Held in Munich, Germany, Automatica 2016 is the leading trade fair for industrial automation and mechatronics. Wiley Process Engineer, Heath Barker, has a passion for robotics and automation is attending the event. We love sharing knowledge from these events with our network to help us all reach peak performance and ensure our global food security into the future.
The final day of Automatica 2016 has come to a close and along with it were the InterSolar and EES Europe 2016 trade shows.
“I have had an amazing time looking at the robotics and automation solutions that the food industry can harness now and into the future. Today I spent the morning looking at solar and battery technology and was very interested in the Tesla vehicles and Powerwall technologies,” said Heath.
You can read about the advantages for the Powerwall in the food industry here. Thanks to our high solar energy potential, Australia is one of the first countries to have access to the Powerwall. While these technologies are advancing and becoming more affordable, the payback periods at this point still remain long.
Heath investigated roofing replacement options made of solar panels. “In my opinion these panels look really good. Especially with the natural lighting that you can achieve through them. Perhaps one day all food facilities will adopt such technology.
I think that as the prices of panels and storage systems continue to fall, we will see greater adoption of these technologies. A few of the people I spoke with at the trade show today believed that we will see a 75% cost reduction in these technologies in the next 5 years. Perhaps then food factories will be able to effectively reduce their energy consumption and in turn their carbon footprint. For now, we need to be thankful for Europe and other places in the world that subsidise the growth of this technology.”
Back at Automatica, Heath bumped into a fellow from Pickit, a vision software and hardware company that provide 3D scanning and object recognition systems. They were showcasing an application of picking groceries from storage and efficiently packing a crate.
This process is completed all the time in distribution centres by operators. The task of picking and packing is highly repetitive and straining work for a human, but a robot can do this accurately all day, without becoming tired or distracted. The system in the video was intentionally running slowly to allow people to observe the actions in detail but current robotic solutions offer the capability of performing these tasks quicker than a human can. In fact, looking at KUKA’s upcoming Agilus KR3 to be released next year, we’re talking significantly faster.
A final piece of technology that Heath had to share is in concept phase with Festo. They call it SupraMotion but many know it as quantum locking or quantum levitation. It is the act of cooling down superconductors to a point where they can effectively freeze/lock the magnetic field of a permanent magnet. This results in the magnet being held in mid-air in the field, thus levitating.
Surprisingly this technology is not very energy hungry because once the superconductor is cooled, with sufficient insulation it does not take much to keep it that way. With the ability to allow the levitating object to move in one plane (such as forwards and backwards) levitating conveyors can be designed with zero contact and negligible friction.
“The reason I’m so excited by this technology is that the hygienic potential of contactless conveyors opens new avenues for the food industry. No more need for motor drives and gearboxes, belts, oiled chains and sprockets. Just a smooth superconductor housing such as stainless steel and a series of levitating platforms over it that can easily be kept clean with a quick wash-down. Do not forget that with this reduced wash-down time, there is also the potential for more operating time.
There are some very exciting times ahead for the food industry regarding robotics and automation.
I will be visiting an Airbus factory in Hamburg Germany this week so please keep an eye out for my findings there.”