxWorks.
Researchers from the CNRS and Université de Rennes 1,1 in collaboration with Airbus, have designed a visual pattern that elicits long-term avoidance of high-risk areas by raptors. The scientists’ work clears the way for further investigation into the visual cognition of these birds, and it has applications for conservation, because raptors are among the most common victims of collisions with planes and wind turbines.
Raptors do not detect some obstacles like glazed surfaces, or they are too late in detecting certain moving objects, like planes. In France alone, over 800 collisions of birds with planes are reported each year. As available deterrent systems are hardly effective with raptors, scientists from the Éthologie Animale et Humaine (Ethos) research laboratory sought to develop a new means of repelling these birds from specific areas.
The team first observed how captive raptors reacted to a series of visual stimuli. After over 300 tests, they concluded that only one pattern triggered avoidance behaviour, by virtue of an optical illusion. This ‘superstimulus’ consists of concentric black circles on a white background. It creates a so-called ‘looming’ effect, giving the birds the impression of an imminent collision.
The pattern was tested at Lourdes-Tarbes-Pyrénées Airport, near plains where raptors like buzzards and kites forage in the summer. The team has detected a rapid modification of the birds’ distribution: they stayed clear of areas from which the screens were visible. This avoidance behaviour was still observable after five weeks of continuous pattern display. The raptor population also rose in places where the displays were out of view, at a time when their food supply was nonetheless abundant in all areas.
|Will Extinction Rebellion be coming for your data?||14/10/2019|
In recent years, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been touted as a powerful technology that will revolutionise the industrial manufacturing space. It is an amalgam of various uses at different phases of manufacturing, including generative design in product development, production forecasting in inventory management, and machine vision, defect inspection, production optimisation, and predictive maintenance in the production phase.
Research, a global tech market advisory firm, forecasts that the total installed base of AI-enabled devices in industrial manufacturing will reach 15.4 million in 2024.
Manufacturers are facing enormous competition in building and training in-house data science teams for AI implementation. “AI in industrial manufacturing is a story of edge implementation,” says Lian Jye Su, Principal Analyst at ABI Research. “Since manufacturers are not comfortable having their data transferred to a public cloud, nearly all industrial AI training and inference workloads happen at the edge, namely on device, gateways and on-premise servers.”
And herein lies another challenge. As I write, Extinction Rebellion (XR) is protesting at various sites around London.
However, one area with environmental consequences that are rarely considered is data storage. Is there a conflict building between storing data on-premise in the edge and using cloud storage? Data storage is rapidly rising in the league tables as a major source of carbon. Cloud storage can be a much more sustainable approach than traditional on-premises storage. Providers tend to use newer technology and have an incentive to become as energy efficient as possible and reduce what is one of the largest operational expenses.
“Storing and using data consumes a lot of energy, and many businesses have been able to remove this energy consumption from their sustainability books by using outsourced cloud providers," comments Annalisa O’Rourke, Chief Operations Officer at Memset, a managed services provider offering dedicated hosting, virtual private servers and IaaS for scalable cloud. "But shifting the problem to a supplier is not taking responsibility. Organisations need to not only develop sustainable policies for themselves, but to also include their whole network of suppliers in their strategies.”
However, as storing data becomes more efficient and costs reduce, businesses are able to provide services for less, thereby encouraging an increase in consumption. The result is that even though data has been stored in highly energy efficient ways, we are still using ever more energy. Ultimately, the only sustainable course of action is to use renewable energy sources and to put in place carbon neutral policies.
Memset claims to have completed a decade of being carbon neutral, proving that SME cloud providers are more than able to meet the challenge. The company became the UK's first Carbon Neutral Web host in 2006 and uses a mix of mains and solar power energy. Where possible, the company reuses and reallocates servers to reduce waste; but only if they pass stringent quality checks.
“Regardless of what you think about the methods and rhetoric of extinction rebellion, the direction of climate change and the need for more sustainable processes is clear," O’Rourke continues. "Businesses have a duty to consider cloud suppliers for their commitment to environmental sustainability. The danger is that by failing to do so, they will make themselves a target for campaigners, risk reputational damage, and make their other CSR efforts seem just cosmetic.”
|All systems grow||14/08/2019|
Tottenham Hotspur recently held an open day to show the impressive technology within its new 62,000 seater stadium, which has been 17 years in the planning and development. Andy Pye went along
The new stadium has four large video screens, LED signage, public Wi-Fi access, mobile point of sale (POS) systems, click and collect cashless food and beverage, as well as analytics platforms that deliver data about user behaviour.
Purpose-designed as a multi-use venue, the stadium features a grass pitch in three sections which retract under the car park at one end of the stadium. The retractable pitch is there to ensure that the football-playing surface is always in peak condition. Positioned 18 inches underneath the grass field is a fixed synthetic surface that is used for other events, such as concerts, rugby and NFL games (two NFL matches are to be played there each year for 10 years).
US sporting venues have been a benchmark for the club’s technological blueprint. For example, wireless connectivity in European stadiums is often poor; in the US it is almost a given that any venue, whether NFL, soccer or an indoor arena, has connectivity.
The Club has selected Schneider Electric as its Official Stadium Energy Management Supplier. As part of the relationship, Schneider Electric distributes power supply throughout the new stadium and integrates key systems and data flow for day-to-day energy and operational efficiency.
The company's EcoStruxure digital backbone connects all the Operations Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) systems into the stadium’s architecture. EcoStruxure provides real-time monitoring for such diverse applications as preventative maintenance and personalised visitor experiences, including temperature and lighting.
electrical infrastructure is monitored constantly from Schneider Electric’s remote field services bureau
In the control room, operators - including seconded specialists from Schneider on event days and in the build-up period - can drill down into every piece of equipment running throughout the stadium; data from individual generators, fans, motors and pumps can be pulled onto the screen with a simple mouse click. The electrical infrastructure is monitored constantly from Schneider Electric’s remote field services bureau. Building Analytics software performs system checks every five minutes.
Grow lighting system
Grow lights help grow grass and achieve a consistent and healthy grass coverage across the entire surface throughout the entire year when there is limited direct sunlight getting to the grass. SGL, SCX and Hewitt Sportsturf have developed a world-first integrated pitch grow lighting system.
While the old pitch grow lighting system at White Hart Lane consisted of traditional 'wheeled-in' units rolled onto the pitch and manoeuvred into position, the new system is stored underneath the North Stand, solving the issue of limited storage space. The moving structure weighs approximately 120 tonnes with 864 individual lights covering a total of 7,525sq.m.
From there, it is lifted hydraulically onto rails mounted permanently on the east and west pitch trays; it then seamlessly rolls from one end of the pitch to the other. This enables full coverage of the pitch without equipment ever coming directly into contact with the grass surface. There is enough distance between the pitch and the grow lighting system to enable groundsmen to continue to tend to the grass even when the system is in use. An irrigation system is fitted on top of the structure so that the grass can be watered from above when the units are in use. Each individual unit is itself divided into six lighting groups that may be switched on and off independently, for example to treat specific high wear areas.
The growing conditions are measured 24/7 by analysers on the pitch, with data is continuously displayed on a portal. Calculations are performed continuously in the background and simultaneously converted into advice to optimise grass quality and health.
A second grow lighting system based on LEDs illuminates the total pitch when it is placed under the stand. The operation of both light sources is based on the calculated light and heat demand of the grass in the different circumstances.
|Appetite for connection||03/09/2019|
The benefits to food and beverage producers of incorporating connected technology into their processes are well documented. And after a slow start, the food industry is catching up fast when it comes to applying automated systems, as Andy Pye reports
Smart technology can help organisations to make informed decisions that can turn a business into a predictor rather than a reactor. But digital fear is still prevalent in the food industry, particularly among SMEs. Indeed, as more food processing equipment gains coveted Industry 4.0 status, so the threat of data breaches grows.
The threat of a cybersecurity breach is ever-present in today’s connected world and food manufacturers of any size would be naïve to think their company is not at risk. Fortunately, there are steps that companies can take to protect their connected devices from hackers and other unwanted interference.
The most important line of defence is to keep networks separate. This could involve setting up a corporate network, for areas such as finance and HR functions, and an industrial network, which governs the operational side of the business that keeps the factory running.
The most important line of defence is to keep networks separate
To protect against unwanted threats either to the corporate network (such as accessing confidential personal or financial records) or to the industrial network (such as changing recipe mixes or overriding smart freezer temperatures), it is advisable that food producers apply the principal of least privilege.
“This means never giving a user more access than they need to perform their task,” explained Phil Brown, Managing Director of metal detection company Fortress. One way to do this is to create a third network. Known as a demilitarized zone (DMZ), this third network acts as a secure path between an organisation’s internal networks and the external network, while protecting the internal networks from outside interference. By only opening the particular ports needed to communicate on one network at a time, it ring-fences the rest of an organisation’s data and operational controls and alleviates much of the risk.
Fortress has responded by developing remote management technology, which allows multi-site food production plants to manage operations from anywhere in the world using smart phones, tablets and laptops.
An unlimited number of Fortress metal detectors can be connected wirelessly using a powerful back-end SQL to monitor activity and generate reports.
Food sorting machinery
Bühler UK has won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise for its pioneering research into the camera technology used in its food sorting machines. The technological breakthrough is being used to drive up food safety controls in the nut and frozen vegetable sectors while also helping to increase plastic recycling rates.
Bühler’s cameras can recognise subtle colour and shading contrasts in materials and foods, which increases detection rates for foreign materials, potential choke hazards or contaminated foods. So-called hyperspectral imaging records vast amounts of wavelength data to generate highly accurate colour and shading contrasts for specific products. This data is then statistically analysed to create algorithms that inform the sorting camera exactly what colour and shading contrasts to look for when detecting contamination or a foreign object in a production process.
“The innovation here is our ability to gather such large amounts of data and then use that data to optimise a conventional narrow band digital camera so that it is capable of quickly and efficiently detecting very specific things, whether it be shells in nuts, foreign materials in a vegetable production line or even different grades of polymers in a recycling plant,” explains Senior Research Engineer Benedict Deefholts.
Bühler uses this technology to produce a range of specialist cameras for different markets, including peanuts, frozen vegetables and plastic recycling.
