Smart Machines & Factories
From virtual reality to the real thing
Published:  24 April, 2020

Engineering apprentices at the Make UK’s Technology Training Hub can now get their hands on the latest robotic programming and production trouble-shooting systems thanks to a development partnership between The Automated Technology Group’s Systems Division (ATG) a Wood PLC Company and SMC Pneumatics UK Ltd.

ATG and SMC are two of the world’s most respected brands in industrial control and power automation systems technology. Both companies are also widely known for their commitment to training and the importance of bringing young people into engineering via apprenticeships in order to tackle a serious skills shortage across the UK manufacturing sector.

Now ATG and SMC have brought together their wealth of design engineering and automation experience to design, build and install a state-of-the art robotic training cell at Make UK’s Technology Hub in Birmingham. This multi-functional training cell is now live and ready for use by the 250 apprentices and other engineers joining the Make UK training courses this year.

This significant investment in the latest robotics and production automation -including both software and hardware, complements the systems already installed at the Technology Hub which is now equipped with an unrivalled range of industry standard components from a variety of manufacturers.

Students using the facility, including apprentices and experienced engineers who are looking to update their skills, will be able to experience a range of tasks including the inspection, conveying and robotic transfer of component shafts into and out of the cell and the robotic pick and place of automotive body panels.

The Cell also allows multiple fault scenarios such as disabled sensors and switches to be created. Students are then tasked to identify and rectify the faults.

A fundamental element of the training cell is the wireless communications system that enables the entire suite of control systems and robotics to operate and talk to each other. To achieve this in such a demanding environment, ATG worked with SMC UK to create a secure wireless communications and data capture system which is unique in the marketplace.

Central to this system is SMC’s industry award winning wireless EX600-W Fieldbus system for serial input/output transmission. With its instant power-up facility, the EX600-W operates over a radius of up 10m so can easily control all the systems in the Training Cell. The EX600-W can also be monitored from a remote PC so tutors and students can check functionality or trouble-shoot away from the physical training cell. Working in such a busy environment, this wi-fi system uses the 2.4GHz ISM frequency band but can frequency hop every 5ms to provide stable communications and minimise the risk of disruption from other electronic devices. Its data encryption system maximises security and prevents unauthorised access.

The EX-600 is supported with SMC’s EX-260 Fieldbus output only transmission system.

To perform a variety of pick and place tasks, the Training Cell is fitted with SMC’s latest 2-Finger MHZ2 Series pneumatic grippers with an integrated linear guide for high rigidity. To maximise versatility, these grippers can be fitted with standard, narrow or flat finger options, all with a task repeatability rate of +/- 0.1mm.

With safety training an integral part of the Training Cell’s functionality, it is also fitted with two SMC valve pressure release systems from the VP-X555 and VP-X585 Series. Both units comply to the ISO 13849-1 safety standard.

All the SMC systems in the Training Cell are also being used for part tracking and data capture aligned with Industry 4.0 functionality.

Simon Miles, Applications & Proposals Manager at ATG-Systems Division, who was responsible for designing the Training Cell Facility, explains “We have incorporated a variety of robots and control systems into the training cell in order to give trainees the widest possible knowledge base and working experience on these systems. The unit offers a range of automated handling technologies, typical of those found in manufacturing or logistics’ facilities.”

Simon continued: “Through careful design and by using our highly sophisticated simulation systems, we have been able to achieve all this and still minimise the footprint of this entirely self-contained training cell with the highest possible operator safety standards too.”

Svetlana Tauchmanova, Sales Engineering Consultant at SMC said “We are delighted to have worked with ATG on this exciting training project. This has been the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities of some of our latest wireless control systems and the compatibility of SMC components with the demands of Industry 4.0 and beyond. It really is a state-of-the-art facility that the UK manufacturing sector can be proud of.”

Gordon Thompson, the Technology Skills Lead at Make UK has said that “The Robotic Training Cell is proving to be an excellent training aid capable of a wide range of usages and scenarios, in part due to the advanced technology supplied by SMC through ATG. This is allowing us to produce more scenarios than envisaged and has added some significant value to the training delivery.”

For further information:

The Automated Technology Group:

SMC Pneumatics (UK) Ltd:

Make UK: