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Technologies that are shaking up manufacturing

Rebecca Merrett | Oct. 20, 2015
What 3D printing, robots, smart sensors an driverless cars are doing for manufacturers.

With locomotives, GE also keeps tracks the condition of the equipment through sensors, as well as optimises the locomotives as part of a whole system to make savings on fuel burn. According to GE’s calculations, a 1 per cent improvement from monitoring and optimisation could result in $30 billion in savings in aviation and $27 billion in rail/locomotives over 15 years.

However, Wi-Fi connectivity in remote areas where some of this equipment is used, such as in mining, along with interoperability, are constant challenges, Sheppard says.

“The locomotive might be travelling across the Pilbara, where we might not have access to 4G data networks. So we are working with clever techniques such as ‘store and forward’, where we will collect the data as the locomotive travels along,” Sheppard explains. “When it comes into an area of connectivity and gets a Wi-Fi signal or a cellular signal, the data is uploaded.”

The sensors also prioritise what to transmit depending on how strong the Internet connection is. For example, if the locomotive is in a satellite area, it would first send any data out that could indicate an issue about to occur. When it reaches a Wi-Fi signal, it then sends the remaining data.

GE uses its in-house developed Predix platform to communicate with other manufacturing equipment, enabling interoperability. “It acts as a common way, a common interchange of collecting that data and do the analytics inside Predix,” Sheppard explains.

Collaborative robots

Factories are risky environments when it comes to safety, and things can get rather complicated when staff need to work alongside machines. That’s where human-friendly industrial robots come in.

Prysm Industries, an injection moulding company, is using UR5 robots from Universal Robotics for container labelling tasks where humans work alongside the machines. “Because they are round containers that have to be on a certain part of the product, we can’t just run it through a generic inline labeller,” explains Matthew Murphy, production manager of Prysm Industries.

“That’s where the UR5 comes in handy. It can pick up the part on the conveyor, put it into position in front of the labeller, tell the labeller to label, rotate it around so it’s in a perfect position every time, and then put it on an outgoing table for the operator to put a lid on and start packing into boxes.”

A staff member can safely stand in close proximity to the robot, allowing him or her to engage in other activities while the machine is operating.

“It just enables the operator to not really be stuck at the machine, and it enables them to walk around and get more lids if they need, place the boxes on the pallet, while the machine is running,” Murphy says.


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