Coalition for Open Process Automation Launches COPA QuickStart

The Open Process Automation Forum has made progress over the past few years. You can see a chain of reports and thoughts I’ve written over that time. These ideas remind me of a phrase we had amongst the graduate assistants when I was in grad school (we were all political philosophy majors), “Operationalize your eschaton!” In other words of Wendy’s restaurants, “Where’s the beef?” Is anything practical going to evolve from all this standards work?

Then an organization called “Coalition for Open Process Automation” contacted me with information about its formation, members, and, best of all, certified products. This is a giant step forward. Check out the press release and website.

The Coalition for Open Process Automation (COPA) is pleased to announce the launch of COPA QuickStart to accelerate the adoption of Industrial Control Systems (ICS). This is aligned with The Open Group O-PAS Standard, a “standards of standards” for industrial process automation developed by the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF).

COPA is a diverse group of leading IT and OT technology companies, led by innovative newcomers Collaborative Systems Integration of Austin, Texas and CPLANE.ai of Silicon Valley, California. Its partners include veteran industry leaders such as Phoenix Contact, R. Stahl, Supermicro, Nova SMAR, and CODESYS. With the release of COPA QuickStart, the Coalition is applying years of research, collaboration, and investment by members of OPAF to bring ICS systems to market that are built on industry standards for open, secure, and interoperable architectures.

Securing ICS’s from ransomware attacks and state-sponsored hacking is now one of the top priorities of governments and corporations. These cybersecurity issues along with outdated and crumbling infrastructure adds to the imperative to increase value generation and reduce total cost of ownership through digital transformation. The first step in digital transformation for industrial manufactures is Open Process Automation.

The COPA partner companies have engineered COPA QuickStart to incorporate components and technologies from multiple vendors into a single, advanced, and cohesive ICS. The COPA QuickStart system is the catalyst for industrial manufacturers to accelerate their adoption of state-of-the-art ICS systems that greatly improve security, flexibility, and profitability of their operations.

Industrial manufacturers can no longer take a “wait and see” approach to adopting modern and open control systems into their manufacturing operations. Until now, there have been no open control system products available for companies to buy. The COPA QuickStart system provides the critical first step in helping industrial manufacturers to start learning, proving, and adopting open architecture ICS solutions into their operations.

Don Bartusiak, who is known widely as the “Father of Open Process Automation,” previously served as ExxonMobil’s Chief Engineer for Process Control. He said, “industrial manufacturers have repeatedly told me that if O-PAS Standard aligned systems were available, they would buy them. The COPA QuickStart system is our answer to that challenge.” Dr. Bartusiak’s company, Collaborative Systems Integration (CSI) is the systems integrator for the COPA QuickStart offering.

The COPA QuickStart system is designed to accelerate the innovation efforts of leading industrial manufacturers, allowing them to realize the benefits of open systems sooner. The system includes:

A pre-packaged industrial control system, aligned with the O-PAS Standard and carefully engineered with best-of-breed components from Phoenix Contact, R. Stahl, Nova SMAR, Supermicro, CPLANE.ai, CSI, and CODESYS.

CPLANE.ai’s Fusion management software for seamless automation and orchestration across the entire life-cycle of an industrial control system from startup to operate to evolve. CPLANE.ai Fusion leverages capabilities engineered by Intel and is powered by Intel Edge Controls for Industrial.

The Advanced Computing Platform, built by Supermicro and powered by Intel Xeon D processors installed in a versatile short-depth 1U chassis.

Advanced digital technologies demonstrating the value of new capabilities such as fast-cycle Model Predictive Control, Reinforcement Learning Control, AI, and advanced cybersecurity.

Hands-on training modules allowing engineers and executives to rapidly gain a deeper understanding of the next-generation control systems and the value they can deliver.

“Powered by Intel Atom x6000E series and Intel Pentium and Celeron N and J series processors with the Intel Edge Controls for Industrial software, the COPA QuickStart will help accelerate the adoption of OPAF-based control systems,“ said Richard Kerslake, General Manager of Industrial Controls and Robotics at Intel.

