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Automation Dominates the Agenda for Manufacturers Need for Speed

With increased speed and enhanced efficiency now an imperative for Chinese manufacturers looking to maintain a competitive edge, a busy SIAF Guangzhou trade event saw exhibitors majoring on automation and precision.

Photo: Automated efficiency: On the agenda in Guangzhou.
Automated efficiency: On the agenda in Guangzhou.
Photo: Automated efficiency: On the agenda in Guangzhou.
Automated efficiency: On the agenda in Guangzhou.

The quest for ever greater manufacturing speed was the order of the day at the SIAF Guangzhou show, with Chinese manufacturers seeking higher levels of efficiency in order to stay competitive. Replacing human workers with machines was one of the more predictable themes at an industrial automation-focussed expo, as was the need to cut energy consumption, both to meet government directives and to maintain operating margins.

A growing trend was the increasing number of companies offering complete customisation options. This saw them keen to work with manufacturing sector clients in order to provide production system design and development, rather than just standalone equipment or software.

Overall, raising efficiency and reducing energy loss was the goal being pursued by many of the exhibitors at the show. A substantial number of products on display came with explicit citations of their operating speed in per hour, per minute and even per second terms. Such claims were seen as underlining the constant pressure on many manufacturers to deliver ever greater efficiency.

One company looking to capitalise on this need was Huatai, a Shanghai-based information technology provider. This year, it was highlighting its smart machine substitution production line, a system said to offer multi-level flexible production. The company also specialises in robotics, machine vision, computer systems and automation.

Photo: Huatai’s computerised production line.
Huatai's computerised production line.
Photo: Huatai’s computerised production line.
Huatai's computerised production line.
Photo: Baumer’s PosCon 3D smart sensor.
Baumer's PosCon 3D smart sensor.
Photo: Baumer’s PosCon 3D smart sensor.
Baumer's PosCon 3D smart sensor.

Principally, though, Huatai focuses on providing systems integration services to clients. According to the company's General Manager, Xu Nianfeng, the product it was highlighting this year was an electronic module assembly line capable of producing a variety of different types of components. The machine offers a fully automated service, from product testing to assembly, and can also be connected to automatic warehousing and logistics systems in order to further increase efficiency. Overall, the assembly line is said to replicate the output of 11 employees and is capable of turning out a 10 x 8 cm electronic module in just 40 seconds.

With Huatai's robotics integration business reporting a 30% increase year-on-year in 2015, Xu was quietly confident about the prospects for China's industrial automation market. With this in mind, he said: "Technology is the only sure way to win in a highly competitive market".

Another exhibitor attracting considerable attention was Rittal Electro-Mechanical Technology (Shanghai). This year, it was in Guangzhou to promote its Blue e and Blue e+ cooling units.

According to Yang Po, Rittal's Manager for Climate Control Systems, the cooling units function by making use of inverter and heat pipe technology in order to make them even more energy-efficient. The Blue e+ was said to reduce energy consumption by up to 75%, compared to more conventional units.

Proper thermal management can also protect the components inside the cooling unit and extend their service life, further cutting both capital renewal expenditure and the environmental impact of replacement. As an added plus, the system's unique multi-voltage (110-480V) capability system means that it's suitable for use worldwide.

Another company highlighting the importance of energy saving was SMC Pneumatics (Guangzhou), particularly with regard to a reduction in air consumption. Unlike more conventional systems, SMC's vacuum generator does not exhaust air after using suction to pick up objects on a production line. Its airflow can also be adjusted according to pressure, reducing compressed air consumption by up to 90%, with obvious energy and cost savings.

Photo: Efficiency protocols explained.
Efficiency protocols explained.
Photo: Efficiency protocols explained.
Efficiency protocols explained.
Photo: Underlining the importance of precision.
Underlining the importance of precision.
Photo: Underlining the importance of precision.
Underlining the importance of precision.

Over at the Leadshine Technology stand, the Shenzhen-based motion control specialist was exhibiting its L6 servo system. This was said to offer communication efficiency and speed, as well as an axle synchronisation accuracy of less than one microsecond. Meanwhile, the AZ stepper motor on offer from Oriental Motor Shanghai requires no battery and carries a multi-turn absolute encoder, with its high efficiency also reducing motor heating. A further innovation on the energy saving front came courtesy of Shenzhen Yako Automation Technology, with its SSD2505M close-loop stepper drive making use of smart current adjustment technology to effectively reduce motor heating.

