What are the trends in automation technology?

Since technical development does not stand still, the trade press days “automation”, which this year again took place in ­Karlsruhe early in February (Fig. 1), are an excellent opportunity to gather information about the latest trends. With a varied lecture program and small stand presentations the very popular event again turned out to be an important platform for the exchange of information and human relations between companies of the automation sector and the editorial staff of the trade media (Fig. 2). Numerous new products, problem solutions and techniques in the fields of control engineering, ­sensor technology and drive technology were presented, which will certainly point the way to the future of automation technology.
Innovations in control engineering
Wireless information transfer is currently developing into an important topic for control engineering and communications. For example, Hirschmann Automation and Control GmbH presented a WLAN solution for the industry that already meets the requirements of the new IEEE standard 802  11  n, which will soon come into force. Communication as comfortable as possible was a central topic also for the automation specialists from Berghof Automationstechnik GmbH. The company gave a lecture on a flexible control system, in which heterogeneous network structures can be controlled without any problems. Furthermore, it facilitates easy connection of the most different drives due to comprehensive motion control libraries. To facilitate the use of control engineering for the users was in the focus of attention for many companies taking part in the event: For example, Omron Electronics GmbH ­convinced with small control systems of “easy automation” ­offering tailored and yet cost-effective and simple control ­solutions to the customer due to various functional modules. The lecture given by Mitsubishi Electric Europe B.V. showed that security technology is not inevitably expensive. Safety relays are extended by additional functions so that many easy applications can do without a safety PLC but maintain the comfort.

Drive technology: efficient and user-friendly
The trend towards solutions as user-friendly as possible was also obvious as regards drive technology. For example, Schneider Electric presented a new servo system, the Lexium 32, which can not only be commissioned and maintained very easily but also convinces by its high efficiency. To be more service-friendly as regards medium-voltage switchgears for the supply of efficient drives was the slogan of Igel Elektronik GmbH. For the first time the idea of plug-and-play becomes reality for medium-voltage switchgears due to a new plug-in system. The drive specialists from Baumüller, Nuremberg, informed participants at the trade press days how the bottleneck so far existing in the different physical communication of drives and control can be overcome due to the real-time Ethernet. The real-time Ethernet was also the central idea of Jetter AG. They presented a new family of drives especially designed for extremely precise and dynamic applications. Then Wachendorff Automation GmbH showed by means of examples from practice new possibilities for machine building due to rotary encoders with a higher resolution. Energy efficiency was another topic at the event. For instance, the specialists from Bernecker + Rainer explained clearly how considerable amounts of energy can be saved with hybrid electrohydraulic drive concepts, e.g. for injection moulding machines.
Sensor technology: at the limits of physics
Several automation specialists participating at the trade press days showed that there are still possibilities as regards the sensor technology. Certainly, the basic laws of physics cannot be overruled. The sensor technology specialists from Balluff succeeded in developing capacitive sensors, which now can also be used for applications where capacitive level measurement was not possible so far, e.g. for aqueous mediums, blood, body lotion etc. The pin-point technology for optical sensors presented by Sick AG, which combines almost all advantages of LEDs and laser, was very interesting. The lecture given by Contrinex GmbH also dealt with optical sensors. They presented a new, very effective process of background fading out, in which the sensors receive “varifocals”. Under the headline “Image processing for everybody” Hans Turck GmbH presented a vision sensor that can be operated as easily as a camera. User-friendliness plays an important role also in sensor technology. ASB automation technologie presented a good example for this with the ­newly developed AWI system (Automatical Welding Inspection). Welds of the most different geometries can not only be tested automatically but also be finished at the same time.                  


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