Steve Nunn, CEO and President, The Open Group said: “Through defining and promoting Open Process Automation™, OPAF and COPA are united by a common goal of helping industrial manufacturers accelerate their digital transformation initiatives. The launch of COPA QuickStart coupled with new developments to the O-PAS Standard represents a key milestone in the creation of open, secure, and interoperable architectures, which are critical to the future of industrial process automation systems. We are looking forward to continue working with COPA to address industry challenges and drive progress in process automation.”

“COPA QuickStart is the fruit of many years of collaboration by OPAF and COPA members. It is exciting to see the first, standards based open system become commercially available. Open Process Automation is the future, and we are excited to be a catalyst to accelerate that transformation,” shared Bob Hagenau, CEO, CPLANE.ai

First availability of COPA QuickStart system will be in Q3 of 2021. More information is available at www.copacontrol.org or by contacting CPLANE.ai.

About CPLANE.ai

CPLANE.ai automates the orchestration of distributed edge computing across a diverse landscape of hardware and software components. CPLANE.ai removes the complexity of provisioning, managing, securing, and evolving distributed systems. CPLANE.ai’s intelligent software platform automates the coordination and configuration of policies and procedures across multiple layers of distributed cloud infrastructure.

Solar Power From The Fabric In Your Tent Or Awning

One of this week’s more intriguing conversations centered on solar power from your canopy, awning, or tent with Pvilion CEO Colin Touhey. 

Maybe in these post-Covid days of rediscovered al fresco dining, you may be able to have a fine meal under a tent with lighting and outlets to charge your mobile device powered by solar cells in the fabric of the tent. Or perhaps thinking of work, you need temporary coverage of an area for work or storage. And electrical power is required. Maybe many volts and amps. Same scenario. Pvilion products, er, cover a fascinating range of use cases. I’ve included a general background of Pvilion and its technology plus use cases from the New York Botanical Garden and a Home Depot location.

Pvilion Solar Fabric

What is Pvilion?

(from an essay by Director of Marketing Jill Gettinger) Pvilion integrates solar cells into fabric, producing products that when exposed to the sun, generate electricity. Pvilion can take any surface that receives sunlight, cover it with this fabric and produce electricity, providing flexible structures that can be powered independent from the electricity grid.

The more technical name for Pvilion’s offerings is flexible photovoltaic (PV) solar fabric products and structures and behind the simplicity is a 10-year-old partnership between Colin Touhey, an electrical engineer and CEO of Pvilion, and fabric industry veterans Todd Dalland, a pioneering designer and inventor in the field of lightweight structures, and Robert Lerner, AIA, an architect who has led new technology development programs involving lightweight, deployable structures for NASA, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force. The three connected when they were working on integrating photovoltaic cells with fabric for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Pvilion’s roots go back more than 20 years when Dalland and Lerner developed the first photovoltaic tent. That the tent was easy to deploy, flexible and self-powered piqued the attention of the military, which led to research and development funding from the U.S. Army.

Military deployments during this time further increased product demand as forward operating bases needed to be setup quickly in places where there was no grid, and it was difficult to setup up traditional power generators.

At the same time, mobile device usage, cell phones, laptops, handheld computers, was taking off. The mobile purpose of these devices meant they often needed to be powered where access to a traditional grid source was not available. To meet this need, Pvilion developed the Solar Sail, a small solar canopy that resembles a sail, hence the name, which can be easily deployed in public spaces and at outdoor gatherings, e.g., sporting events, concerts, parks, weddings,et cetera. Once deployed and receiving sun light, it generates power that can be tapped into to charge mobile devices.

Concern for the environment also came into play as solar power’s proven advantage over fossil fuels is that its use leaves no carbon footprint. As a result, environmentally conscious corporations and public entities, like schools, began installing Pvilion’s solar power canopy structures to meet both short- and long-term needs while avoiding the costs, environmental damage, and time associated with erecting and running permanent structures tied into the local power grid.

What started out as a solar powered tent has evolved into a product range covering standalone USB charging stations and easy to erect temporary structures, including canopies and awnings, all solar powered.