The Sortex range can efficiently remove defects with certain discolorations, in-shell, split, over/undersized or misshapen nuts as well as foreign material, including sticks and bone. Since the introduction of the Sortex E optical sorter, sales of Bühler sorting machines into the nut sector have doubled. Now, the most recent model, the Sortex F, is renowned for its stainless steel hygienic design. It offers a 4-in-1 detection, targeting colour, nut shells, shape and foreign material in all nut varieties (peanuts, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts), whether in-shell nuts, natural, blanched or chopped.
Bottles and cans on food production lines present some challenges for sensors. Turck Banner's Q5X sensor reliably detects extremely dark targets, black targets against a black background, black targets against a shiny metal background, clear and reflective objects, multicolour packaging, and targets of all colours. In addition, it features stable detection to 2m - even at an angle — which enables greater mounting flexibility. The sensor is rated IP67 for reliable performance in wet environments.
When bottles are removed from a depalletiser, the bottles are swept from the pallet, layer by layer, by a sweeper arm. The bottles eventually start to move into a single file and continue downstream. It is important to monitor the bottles in the staging area to make sure that they have moved on before another layer is swept onto the conveyor. However, the unstable signal from the moving bottles and low contrast objects, can be challenging for sensors to detect reliably.
The Q5X background suppression feature detects when the staging area is clear of bottles, and the system is ready for the next layer of containers. The integral timing delay on the Q5X filters out any small gaps between objects as they move in a cluster. Background suppression is also important because the sensor can be set to only detect objects within a defined sensing field and ignore anything that is located beyond the sensing field cut-off point.
the sensor can be set to only detect objects within a defined sensing field
In dual teach mode — which measures both distance and light intensity — the Q5X can reliably detect the presence of clear bottles without the risk of double counting.
Natural light is made up of waves having a variety of polarizations. Photoelectric sensors with polarizing filters emit and detect only light waves of a specific polarization while rejecting unwanted light of other polarizations.
When unfinished cans pass between the sensor and the retroreflector, the light reflected off the cans has a different polarization than the light returned by the retroreflector. As a result, the beam will be blocked by the cans and the output will be triggered.
Turck Banner's Q20 Polarized Retroreflective Sensor is designed to detect only the light returned from the reflector, ignoring light returned from shiny objects. Shiny objects can act as reflectors themselves, returning enough light to the sensor to cause unreliable sensing. A solution is needed that will only see the light returned from the retroreflector, and not light returned from shiny targets.
Muntons, one of the UK’s largest producers of malted barley, is protecting vital parts of its production process against unscheduled downtime by using the Smart Condition Monitoring (SCM) system from Mitsubishi Electric.
Used to make beer, spirits and a range of popular foodstuffs, malted barley is produced in large batches where environmental conditions are critical to a consistent product.
As in many food industries, the principles of the barley malting process are quite traditional, but Muntons relies heavily on automation, electro-mechanical equipment and sensors to provide fine control over air flow, heat and moisture. Fans and motors are critical: Muntons processes many tonnes of product at a time, with key operations relying on a steady supply of blown air. The chosen SCM installation provides condition monitoring for two large 315kW fan sets and a single 90kW fan set. Sensors monitor the electric motor, power transmission coupling and main fan shaft bearing on each fan set.
Plant Engineer Michael Plawecki says: “We now have a clear picture of the health of the fan sets and advance warning of any required maintenance. Remote monitoring and fast diagnosis of any issues has also made us very responsive should the limits on operating parameters that we have set be approached. As promised the system was easy to install and relatively simple to commission.”
We now have a clear picture of the health of the fan sets
The impetus for the SCM installation came from issues previously experienced with difficult-to-reach bearings inside a large fan housing. A bearing failure inside a fan assembly caught the Muntons engineering team unawares and proved significant in terms of downtime. “We only realised we had problems when it was too late, and we had to make an unscheduled stop on one of the lines to make repairs,” says Plawecki.
Determined to learn from that lesson, Muntons looked for a monitoring solution with predictive maintenance technology that could be linked into the company’s existing SCADA system. SCM comprises smart sensors that can be attached to bearing housings, gearboxes, pumps and motors to detect when equipment starts to operate outside its normal envelope due to wear. It provides a sophisticated early warning system for critical pieces of rotating plant equipment. Vibration frequencies and temperature readouts are monitored continuously and fed back to an L Series Mitsubishi Electric PLC via an industrial Ethernet network cable.
The sensors, developed by bearing expert FAG, monitor changes in complex vibration patterns specific to the type of equipment it is attached to. The software compares that data with highly developed data models from thousands of previous installations, providing an effective analysis and alert system for the user.
Mechanical harvesting of lettuce
Crops such as potatoes and wheat have been harvested mechanically at scale for decades, but many other crops have to date resisted automation. The iceberg lettuce is one such crop. Although it is the most common type of lettuce grown in the UK, iceberg is easily damaged and grows relatively flat to the ground, presenting a challenge for robotic harvesters.
The Vegebot, a vegetable-picking robot that uses machine learning to identify and harvest a commonplace, but challenging, agricultural crop has been developed by a team at the University of Cambridge. It was initially trained to recognise and harvest iceberg lettuce in a lab setting. It has now been successfully tested in a variety of field conditions in cooperation with G’s Growers, a local fruit and vegetable co-operative.
