Automation by the Numbers
Data communications networks created by Westermo are helping maximize the availability of two thermal solar power plants in southwestern Spain. The Ethernet-based networks support the control of 225,000 mirrors at the twin La Florida and La Dehesa concentrating solar power plants. The two plants, owned by Renovables SAMCA, each have a capacity of 49.9 MWe, enough to support more than 45,000 homes.
The same solution was installed at each of the identical plants. The networks have a central dual gigabit fiber-optic ring using 25 RedFox managed industrial Ethernet switches. Nine subrings consisting of 120 Lynx switches were added to reach out to the different parts of each plant. All individual rings in the network run the Westermo FRNT ring protocol, which enables 20 ms reconfiguration of the network if there is a link (cable or switch) failure.
To make sure the installation process was quick and simple, Westermo built, configured, and tested both networks in advance in its laboratory in Sweden. An entire network, including all 290 switches, was mounted on a huge “network wall,” enabling it to be fully configured and tested before installation.
The Gotthard Base Tunnel, a railway tunnel currently under construction in Switzerland, links Erstfeld in the Uri Valley with Bodio in the Canton of Ticino. When complete, it will be the world’s longest railway tunnel at 57 km. The constructor AlpTransit Gotthard AG awarded the contract to supply the railway technology installations to the Transtec Gotthard consortium. Within the scope of this contract, Siemens was commissioned to supply and implement the tunnel management system. In total, 2,200 companies are contributing to the project.
The tunnel management system is responsible for ensuring the remote control and monitoring of relevant data points across the electromechanical systems. Using the information being constantly supplied, the system prepares a graphic system overview that indicates the statuses of the various electromechanical systems and the locations of trains within the tunnel. The entire infrastructure is displayed, monitored, and operated at two tunnel control centers at the north and south portals. The individual infrastructure subsystems encompass the power supply, catenary system, ventilation and air conditioning, lighting, operation, and surveillance.
The automation of the fourth industrial revolution is accelerating. By 2018, about 1.3 million industrial robots will be entering service in factories around the world. In the high-revenue automotive sector, global investments in industrial robots increased by a record-breaking 43 percent (2013–2014) within one year. Across sectors, the international market value for robotic systems is now about $32 billion U.S. dollars, according to the 2015 World Robot Statistics, issued by the International Federation of Robotics.
The robotic density figure is a key performance indicator for gauging the current degree of automation within the international markets. For example, the average global robotic density in producing industries is 66 robot units per 10,000 employees. Twenty-one countries have an above-average robotic density, including 14 countries in the European Union and South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the U.S., and Canada.
The current global leader in industrial robotic automation is South Korea with a robotic density of 478 units; it is followed by Japan (314 units) and Germany (292 units). At 164 units, the U.S. is seventh.
At 36 units per 100,000 employees, China is currently in 28th place. However, China is the world’s largest sales and growth market for industrial robots. Never have so many robot units been sold in one year as were sold in China in 2014 (57,100 units). The boom is forecasted to continue. In 2018, China will account for more than one-third of the industrial robots installed worldwide.
North American sales of machine vision components and systems grew to $2.3 billion in 2015, its highest annual total on record, according to new statistics issued by AIA, the industry’s trade group. Total machine vision sales, which grew less than 1 percent, include sales of machine vision components and systems. The machine vision components category grew 4 percent to $316 million in 2015. The leading growth categories for machine vision components in 2015 were lighting (16 percent), imaging boards (10 percent), and software (4 percent).
The machine vision systems category was flat in 2015 at $2.0 billion. Within machine vision systems, sales of application-specific machine vision systems increased 1 percent to $1.7 billion, while smart cameras contracted by 4 percent to $289 million.
Despite the record performance overall, the market in North America continued to see the effects of a cyclical slowdown in the fourth quarter, which was driven by a decrease in sales of machine vision systems. The systems category saw a 17 percent decrease in sales from the fourth quarter of 2014, marking the second consecutive quarter of year-over-year contraction. When combined with the flat growth in machine vision components, total North American sales for machine vision decreased by 15 percent in the fourth quarter.
“Fifty-nine percent of industry experts are expecting things to turn upward for machine vision component markets in the first six months of 2016; 39 percent believe they will remain flat; and 3 percent expect further declines,” said Alex Shikany, AIA’s director of market analysis. “For machine vision systems, 56 percent of survey respondents believe the category will remain flat; 32 percent expect an increase; and 12 percent expect a decline.”