The easiest way to understand what Pvilion does is to look at one of its signature products: The Solar Sail Canopy, a free-standing canopy that can be erected anywhere that receives sunlight: parks, university campuses, bus stands or in any public setting, and used to recharge mobile devices. The Solar Sail Canopy is available in (3) versions: a Single Pole Solar Sail, a Double Pole Solar Sail that can be used as a solar powered shelter, e.g., over a bus stop or bench, and a portable Four Pole Canopy for seasonal applications that can be customized to suit an individual space requirement.

Sustainability At New York Botanical Garden

NY Botanic Gardens

Aesthetic appeal is very important to The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), which is why the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) chose NYBG as the launch site for Pvilion’s Solar Powered Canopy structures.

Intended to provide NYBG visitors a place where they can seek shade, enjoy a beverage and recharge their mobile devices, the eight (8) solar canopies, designed, engineered and installed by Pvilion, provide ample space to relax while staying safely socially distanced.

Pvilion provides a fabric that incorporates photovoltaic cells, which generate electricity upon exposure to the sun. As part of New York City’s emission reduction efforts, seven (7) of the canopies contribute energy directly to the city’s power grid. One (1) structure powers a bank of batteries used by NYBG and by Botanical Garden visitors to charge their mobile phones and other cellular devices.

The solar canopies are a pilot project operated by Pvilion and the Innovative Demonstrations for Energy Adaptability (IDEA) Program, an initiative of the City of New York’s Division of Energy Management. The program encourages businesses, innovators and entrepreneurs to create transformative opportunities and to foster a culture of innovation. The goal is to find solutions to the challenges facing manufacturers and businesses through partnerships with private sector business entities, with emphasis placed on technology to help the City reduce carbon emissions.

Pvilion’s Solar-Powered Fabric Products are fully turn-key solutions that provide energy in any location where fabric is exposed to the sun. Pvilion integrates its fabric technology into a wide range of applications. The technology eliminates the need of having two (2) separate systems: fabric shade/shelter and solar panels. Instead, Pvilion integrates the solar power into its fabric to achieve one turn-key product that provides charging, lighting, ventilation, climate control all in an easy to install manner. Pvilion has delivered high quality products for customers like Google, Tommy Hilfiger, Carnegie Hall, Tishman, New York City, Yale Univ, the Florida Dept of Transportation, Bloomberg, The City of Miami, FL and more.

Home Depot Pilot Program to Achieve Sustainable Energy

The Home Depot Rental Center in Geismar, Louisiana, a large industrial building and parking area, serves as the rental equipment preparation and distribution center to surrounding Home Depot stores. Here, equipment is prepared before being sent to Home Depot Superstores upon being rented by customers. The first of over one hundred rental centers planned to be opened throughout the country, Geismar is also the initial location for a Home Depot green pilot energy sustainability program in which Pvilion Solar Canopies will be used to recharge rental equipment batteries.

Pvilion developed and installed its signature product, the Portable Solar Sail Tent, at the Geismar, LA Home Depot. Effectively, a relocatable canopy integrated with solar panels; the Solar Sail can provide sustainable power anywhere that receives sunlight. It lets Home Depot charge its electric rental equipment independently from the local electric grid, eliminating the environmental impact associated with traditional sources of energy and the need to create permanent infrastructure.

The implemented 20 ft x 24 ft structure provides two (2) bays under an angled roof for maximum sun exposure. It is designed to withstand extreme weather conditions yet is flexible for speedy assembly/disassembly. It can provide up to 5 kW of energy and storage for up to five (5) full operational days of energy without sun. In addition to charging rental equipment, the energy provided by the Solar Sail can also be used to power other devices such as cell phones, laptops and lighting.

Vuforia Instruct Streamlines Creation of 3D CAD-Based Work Instructions

Augmented Reality. Some of these days, I feel as if I’m living in an alternate reality. I’m attending two company conferences, about to go lift weights, practice some on the guitar, and never leave the house. The joy of virtual conferences is that I don’t have to choose between Las Vegas and Boston to attend a conference this week (like that would be hard…). Shifting mental gears quickly helps keep me young.

One of the conferences was Vuforia Live. This is a PTC acquisition putting the company into the AR race. Given the PLM original side of the business linked with the ThingWorx IoT side of the business plus the Rockwell Automation partnership, this combination should lead to some innovative and useful solutions for customers.