Although the prototype is nowhere near as fast or efficient as a human worker, it demonstrates how the use of robotics in agriculture might be expanded, even for crops like iceberg lettuce which are particularly challenging to harvest mechanically.
it demonstrates how the use of robotics in agriculture might be expanded
“At the moment, harvesting is the only part of the lettuce life cycle that is done manually, and it’s very physically demanding,” said Julia Cai, who worked on the computer vision components of the Vegebot while she was an undergraduate student.
The Vegebot first identifies the ‘target’ crop within its field of vision, then determines whether a particular lettuce is healthy and ready to be harvested, and finally cuts the lettuce from the rest of the plant without crushing it so that it is ‘supermarket ready’. “For a human, the entire process takes a couple of seconds, but it’s a really challenging problem for a robot,” said coresearcher Josie Hughes.
“Every field is different, every lettuce is different,” said Simon Birrell from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering. “But if we can make a robotic harvester work with iceberg lettuce, we could also make it work with many other crops.”
The Vegebot has two main components: a computer vision system and a cutting system. The overhead camera on the Vegebot takes an image of the lettuce field and first identifies all the lettuces in the image, and then for each lettuce, classifies whether it should be harvested or not. A lettuce might be rejected because it’s not yet mature, or it might have a disease that could spread to other lettuces in the harvest.
The researchers developed and trained a machine learning algorithm on example images of lettuces. Once the Vegebot could recognise healthy lettuces in the lab, it was then trained in the field, in a variety of weather conditions, on thousands of real lettuces.
A second camera on the Vegebot is positioned near the cutting blade, and helps ensure a smooth cut. The researchers were also able to adjust the pressure in the robot’s gripping arm so that it held the lettuce firmly enough not to drop it, but not so firm as to crush it. The force of the grip can be adjusted for other crops.
|Food for thought||14/08/2019|
The urgency of global challenges - climate change, resource scarcity, food safety - is accelerating. How can a growing world population of 9 billion by 2050 access healthy food? How can we make travel and commuting safer with less environmental impact?
One-sided fixes have failed. Industry contributes to the global economy - and in Europe provides 36 million jobs, But its products are also the third biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and deplete resources, and cause pollution and biodiversity loss. Disruptive and sustainable technologies are needed to comply with the Paris Agreement.
Swiss company Bühler is well placed to address pressing global challenges as two billion people enjoy foods produced on the company's equipment. The Bühler Networking Days, held at the end of August, focuses this year on finding business solutions that are both sustainable and commercially successful. The dialogue between 800 industry leaders, researchers, academics and start-ups will address sustainable value chains in food and feed, and in mobility.
Among the speakers are Gro Harlem Brundtland, the first female Prime Minister of Norway and a leading voice on climate change and champion of sustainable development; Peter Bakker, the President and CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD); and John Harthorne, Founder of MassChallenge, a start-up accelerator designed to connect high-potential startups.
The next industrial revolution may even be from nature. Bio-based innovation is key in setting up circular industrial economy models. "Using biological waste or renewable resources to manufacture chemical, pharmaceutical, packaging or various consumer products is just the beginning”, explained Markus Wolperdinger, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (IGB), at the ManuFUTURE workshop in Brussels. “There is no time to lose, we need to act now."
Wolperdinger sees three progressive stages of the Biological Transformation: bio-inspired, bio-integrated and bio-intelligent. In the inspiration stage, biological principles and phenomena that have emerged in the course of evolution are converted into new value-adding systems. Biointegration links these into manufacturing processes or products. Bio-intelligence is a merging of biology, IT and engineering.
The ManuFUTURE workshop anticipates the Strategic Plan for the forthcoming Horizon Europe research framework programme. It recognises the potential of Biological Transformation, focusing on how this can influence the sustainability of industry and what it calls the "technological sovereignty" of Europe. This September, biological transformation will be a priority at the “Research and Innovation Days” of DG Research and Innovation in Brussel (24-26 September 2019) and at the ManuFUTURE 2019 Conference – Sustainable Smart Manufacturing in Helsinki (30 Sept to 1 Oct 2019).
During a politically volatile autumn period, these events will provide time for reflection on how humanity and technology can and must work together for a sustainable future.
Andy Pye Consulting Editor
|5G - a real security risk?||21/06/2019|
Countries and trading blocs have a long history of using regulations to ensure that all products, including imported goods, meet consistent expected standards. In the 1970s, the UL94 standard on polymer flammability was initially seen - outside the US - as a form of import control. Goods made of non-compliant polymers would simply be left on the quayside.
Half a century on, and particularly following disasters such as Grenfell, no-one would seriously suggest that flammability standards should not form a crucial part of our defence against shoddy and sharp practices, against designing on the cheap.
Fast forward to the issue of 5G and the perceived security risk from using Chinese Huawei technology - is the risk real, or just another form of import control? An article in Wired (*), suggests that underpinning the US dislike of Chinese 5G technology may not be not the fear of security breaches, but the fear of its own approach to 5G being left behind.
