The Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS plans to showcase its high-temperature battery cerenergy – and specifically the 5 kWh, 20 battery cell model – at Energy Storage Europe 2019 in Düsseldorf in mid-March. The sodium-nickel chloride battery is primarily based on sodium chloride, one of the most cost-efficient raw materials in the world. No rare earths or other strategic resources are used. In addition to sodium chloride, only a ceramic Na ion-conducting electrolyte made of doped aluminum oxide, as well as nickel and iron are required. Together they create an energy storage system with an overall efficiency of > 90% and an energy density of 130 watt hours per kilogram. The operating temperature, which easily reaches 300 °C for ceramic battery solutions, is shielded from outside influences by a vacuum insulation.
Voodoo Manufacturing is based in the New York borough of Brooklyn and specializes in delivering 3D print jobs. The company is focused on industrial mass production, but is in competition with service providers who use conventional injection molding processes. To utilize the more than 200 3D printers on the company’s approximately 1700 m2 premises more efficiently, the business is using a UR10-model cobot from Danish market leader Universal Robots. The robot arm is mounted on a mobile base and can reach around 100 of the installed 3D printers. It is responsible for removing used printing plates from the equipment, placing them on a conveyor belt and loading the printers with new plates. Automation has allowed Voodoo Manufacturing to triple its production – not least because the UR10 also works at night, monitored by proprietary software. With an additional UR10, the company hopes to increase utilization of its printer capacity from the current level of 30-40% to around 90%, further reducing production costs. The firm’s long-term goal is to install up to 10,000 3D printers served by several cobots in order to work more cost-effectively than the injection-molding industry.
The e-mobility trend is creating a new problem. What to do with all the old batteries that still work but are unsuitable for driving due to deteriorating performance? Swedish automotive group Volvo is now taking part in a project putting retired bus batteries to use in a solar installation. Specifically, the project involves the new Viva residential complex owned by housing cooperative Riksbyggen in Göteborg, which was designed as a sustainable project. Under an energy supply plan drawn up in collaboration with energy provider Göteborg Energi and the Johanneberg Science Park, energy from the photovoltaic installations on the roofs of the apartment buildings is stored by batteries previously installed in the electric buses on line 55 in Göteborg. The installations deploy 14 used lithium-ion batteries, linked up to create a 200 kWh storage unit. They are intended to store excess electricity from the solar installation so that it can be made available at peak times or even sold. The batteries can also be used to store electricity from the national power grid.
According to the Japanese group, its new TM cobots assist human employees with highly repetitive tasks such as fitting, assembling or inspecting components. Thanks to their ease of programming via a flowchart-based interface, they should also be able to handle frequent product changes. For the time being, the series comprises 12 models, which come with an arm length of 700, 900, 1100 or 1300 mm and are equipped to carry a load of between 4 kg and 14 kg. The robot arm has an integrated image processing and lighting system for scanning products from numerous angles. The software offers a range of features such as pattern and color recognition and barcode scanning. With ISO 10218-1 and ISO/TS 15066 certification, the robots meet all current safety standards for human-machine collaboration. The series also includes a model that is compatible with mobile robots from Omron’s LD line. It was only in November 2018 that the Japanese group agreed a strategic partnership with Berlin-based company InSystems Automation, working in the field of mobile robotic systems to develop bespoke solutions for automated material handling.
The automotive supplier Bosch, together with the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IKH) Stuttgart and other partners from science and industry, developed the Industry 4.0 (IHK) training course and has already tested it in a pilot project. The course is aimed at skilled workers with professional experience in production or logistics and is completed with a certificate. Subdivided into five modules, it conveys an understanding of current technologies and data transmission options as well as how logistics and supply chains function in the digital world. It focuses on technical content and working methods such as Scrum . According to Bosch and the project partners, this is the first course that directly targets skilled workers and qualifies them for the requirements of networked production. The first twelve participants from the Bosch plant in Stuttgart-Feuerbach have already successfully completed the course. The IHK plans to offer the courses throughout Germany for all companies starting 2019.