PTC President and CEO Jim Heppelmann led off the event talking about his enthusiasm for the potential of AR calling it IoT for humans. Why AR? Because humans don’t come with an Ethernet port. Seriously, he sees AR as empowering frontline workers.

In short:

I think workflow enhancement is a key digital benefit—if done thoughtfully and intelligently as Cal Newport has detailed in his new book, A World Without Email. The new product out from Vuforia, Instruct, can be such a key tool.

  • New Offering from PTC’s Vuforia Enterprise AR Suite Empowers Front-line Workers to Accurately and Efficiently Complete Inspections and Document Relevant Insights in Real Time.
  • Vuforia Instruct SaaS Offering Enables OEMs to Simplify and Accelerate Authoring of CAD-Based AR Work Instructions.

This is the news release:

From the stage of the Vuforia Live Virtual EventPTC announced the release of Vuforia Instruct out-of-the-box offering from the Vuforia Enterprise Augmented Reality (AR) Suite.

With PTC’s Vuforia Instruct, enterprises can leverage 3D CAD data to easily create, deliver, and scale interactive AR work instructions

The Software as a Service (SaaS)-based offering, available on the PTC Atlas platform, empowers original equipment manufacturers to extend the value of the digital thread all the way to their front-line workers. With Vuforia Instruct, enterprises can leverage 3D CAD data to easily create, deliver, and scale interactive AR work instructions, enabling them to optimize inspections for Quality and Field Maintenance use cases.

“We are thrilled to be working with PTC and Rockwell Automation to bring AR to our customers and see tremendous opportunity to use 3D work instructions to address critical inspection steps within our maintenance, repair, and sanitation processes on our packaging equipment,” said Alexander Ouellet, Innovation Engineer, Harpak-ULMA Packaging. “The enhanced work instructions created with Vuforia Instruct enable us to upskill our customers’ employees, and even our own technical staff, on intricate procedures in mission critical environments. AR technologies will help our customers reap significant productivity gains by enabling them to improve the accuracy and timeliness of complex, manual processes.”

Approximately 67% of manufacturers are still utilizing manual paper processes for inspections. These existing methods are often error-filled, difficult to transcribe, and costly – ultimately becoming barriers to continuous improvement. Such inefficiencies can result in poor product quality or experiences, cost millions of dollars per year, and lead to loss of brand reputation, market position, customer satisfaction, and revenue. Vuforia Instruct enables companies to eliminate reliance on paper forms by delivering contextual visual guidance and references to front-line workers with built-in, real-time inspection feedback to capture critical insights.

“Vuforia Instruct enables organizations to transform the way they create and scale work instructions to their front-line employees,” said Michael Campbell, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Augmented Reality Products, PTC. “Leveraging existing 3D CAD data, organizations can now guide employees to exactly where work needs to be done and provide them with detailed instructions for critical inspection procedures in context. Such enhancements are critical to industrial organizations looking to increase productivity, improve quality, and reduce unplanned downtime.”

Plethora of News from Rockwell Automation

I received few news releases from Rockwell Automation for several years. Suddenly I gained a new friend, Jack, who sends something almost every week. It’s good to know that one of the largest control and automation suppliers in North America is still churning out updated products.

I’ve been saving these up for a bit. Included in this post:

  • CIP Security Proxy Device
  • Plant floor asset management
  • Stack light
  • Medium voltage drives
  • Connected Components Software Workbench
  • Managed Ethernet switch
  • Network security threat detection

CIP Security Proxy Device 

Industrial companies can now implement CIP Security expansively in their systems with the Allen-Bradley CIP Security Proxy. The CIP Security Proxy allows users to implement CIP Security on most devices on their network. 

The CIP Security Proxy works with EtherNet/IP-compliant devices. CIP Security is part of the defense in depth strategy, which can help defend against attacks where threat actors can remotely access a network and act maliciously. With the ability to provide CIP Security for a single device, a layer of security is added that can help protect the system.

Configuration for the proxy device can be achieved through FactoryTalk Policy Manager software and FactoryTalk system services. In addition, this device supports motion for Kinetix drives and offers a web server for viewing diagnostics. It allows for secure event generation syslog support and includes rotary switches for 192.168.1.xyz IP addressing. The proxy device also contains three one-gigabit EtherNet/IP ports and can operate in temperatures from -25° to +70° Celsius adding to the ease of use.