5G has 100 times the speed as current generation wireless networks and reduced latency, so we can use wireless data to enhance our interactions with the world around us and create new opportunities in manufacturing, transportation, health care, education, and agriculture.
However, the United States is alone in making high-band spectrum the core of its domestic 5G approach. These airwaves, known as “millimetre wave,” are above 24GHz. They have never been used in cellular networks before - they don’t send signals very far and are easily blocked by walls. While these airwaves offer a lot more capacity, which translates into ultrafast speeds, it is very expensive to expand the network. But to date, the US has made zero mid-band spectrum available.
This leaves the UK with a headache. Does it go with global trends, or bend the knee to the country which its Government so fervently wishes to court in post-Brexit alignment?
To date, the UK has shown no concerns about using Chinese technology in security-critical equipment: Deborah Haynes, Sky News foreign affairs editor, notes that a complex web of supply chains supports Britain's biggest defence procurements, such as its warships, satellites and missiles. Exception PCB in Gloucestershire – owned by Chinese Shenzhen Fastprint - is making circuit boards for the top-secret F-35 warplane flown by Britain and the United States.
Was the ownership of Exception an oversight? Or had knowledge of the acquisition not been relayed to ministers? Or was it simply not considered to be a concern? The Ministry of Defence would surely have carried out a thorough check of Shenzhen Fastprint before it was able to take over a British company with an F-35 contract. Wouldn't it?
Are there other sub-contractors to the big defence primes - like BAE Systems, Thales, General Electric or Airbus - that are similarly under Chinese ownership?
Andy Pye Consulting Editor
(*) CHOOSING THE WRONG LANE IN THE RACE TO 5G https://www.wired.com/story/choosing-the-wrong-lane-in-the-race-to-5g/
|Overcoming the Iceberg Effect||15/04/2019|
The case for investing in robotic process automation (RPA) seems incredibly strong. In practically every business, employees spend many hours per week undertaking repetitive manual tasks with data, such as copying and pasting, and capturing and rekeying. In the manufacturing environment, this is often even more prevalent.
We say to ourselves "It’s obvious that if we can automate those processes, we’ll save thousands of hours, and we’ll be able to focus on much more interesting, important and profitable work.”
But there’s a catch. Among companies that have already started adopting RPA, very few are currently achieving the full benefits that a well-rounded RPA strategy can deliver. The most common complaint is that the RPA project has stalled and they don’t know how to move forward.
There are many reasons why RPA projects can go off the rails, but in most cases, there is a common pattern. RPA immediately resonates with most decision-makers because almost all businesses have a few processes that are so laborious and inefficient that they are already on senior management’s radar. These are often the processes that are easiest to automate, because it’s obvious what needs to be done to streamline them.
The RPA initiative therefore starts strongly — the company sets up an RPA Centre of Excellence (CoE) that has a clear idea of the first few problems it needs to solve, and the RPA team usually delivers these quick wins within the first few weeks or months.
However, as the afterglow of that success fades away, a difficult question arises. Now that the initial challenges have been solved, what should the CoE team tackle next? The lack of an innovation pipeline of automation opportunities makes it difficult to maintain much-needed momentum.
This is the Iceberg Effect. Like an iceberg which only has about 10% of its mass visible above the waterline, RPA has only a small percentage of potential use cases that are glaringly obvious to everyone in the business. The remainder glide silently beneath the surface, grinding down productivity and sinking morale without ever making enough noise to alarm the higher levels of the organisation.
The smoothest RPA journey allows businesses to start small, learn quickly and scale seamlessly. This helps to reduce the overall project risk and avoids the high upfront costs which can make achieving a positive ROI that much harder. Successful RPA initiatives look to the people doing the work throughout the business (known as "citizen developers") to kickstart the discovery and development of RPA opportunities.
To extend the iceberg metaphor, the CoE is like a ship’s engine-room: it does most of the hard work that powers an enterprise-wide RPA initiative, but it doesn’t necessarily have as clear a view as the people up on deck.
If these end-users are given help to automate the tasks that they find most tedious or time-consuming, it becomes much easier to identify a wealth of RPA opportunities that are normally hidden from view — even though they may seem obvious to the people trying to steer the business out of the iceberg’s path!
One business consulting company and provider of RPA which applies this philosophy is Softomotive. Its People1st Strategy puts people before robots, placing the power in the hands of the end user to help them discover and implement process automations quickly and safely, without having to write a single line of code. Softomotive uses the WinAutomation desktop automation tool a powerful Windows-based platform for building software robots; allied to ProcessRobot, an enterprise RPA platform, including security and controls, with links to best-of-breed AI technologies.
|A symbol of hope||19/02/2019|
The UK is ambitious to increase its trade with the rapidly emerging economies, and is prepared to prioritise it over maintaining trading levels with its established trading partners.
One of the four Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges outlined by the government and intended to put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future concerns AI and data. Two new research programmes announced by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) are looking to transform engineering, urban planning and healthcare. The programmes are supported with £48 million of funding delivered through the Strategic Priorities Fund.
Minister for Digital, Margot James, said: “We are determined to make sure the UK remains at the forefront of cutting-edge technologies and through our modern Industrial Strategy we are working with industry, business and academia to develop innovation that will change people’s lives for the better."