Production Accuracy

In terms of the need for greater accuracy in order to maximise production efficiency, a number of companies at this year's show were offering their own proprietary solutions. Notable among these was a new dispensing pump demonstration unit on show from SMC Pneumatics Guangzhou. The unit comprises a Series MGJ miniature guide rod cylinder, a Series LSP liquid dispenser pump, a Series LES electric slide table and a number of other precision components. The unit on show demonstrated the dispensing of fixed volumes of liquid into six measuring cups with impressive accuracy.

The smallest dispensing volume for the L6 is 5µL/shot, with the pump featuring a diaphragm in order to prevent leakage. The diaphragm movement is supported by a buffer, which means that a stable dispensing volume and longer life can be achieved by restricting the deformation of the diaphragm. At present, the pump is widely used in the biotech industry and for medical analysers.

Photo: SMC’s dispense pump demo unit.
SMC's dispense pump demo unit.
Photo: SMC’s dispense pump demo unit.
SMC's dispense pump demo unit.
Photo: Baumer’s busy exhibition stand.
Baumer's busy exhibition stand.
Photo: Baumer’s busy exhibition stand.
Baumer's busy exhibition stand.

Baumer, an electronic company based in Shanghai, was another exhibitor placing great emphasis on the accuracy of its products. The company's PosCon 3D smart sensor is said the measure an object's edge, width, gap dimension and centre position with considerable precision.

According to Song Xiaogang, Baumer's Sensors Sales Manager, the PosCon 3D has the advantages of offering both visual inspection devices and traditional sensors, making measuring the edge positions of objects far more convenient. Although visual inspection devices have greater accuracy, they are also more expensive, though the PosCon 3D claims to have a good price-to-performance ratio. It is also able to measure objects with an accuracy of about 0.1 mm as well as being able to achieve a production line speed of 200 measurements per second.

Thanks to its powerful algorithms, Baumer's PosCon HM product can analyse up to 600 items of height information per measurement. It can also make more precise measurement of the fullness levels of solids, helping to optimise the production process. Also available is the company's SmartReflect sensor, said to be capable of detecting transparent objects with a sensing range of up to 800 mm.

Customisation Demand

Many exhibitors at this year's fair were keen not just to show their standard hardware, but were also looking to highlight the bespoke solutions they had developed for customers. In line with this, M&M Software (Suzhou) GmbH was showcasing a number of its proprietary software systems on its stand.

According to Zhou Wu, M&M's Sales Engineer, the company's dXPERT cloud platform can collect data from a range of equipment across various industrial sites and store it in a cloud database. It can then be analysed and visualised on remote terminals. This enables the user to show the data supporting a variety of decision-makings processes, providing enhanced information to equipment manufacturers, factory owners, systems integrators and technical service providers.

The company also provides its customers with tailor-made software solutions. These are based on client-specific data sets, with bespoke collection and analysis in order to help them improve efficiency and reduce energy loss. The company was established in 2005 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Germany's M&M Software GmbH.

Photo: Smart Factory 1.0: The future of manufacturing?
Smart Factory 1.0: The future of manufacturing?
Photo: Smart Factory 1.0: The future of manufacturing?
Smart Factory 1.0: The future of manufacturing?
Photo: A smart production line in action.
A smart production line in action.
Photo: A smart production line in action.
A smart production line in action.

According to Zhou, the cloud platform energy monitoring system for Tianjin's Wago Electronics – developed using the dXPERT cloud platform – can instantly consolidate massive energy consumption data for inquiry, so that the user can see the energy consumption picture in near real-time. Similarly, the E-Collector developed for Beijing's E-Cube Technologies, also based on dXPERT, can quickly determine the work rate of computer-controlled machine tools and analyse their breakdown rate. It can then automatically send the relevant information to the people in charge via WeChat or QQ, minimising production downtime.

Huatai also offers a customisation service, with Xu Nianfeng saying the company can create bespoke integrated designs, robotic movement designs, programme designs and software for customers. The service also extends to building complete production lines, as well as to offering a one-stop service, including the selection of raw materials and spare parts.

The seventh SPS – Industrial Automation Fair (SIAF) Guangzhou took place at the China Import and Export Fair Pazhou Complex from 8-10 March 2016. The event attracted some 521 exhibitors from 15 countries and regions.

Xing Bin, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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