Plant-Floor Asset Management with Enhanced Software

Industrial workers can now more easily manage their hundreds or thousands of automation assets using the enhanced FactoryTalk AssetCentre software from Rockwell Automation. The latest release provides firmware and software lifecycle information for all assets in one place. This saves time because workers no longer need to connect to control cabinets and manually record information for each device. 

With the software’s enhanced asset inventory functionality, workers can quickly scan a network and see which devices are in a specific lifecycle state. Examples include devices running retired firmware or forecasted to be discontinued in the next six months. This helps identify products in the same lifecycle state and workers can better plan for replacements and upgrades. 

The FactoryTalk AssetCentre software also has a new security feature called archive management of change, which automates the process of authorizing who can change files and what they can change. It requires workers to explain why files need to be changed and verifies that only necessary files are being checked out. It also locks a file until changes are approved and escalates approval requests when needed. 

This helps enhance system security, which is particularly useful for some industries such as oil and gas, that require added levels of control over when changes are permitted. For example, one major food company reduced its downtime events from unknown or unauthorized changes by 7% using FactoryTalk AssetCentre software. It can also reduce downtime due to change management.

These updates add to the software’s existing ability to report discontinuation dates and the availability of replacement products. The enhanced software now also provides disaster-recovery support for more Rockwell Automation devices as well as third-party devices.

Stack Light

The new Allen-Bradley 856T Control Tower Stack Light system uses a modular design that incorporates brighter LED illumination and a broad offering of sound technologies. All signals in the system are 24V AC/DC powered, which means that just three power modules can cover the entire system. The latest additions to the 856T Control Tower Stack Light family are IO-Link enabled versions that provide diagnostic information and ease integration into a Connected Enterprise. 

IO-Link enabled versions of Bulletin 856T Control Tower Stack Lights enable users to monitor tower light and machine status in real-time, while allowing for simple remote set-up and troubleshooting.

Medium Voltage Drives

Allen-Bradley PowerFlex 6000T medium voltage drives now include TotalFORCE technology from Rockwell Automation, which provides precise control of speed and torque, diagnostic information for tracking system health and automatic adjustments to keep operations running smoothly.

The PowerFlex 6000T drives follow speed or torque commands closely in both open- and closed-loop vector control modes to deliver the precise control required for high performance and large loads.

The drives also continuously monitor operations to track the health of electrical components in the drive and motor and provide real-time diagnostic information to the control system.

Additionally, adaptive control features within the PowerFlex 6000T drives help isolate potentially harmful vibration and resonances, and automatically compensate for variances to help keep applications running. With load-observer technology, they also effectively reject disturbances when loads change suddenly, helping to keep operations running smoothly and increasing output.

Connected Components Software Workbench

Industrial engineers can more efficiently design and configure stand-alone machines using the latest release of Connected Components Workbench software from Rockwell Automation. With several new and enhanced features, the software improves download and build performance to create more efficient, user-friendly design processes.

Highlights of what’s new in version 13 of Connected Components Workbench software include:

  • A new Global and Local variable data grid that delivers capabilities to help engineers develop projects faster. For example, a quick declaration feature allows users to create multiple variables with the same prefix, suffix and data type in one click. An intuitive filter bar allows users to find tags quickly.
  • An enhanced Run Mode Change (RMC) capability that enables users to make edits without downloading project source code. This can speed up online edits and create smoother, more seamless design experiences.
  • A new Controller Organizer view that gives engineers the option to switch to a Logix Theme programming experience. This allows them to work in a more familiar environment and use copy-and-paste ladder logic from the Studio 5000 Logix Designer application.
  • An enhanced Global Connection capability on existing system tags in the PanelView 800 DesignStation that gives users greater flexibility to configure remote system connections.

The Connected Components Workbench software helps simplify the development of stand-alone machines that are built with the Rockwell Automation Micro Control system. Engineers can configure, program and visualize the major control components of their stand-alone machines in a single software environment. They can also use tools like the Micro800 Simulator to validate their application code without the need for hardware.