UKRI is delivering funding through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to use AI and data in pathology and imaging to revolutionise early diagnosis of diseases and conditions and their treatment. And digital twins – digital replicas of physical systems assisted by Artificial Intelligence (AI) – have the potential to be used to view aircraft engines in-flight to identify safety risks, model wind turbine design for improved energy generation and allow customers to model new fashion on a virtual twin of themselves.
Seemingly, a world away, Kigali in Rwanda is now the ninth safest capital city on the planet. In 1994, this African nation suffered one of the worst genocides in history. Over 100 days, its government slaughtered one-tenth of the country’s population and displaced more than 2 million people. But even before, Rwanda was a country in crisis; the ongoing civil war had destroyed its already fragile economy, severely impoverished its citizens, and made it impossible to attract external investment.
Fast-forward to 2017, and this nation of 12 million people is undergoing a complete transformation. When President Kagame emerged as Rwanda’s de facto leader, he set out his ambition to transform the country from one of Africa’s poorest nations into a leading knowledge economy by 2020. Nobody anticipated the extraordinary growth that would follow. On its path to becoming a middle-income country, Rwanda has sought advice from China, Singapore, and Thailand.
The key has been knowledge sharing. Through investing in IT infrastructure and forward-looking skills, Kigali, currently home to 1.22 million people, a population set to triple by 2040, is quickly becoming a leader in the knowledge-based sharing economy.
The rest of Africa looks to Rwanda as a land of opportunity and a symbol of hope. It is leapfrogging developed countries in fundamental areas such as smart city infrastructure, vocational training, and strategic foreign investment. 4G/LTE networks cover more than 95% of the country, and there is a national roll-out of fibre-optic broadband. As its citizens and businesses get connected, Kigali is becoming an African hub for multinational tech companies, including Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
As a result of providing businesses with the necessary infrastructure to develop and deploy their own IoT applications, investments in IoT infrastructure across Africa and the Middle East are projected to reach $7.8 billion by the end of 2017, money which goes a lot further when the projects are spearheaded by local initiatives. This technical infrastructure is crucial to Kigali’s aims of empowering and inspiring citizens to innovate, creating fresh opportunities - especially for young people - and sharing knowledge with neighbouring African nations.
What strategies should the UK adopt to keep pace with Rwanda?
|Robots trapped between a rock & a hard place||11/12/2018|
The dilemma posed by robotics is highlighted by two reports published this month. A report in the Luxembourg Times notes that an increased use of robots is probably behind a decline in total employment rates in 11 emerging Eastern European countries. Conversely, the UK, the lack of investment is making industries uncompetitive.
Robots will also help fill job shortages in a region, like the UK, with an ageing population where companies complain that they can't find enough skilled people to fill open positions. According to the EBRD, while some types of work will become obsolete, other jobs in more productive sectors will emerge.
With the use of industrial robots rising globally, the average worker in Slovakia - the world's top car producer per capita - faces a 62% median probability that his or her job will be automated "in the near future," according to the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
Workers in Lithuania are only slightly less at risk, and the chance hovers at around 50-50 for employees in Slovenia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Estonia. Robots will be most used in textiles, agriculture and manufacturing.
Foreign-direct investment is a main driver. Slovakia and Slovenia use about 93 robots for every 10,000 manufacturing workers, the highest ratios in the EBRD region and comparable to the level seen in Brazil, China and South Africa..
Technological innovations are quickly shifting the balance between activities performed by humans and tasks performed by machines, the report continues. In manufacturing, the percentage of jobs that are at risk of automation may be particularly high.
In contrast, in the UK, firms seem to be taking the easier and ‘safer’ option by investing in labour rather than new technologies. "It’s understandable that firms with smaller budgets are hesitant to scrap their existing machinery in favour of newer technologies, but it is equally ineffective to simply hire new staff without investing in the right technologies and connected systems for them to operate," says Jason Chester, director of Channel Programs for InfinityQS, a specialist in data-driven manufacturing. "Advancements in the IIoT and cloud-based data analytics now offer manufacturers the ability to operate far more efficiently, enabling them to accurately monitor and adjust their operations in real-time so they can remain competitive and adapt to an increasingly unstable global market."
Chester says that economic uncertainty fuelled by Brexit, in conjunction with the gradual decline of high-street retailers and a contracting construction sector is having a negative effect on supply-chain demand and restricting further growth. As a result, UK manufacturing industry appears to be in a state of constant flux.