According to managing director Stefan Studer , its symbolic acceptance of the humanoid robot as a member is about “questioning the self-image of labor unions”. This is intended to make both members and businesses more aware of unresolved issues relating to digitization and, in particular, with regard to working with cobots. The market for collaborative robots has grown significantly in recent years. Machines equipped with artificial intelligence and sensitive sensors are already working side by side with human colleagues in many companies. Businesses hope that using such robots will allow them to cope with the skills shortage . But unions fear that in the medium term this could push people out of their jobs. And there are other sticking points to consider: what happens if something goes wrong in this new form of collaboration? Who is liable for the damages? Can robots be placed under an obligation, or might they also have rights? By admitting a robot, the Swiss union hopes to shine more light on questions of this kind.
HMI-ID11-089rf_NRL Two-layer solar cells improve energy efficiency (Picture: NREL (NREL is a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy)) At the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering in Los Angeles, materials scientists have developed a new type of thin-film solar cell that generates more energy from sunlight than conventional cells do. The element features a base consisting of a 2 μm layer of copper, indium, gallium and selenide (CIGS). The team led by Professor Yang Yang then applied a 1 μm layer of perovskite, a cost-effective lead and iodine compound. The two layers are connected by a nanoscale interface that was also developed at UCLA. It gives the solar element a higher level of voltage, allowing it to generate more energy. The two layers are affixed to an approximately 2 mm glass substrate. The CIGS base layer alone achieves an efficiency of around 18.7%. Together with the perovskite layer, the efficiency increases to 22.4%. The additional performance has now been confirmed by independent tests in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of the US Department of Energy. Professor Yang Yang expects to be capable of improving the efficiency of these two-layer cells by an additional 30%.
Contrary to some analyses, according to which German medium-sized enterprises have missed the boat on digitization , a recent study by the consultancy company PAC and the business software provider proALPHA paints a much more positive picture. It is based on a survey of 102 leading IT and departmental managers from the manufacturing industry. This indicates that 71% have at least undertaken initial pilot projects in the context of Industry 4.0. For 90%, implementation of an ERP system is regarded as the basis for successful digitization. However, more than half criticized existing solutions for being too rigid to allow customized process optimization. Of those surveyed, 62% are therefore planning to modernize their existing ERP solutions and have already taken this into account in their budget planning. As other factors connected with successful digital transformation, 89% cite interdepartmental collaboration, 82% mention training and internal staff development, and 82% support from the highest management level. Another striking aspect of the study, which is free to download , is that although digitization of production is well advanced, there is a lack of consistency in the development of additional digital products and services.
When used in industrial fans, radial impellers are exposed to high mechanical, thermal and medial loads. They are usually made of metal. At the Institute of Lightweight Engineering and Polymer Technology (ILK) of TU Dresden, researchers have now developed a radial fan impeller with a modular metal-fiber composite design . Because of its low mass, the load is significantly lower than with metal fan impellers. For the same reason and thanks to the high strength of the composite fiber material, scientists have been able to increase the speed of the impellers significantly. In initial centrifuging tests at the ILK, at a maximum rotational speed of 10,266 rpm a circumferential speed of 543 m/s was achieved – about twice as fast as the maximum speed of a comparable metal impeller. The researchers also point out that, with modern metal-fiber composite designs, fan impellers with multiple parts can be made, which cuts manufacturing costs and simplifies maintenance. The project team around Prof. Maik Gude was awarded the AVK Innovation Prize by the Industrievereinigung Verstärkte Kunststoffe (Industrial Association for Reinforced Plastics) for the development at the International Composites Congress 2018 in Stuttgart.
Picking up different objects from a box – bin picking – is one of the hardest tasks for robot or cobot arms. One problem is recognising the objects reliably; another is the great effort needed to train the robot to cope with the different shapes. The Munich company Robominds has now developed a system that helps robots recognize objects automatically and grip them at the right points, without any programming. Robobrain-Vision is a bin-picking solution that consists of a 3D stereo camera and AI software that runs on a powerful computer. The camera takes high-resolution images of the work area, and the software then determines the gripping points of the unsorted workpieces. The material, shape and surface do not matter and the items can even overlap. The system can also deal with varying lighting conditions. Interaction with a cobot from the market leader Universal Robots works via a UR plug-in. Interfaces also make the system compatible with other robots and cobots, such as those made by Kuka and Franka. Robominds sees the logistics industry as the most important area of application.