Managed Ethernet Switch

Allen-Bradley Stratix 5800 managed industrial Ethernet switch  supports layer 2 access switching and layer 3 routing for use in multiple layers of the architecture. Robust security capabilities and ISA/IEC 62443-4-2 certification help enhance network security.

The Stratix 5800 switch has fixed and modular designs, giving users flexibility to configure it based on application needs. It offers combinations of copper, fiber and Power over Ethernet (PoE) ports to support a wide range of architectures.

The switch helps ease integration by addressing the needs of both operations (OT) and IT teams. Studio 5000 Add-on Profiles enable premier integration into the Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture. And the Cisco IOS-XE operating system helps ease integration to the enterprise.

“Reducing the complexity of IT/OT convergence is a priority today as companies need to connect their operations while managing challenges like skills shortages and security threats,” said Mark Devonshire, product manager, Rockwell Automation. “The Stratix 5800 managed switch helps simplify the jobs of IT and OT teams, and helps improve security and high performance for industrial environments.”

Certification to ISA/IEC 62443-4-2 verifies that the switch meets the standard’s technical requirements to security level 2 for industrial automation and control systems. This continues the efforts of Rockwell Automation to help secure industrial operations through certifications, expertise, products and services.

Rockwell Automation Expands Threat Detection Services with Cisco Cyber Vision

The longstanding alliance between Rockwell Automation and Cisco continues to find new ways to provide customer value with the announcement that Rockwell Automation is adding Cisco’s Cyber Vision solution to its existing LifecycleIQ Services portfolio of cybersecurity threat detection offerings.

While convergence is essential to a digital transformation, it also presents challenges such as siloed networks, cybersecurity threats, skills shortages, and an abundance of production data and solutions. The leaders in their respective industries have worked together to offer jointly developed architectures, services and products to help companies address these challenges as they work toward building a Connected Enterprise.

As this deeper integration between IT, cloud and industrial networks creates security issues that become digitization obstacles, Cyber Vision provides full visibility into industrial control systems to build secure infrastructures and enforce security policies – achieving the continuity, resilience, and safety of industrial operations. The addition of Cyber Vision to the LifecycleIQ Services threat detection offerings provides a unique switch-based architecture for customers with existing Cisco solutions, greenfield networks or those updating their Cisco network infrastructure.

ABB News Includes Power Over Ethernet and EV Battery Manufacturing

One company consistently sending news is ABB. PR on the process side has moved to Europe, but robotic and related PR is still handled locally. I find it interesting that the major European suppliers have moved marketing out of the US, while some US-based suppliers have just pulled back. Not sure what they know about US manufacturing that I should know.

Technology additions to Ethernet have become interesting. They’ve existed a while, but products and momentum are growing. One is 2-wire Ethernet; but this news relates to power over Ethernet. ABB has released a flowmeter. The other news relates to a hot topic—electric vehicle (EV) battery manufacturing. This will remain a focus for quite some time.

ABB launches world’s first Power over Ethernet flowmeters

ABB has incorporated power supply through Ethernet connectivity on board the latest edition of its electromagnetic flowmeter ProcessMaster* and mass flowmeter CoriolisMaster, opening a new chapter in instrumentation and industrial communication.

Power over Ethernet (PoE) offers several benefits for process engineers, as it omits the need for a separate DC power infrastructure, providing power and communications via the same cable. This brings new agility as flowmeters can be installed wherever needed. In addition, ABB 4-wire Ethernet combines classic outputs with future communication protocols. Offering a modular design allows the combination of both worlds and ensures that devices are futureproof, increasing the longevity of the flowmeters.

Furthermore, flowmeters with Ethernet connectivity increase simplicity, flexibility and reliability to operations in process automation, while enhancing real-time visibility of data. Previously hidden data in field devices, such as measurement values on density, conductivity or concentration of the medium, can be unlocked. This in turn will help customers across all industries identify redundant measurement points in their plants to achieve savings along the way.

“ProcessMaster and CoriolisMaster with Ethernet will support our customers’ digital journey towards smart cities and Industry 4.0. Ethernet is the leading communications technology. By incorporating it into the ABB flowmeters, we can help even more customers reduce complexity of operations and lower costs of infrastructure in more plants around the world – safely and remotely.” said Frank Frenzel, Global Product Line Manager Process Flowmeters. 