“Unfortunately, the lack of understanding surrounding technological innovations, including robotics, industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), automation, manufacturing intelligence, cloud computing, Big Data, and artificial intelligence, has meant manufacturers are hesitant to go digital," Chester adds. "The manufacturing sector is the backbone of the economy, currently employing approximately 2.6 million people and accounting for 44% of total exports. Firms that take the initiative to future-proof their manufacturing operations by prioritising investment in IIoT and intelligence solutions will be able to navigate their challenges to emerge as leaders in the fourth industrial revolution.”
|Maintec: dialogue the key to networking||09/10/2018|
Automation, digitalisation, big data and connectivity are becoming increasingly important across today's modern maintenance practices, so it made sense for CDA's consulting editor, Andy Pye, to play a pivotal role in curating the Reliability Dialogue theatre at the forthcoming Maintec event. Here he reviews the aims of the theatre and reveals the objectives of the behind-closed-doors Round Table Discussion
Running alongside the impressive list of keynote and blue chip speakers in the Maintec Insights theatre is the Reliability Dialogue theatre, sponsored by Bosch Rexroth. The sessions in this theatre are short (25 minute) panel discussions involving three or four key participants, many of whom are show exhibitors, or speakers from Maintec Insights sessions running alongside. In this tight timeframe, each participant is allowed a brief presentation of around 3 to 5 minutes, with the remaining time dedicated to a Q&A session.
Questions will be taken from the floor, or previously submitted by readers of the supporting publications, including this one. Of course, discussions may continue unmoderated following the closure of the official session, or where exhibitors are involved, back at the company stand.
Questions will be taken from the floor, or previously submitted by readers of the supporting publications
To make the discussions ever more relevant, a limited number of visitors will be accepted, by prior arrangement, onto the Reliability Dialogue panels. Details of how to ask a question, or to apply to be a participant, are given in the box at the end of the article.
The Reliability Dialogue Sessions
Tuesday 6 November:
Rail and Transport, 11.15 to 11.40
We are all accustomed to trains being replaced by buses due to Planned Engineering Works. How is disruption to services minimised, as the rail companies fight to maintain vehicles and tracks on which they run?
Track maintenance machines have become increasingly automated, but certain areas still require the strength and attention of trained operators. The Internet of Trains The real IoT – the Internet of Trains enables metros, passenger and freight services to use sensors, Machine2Machine learning, the Big Data analytics, cloud computing and other tech to gather and analyse information from a wide variety of sources and data streams. This benefits not just IT, but also engineering, maintenance, signalling, communications, ticketing and on-board experience.
Asset Maintenance Strategies, 13.05 to 13.30
Maintaining machines and equipment at optimal performance levels can be a constant battle. Asset Maintenance Management describes the continuous process improvement strategies for improving the availability, safety, reliability and longevity of physical assets (systems, facilities, equipment and processes).
With a plethora of different strategies to address up keep of critical assets, it can be daunting to determine which is most cost-effective and successful in the long run. Are you in reactive mode? Should you follow a pre-determined schedule? Should you wait until there is a clear deviation? Does preventive maintenance do more harm than good?
From Condition Monitoring to Predictive Maintenance, 14.05 to 14.30
Regular maintenance is good - but it can be costly if parts are replaced or repaired at the wrong time. Particularly in just-in-time production, outages and production downtimes can have a devastating impact, which quickly affects many other parts of the value chain and ultimately company performance and its asset. Predictive maintenance uses an array of sensors and intelligent components to expand options for detection and visualisation of operational data. All data is available for quick evaluation on site and is used to detect wear and irregularities during operation long before damage or downtime occur.
Energy Utilities, 15.05 to 15.30
What systems are available for energy utilities to minimise the risk of failure and maximise equipment lifetimes in the most cost-effective way, increasing reliability? Such approaches should include elements of predictive maintenance and preventive maintenance to prioritise maintenance where it will be most effective. It should also combine asset condition data (such as oil analysis, device testing, thermography, and visual inspection) with real-time operational data.
Wednesday 7th November:
The Digital Factory, 11.15 to 11.40
A digital factory uses digital technology for modelling, communications and to operate the manufacturing process. This arrangement of technology allows managers to configure, model, simulate, assess and evaluate items, procedures and system before the factory is constructed. Downtime should be minimised because predictive maintenance procedures, based on historical and real-time data for each piece of equipment, automatically address incipient problems before a breakdown.
Gathering and Managing Data, 13.05 to 13.30
This session looks at typical Industry 4.0 devices used to gather data from processes. What type of data should be gathered? How should Big Data be handled, and where should it be stored - locally, in the Cloud, or in the "Fog"?
Although the IoT is currently driven by connecting field devices to the cloud, there are limitations. Most IoT implementations are about connecting to - and doing all of the processing in - the cloud. Although this can work for the consumer IoT, for Industrial IoT systems not everything can take place in the cloud.
The other major issue confronted with cloud computing is security and privacy. Since the cloud systems have been located with the Internet, user requests, data transmission and system responses need to traverse many intermediate networks depending on the distance between the users and systems. When customer data is in a public cloud, there is a risk of them being compromised of their integrity and confidentiality.
Fog computing refers to extending cloud computing to the edge of the network of the enterprise. Also known as Edge Computing (or Fogging), it facilitates the operation of compute, storage and networking services between end devices and cloud computing data centres.
Fog computing refers to extending cloud computing to the edge of the network of the enterprise
By handling the services that make up the Internet of Things (IoT) at the network edge, data can in many cases be processed more efficiently than if it needed to be sent to the cloud for processing.
Remote Measurement, 14.05 to 14.30
The use of Industry 4.0 compliant devices means that remote facilities, such as substations and water supply facilities, no longer have to be physically visited to monitor their performance. Remote Measurement products are used by companies and authorities that need to measure and monitor aquatic environments, machinery and equipment, and weather conditions.