An integrated secure webserver based on the ABB Ability Cyber Security framework ensures robust and secure operations that offer instrumentation engineers support during commissioning and troubleshooting. It also provides access to configuration, diagnostics and measurement data through a built-in QR code. This allows verification of all parts of the flowmeter and provides insights into its operating condition with automatically generated reports. 

Combining 4-20 mA or digital outputs with new 1- or 2-port Ethernet makes classic instrumentation truly future-proof, with speeds of up to 100Mbit/s. The flowmeters use various Ethernet based communication protocols, such as simple Modbus TCP or high performance EtherNet/IP. This prepares them for IT/OT convergence, cloud connectivity and the requirements needed for secure and encrypted communication both today and tomorrow. 

*Ethernet connectivity for the electromagnetic flowmeter ProcessMaster is currently available in North America only. It will be released globally later in 2021.

Global EV battery production needs significant boost to meet demand

According to the ‘Electric Vehicle Battery Supply Chain Analysis,’ sponsored by ABB Robotics and authored by the automotive intelligence unit of Ultima Media, while 2036 is the changeover year when all-electric passenger vehicles are predicted to overtake sales of ICE-equipped equivalents, concerns over EV battery supply to meet the escalation in demand poses serious risk to the growth of electricity as a clean propulsion fuel, despite plans for 80 new global battery gigafactories.  

The report outlines that although Asia leads electric vehicle battery production, Europe will make up vital ground over the next few years while US manufacturers are also planning increases in capacity.  

“Automation is key to increasing assembly safety, quality and traceability and delivering battery technologies cost effectively, which is critical to the expansion of electric vehicles.” said Tanja Vainio, Managing Director of ABB Robotics Auto Tier 1 Business Line.  “With production speed and flexibility essential to the successful scale-up of the EV battery industry, our cellular production architecture enables manufacturers to quickly validate a cell design and then roll out production cells globally with uniform quality, safety and productivity standards. Roll-outs can be scaled to demand with the flexibility to adjust capacity in real time.”

The report’s researchers point to the importance of battery pack assembly being located close to or within car assembly facilities. 

“Co-locating battery pack assembly not only boosts sustainability by reducing transportation, it increases flexibility.  A cellular approach to production is easily integrated alongside existing lines. If the demand curve moves, cells can be added or removed quickly to maintain accurate production scale. Our robots are designed to be quickly repurposed as needed, boosting flexibility and adding to our sustainable approach by maximizing the life of each robot we build,” added Vainio. 

“We believe that building a robust battery supply chain will create a distinct competitive advantage for OEMs, setting a trend towards maximum production flexibility, whether battery pack production is insourced or outsourced, to further reduce costs and boost productivity,” Vainio added. 

The high price of EVs will increasingly create a barrier to further market penetration, reducing vehicle cost has therefore become a whole-industry focus. Given that the battery represents up to a third of vehicle costs, ABB is focused on solutions that improve battery manufacturing productivity. 

“Increasingly we see that higher productivity and lower costs are driven by assembling battery cells straight into packs,” concludes Vainio. “ABB is working in partnership with a number of manufacturers, using its systems and knowledge to increase productivity, quality and safety levels, as well as reduce finished pack costs through automated assembly – vital if EVs are to meet their required cost and adoption targets.”

The ‘Electric Vehicle Battery Supply Chain Analysis’ examines the current and future state of EV battery supplies – sources of materials, technologies available, demand analysis and potential risks. 

The report is available to download from here

Breakthrough Sensing Technology Boosts Both Medical and Manufacturing Applications

Just received this news from Nottingham University about a breakthrough sensing technology. Its immediate application is detecting at the cell level in a patient. However, there are potential applications for precision manufacturing. What do you think you could do with it?

Scientists at the University of Nottingham have developed an ultrasonic imaging system, which can be deployed on the tip of a hair-thin optical fibre, and will be insertable into the human body to visualise cell abnormalities in 3D. 

The new technology produces microscopic and nanoscopic resolution images that will one day help clinicians to examine cells inhabiting hard-to-reach parts of the body, such as the gastrointestinal tract, and offer more effective diagnoses for diseases ranging from gastric cancer to bacterial meningitis.