Remote Measurement systems gather measurement data in locations where infrastructure is lacking. This is possible because measurement data is sent by satellite or mobile telephony networks from devices on site, many with their own power supply.
We look at examples in use today and consider how their use might be extended.
Maintenance with Robots, 15.05 to 15.30
Robots are useful in providing a means of inspection of locations which are hazardous for humans to inspect, or difficult for them to access. Robotics is playing an increasing part in maintenance of such installations as nuclear facilities, and wind turbines, while drones can fly above cranes and look down with sophisticated visual and thermal cameras to see what might be going strong. When and where is the investment justified?
Round Table Discussion
On the evening of the first day at Maintec, and shortly after the close of the exhibition, we will be holding a behind-closed-doors Round Table Discussion involving invited key senior maintenance specialists from users and suppliers in the manufacturing and process sectors. The session chairman will be Andy Pye, Senior Editorial Consultant to Maintec.
The discussion will consider the effect on OEE of predictive maintenance,
The key theme to be explored during the session will be Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). The discussion will consider the effect on OEE of predictive maintenance, including the advent of Industry 4.0 devices, and in particular, how the concepts relate to the SME community in the UK.
The "Six Big Losses" which affect OEE are:
The session, which will last about 90 minutes, will be audio recorded, transcribed, edited and published subsequently in the relevant Western Business Publishing titles.
The sponsor for this session is Festo, who will provide a panel member. Also providing a panel member will be Bosch Rexroth, sponsors of the Reliability Dialogue and Maintec Insights theatres. Other confirmed panel members to date include representatives of exhibiting companies SSG Insight, EMS Cognito and SPM Instruments. We are in the process of adding further panel members at this very moment!
At a similar event two years, the slow uptake of the SME community of Industry 4.0 technologies was highlighted: at the time, Chris Greenough, Commercial Director of Salop Engineering, a manufacturer of pressings and assemblies based in Shrewsbury, and President of Shropshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “Digitisation has been pushed through the large OEMs and First Tier companies and that hasn’t filtered down to the SMEs. Yet, this is where the biggest potential improvement is.”
Adam Payne Managing Director of TCM UK, which specialises in lean manufacturing strategy and 3D printing, added: “It is recognised – as Chris says, it is easy to roll it out to the OEMs, they have the investment and teams. But it is the manufacturing SMEs that can make the biggest difference – they can get so much out of it - energy savings, remote monitoring. Therefore, we need to see a proper manufacturing policy, which involves everyone, so we all get to the same end goal.”
Justin Leonard, Director at Igus, the manufacturer of cables, cable assemblies and plastic bearings, caught the mood of the discussion at the time, saying: “With SMEs, we need to approach Industry 4.0 in small steps. For example, we can introduce smart products that can indicate how long they are going to last (say, warning 50%, 75% of the way through the lifetime). Users of these products don’t have a lights-out factory, but they are already using Industry 4.0 technology, they just don’t realise it.”
How have things changed since? Unfortunately, while 80% of UK manufacturers say industry 4.0 will be a reality by 2025, only 11% expect to be ready to capitalise on it, according to information released by the recently launched Green Technology Task Force (London, September 2018).
Smart technology can be used to reduce energy consumption, eliminate waste and decrease carbon emissions
Steve Brambley, chief executive of GAMBICA, the Trade Association for Instrumentation, Control, Automation and Laboratory Technology, and a Tech Task Force member, said: “Smart technology can be used to reduce energy consumption, eliminate waste and decrease carbon emissions. As well as being environmental imperatives, these are important goals for the UK’s long-term competitiveness.”
In launching the scheme, Claire Perry, Minister of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, emphasised that the UK has a long history of brilliant ideas, but is less successful in holding onto the intellectual property (IP).
How to take part in Reliability Dialogue
Submit a question: If you have a question you would like to be debated at one of the Reliability Dialogue sessions, please email it to Andy Pye at email@example.com. It would be best to ask the question in person – and be there to hear the answer – so please indicate if you intend to be present at the session. We will contact you if we intend to use your question.
Why not take part? Or go a stage further! If you are planning to attend Maintec and have a maintenance story to share with other visitors during the Reliability Dialogue, you could be accepted onto one of our panels. Just contact Andy on firstname.lastname@example.org. In this case, if accepted, we will ask you for a guarantee of attendance, but will pay reasonable travelling expenses in return.
Andy Pye is Consulting Editor of Controls, Drives and Automation. He also owns the online publishing business Carousel Web, which publishes in the security, health, defence and advanced materials sectors.
In a publishing career spanning back to 1980, Andy has edited many of the leading UK manufacturing and engineering titles, including Design Engineering, Engineering and Industrial Technology. In 1999, he was a Founding Partner and Shareholder of Pro-Talk, the ground-breaking online publications company which was sold to Centaur Media in 2006.
Prior to a career in publishing, Andy graduated in Natural Sciences, specialising in Metallurgy and Materials Science, and worked for a materials engineering consultancy. Outside publishing, Andy consults on the business management of recreational sports clubs and has worked for the Kent Cricket Board and England and Wales Cricket Board. Approaching 60, he still plays and coaches cricket!