The high level of performance the technology delivers is currently only possible in state-of-the-art research labs with large, scientific instruments – whereas this compact system has the potential to bring it into clinical settings to improve patient care.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)-funded innovation also reduces the need for conventional fluorescent labels – chemicals used to examine cell biology under a microscope – which can be harmful to human cells in large doses. 

The findings are being reported in a new paper, entitled ‘Phonon imaging in 3D with a fibre probe’ published in the Nature journal, Light: Science & Applications.

Paper author, Dr Salvatore La Cavera III, an EPSRC Doctoral Prize Fellow from the University of Nottingham Optics and Photonics Research Group, said of the ultrasonic imaging system: “We believe its ability to measure the stiffness of a specimen, its bio-compatibility, and its endoscopic-potential, all while accessing the nanoscale, are what set it apart. These features set the technology up for future measurements inside the body; towards the ultimate goal of minimally invasive point-of-care diagnostics.”

Currently at prototype stage, the non-invasive imaging tool, described by the researchers as a “phonon probe”, is capable of being inserted into a standard optical endoscope, which is a thin tube with a powerful light and camera at the end that is navigated into the body to find, analyse, and operate on cancerous lesions, among many other diseases. Combining optical and phonon technologies could be advantageous; speeding up the clinical workflow process and reducing the number of invasive test procedures for patients.   

3D mapping capabilities

Just as a physician might conduct a physical examination to feel for abnormal ‘stiffness’ in tissue under the skin that could indicate tumours, the phonon probe will take this ‘3D mapping’ concept to a cellular level. 

By scanning the ultrasonic probe in space, it can reproduce a three-dimensional map of stiffness and spatial features of microscopic structures at, and below, the surface of a specimen (e.g. tissue); it does this with the power to image small objects like a large-scale microscope, and the contrast to differentiate objects like an ultrasonic probe. 

“Techniques capable of measuring if a tumour cell is stiff have been realised with laboratory microscopes, but these powerful tools are cumbersome, immobile, and unadaptable to patient-facing clinical settings. Nanoscale ultrasonic technology in an endoscopic capacity is poised to make that leap,” adds Dr La Cavera. 

How it works

The new ultrasonic imaging system uses two lasers that emit short pulses of energy to stimulate and detect vibrations in a specimen. One of the laser pulses is absorbed by a layer of metal – a nano-transducer (which works by converting energy from one form to another) – fabricated on the tip of the fibre; a process which results in high-frequency phonons (sound particles) getting pumped into the specimen. Then a second laser pulse collides with the sound waves, a process known as Brillouin scattering. By detecting these “collided” laser pulses, the shape of the travelling sound wave can be recreated and displayed visually.

The detected sound wave encodes information about the stiffness of a material, and even its geometry. The Nottingham team was the first to demonstrate this dual-capability using pulsed lasers and optical fibres.

The power of an imaging device is typically measured by the smallest object that can be seen by the system, i.e. the resolution. In two dimensions the phonon probe can “resolve” objects on the order of 1 micrometre, similar to a microscope; but in the third dimension (height) it provides measurements on the scale of nanometres, which is unprecedented for a fibre-optic imaging system.

Future applications

In the paper, the researchers demonstrate that the technology is compatible with both a single optical fibre and the 10-20,000 fibres of an imaging bundle (1mm in diameter), as used in conventional endoscopes. 

Consequently, superior spatial resolution and wide fields of view could routinely be achieved by collecting stiffness and spatial information from multiple different points on a sample, without needing to move the device – bringing a new class of phonon endoscopes within reach.

Beyond clinical healthcare, fields such as precision manufacturing and metrology could use this high-resolution tool for surface inspections and material characterisation; a complementary or replacement measurement for existing scientific instruments. Burgeoning technologies such as 3D bio-printing and tissue engineering could also use the phonon probe as an inline inspection tool by integrating it directly to the outer diameter of the print-needle.Next, the team will be developing a series of biological cell and tissue imaging applications in collaboration with the Nottingham Digestive Diseases Centre and the Institute of Biophysics, Imaging and Optical Science at the University of Nottingham; with the aim to create a viable clinical tool in the coming years.