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Article Date: 10th December 2015

ABB Power - UK can do More to Improve its Uptake of Automation Technologies

Automation Technologies - Speed Drive - House Of Commons

ABB Power - Ian Funnell, Graham Evans MP, and Francis Maude

“The UK lags behind its major competitors in the use of automation technologies and robots and more needs to be done to exploit them,” says Ian Funnell, Managing Director of ABB in the UK speaking at a reception to Members of Parliament (MPs) at the House of Commons in December.

Funnell highlighted ABB’s investment of some £1 billion per year in research and development, much of which goes into finding new ways of lowering the cost of energy for its customers. But, he said, there’s much more to be done. “The UK is not as good at automation as it should be. Yet the technology is available now, and we, as a country, should be doing more to exploit it.”

To prove the point, Funnell and his team brought the latest YuMi® robot to the House of Commons.

When humans and robots work together, it often results in surpassing the precision and speed of human-only work, resulting in higher quality products and less waste. With a human-sized profile and a range of safety features, YuMi® is the world’s first robot designed to work seamlessly side-by-side with humans – rather than separated by cages. Operating off a standard domestic power supply, its two padded arms and flexible hands replicate human movement and its programming is so easy anyone can do it. YuMi® is capable of handling anything from a watch to a tablet PC with a level of accuracy that could thread a needle. It represents the future of safe automated assembly.

“ABB’s aim here is actually pretty simple – we want to ensure that the available technologies are known to everyone so that government, NGOs and businesses can make informed choices about which technologies to employ to make them more productive, more competitive and more profitable,” explains Funnell. “We would like to see these technologies working for hundreds and thousands of businesses and consumers.”

The Right Honourable Lord Francis Maude, Minister of State for Trade and Investment was in tune with Funnell’s message observing in his keynote speech that: “Other countries, particularly the developing economies of China and India, can do things cheaper. But the UK can do things better.” In that context he praised the contribution of ABB robots as he talked at length about innovation being vital for the sustainable growth of companies.

Other practical demonstrations aiming to grab the attention of leading industrialists, environmentalists, MPs and ABB customers at the House of Commons reception included ABB’s use of Oculus Rift technology, whereby users got to experience a virtual reality tour of an oil and gas facility. Using a balloon machine, guests also saw the energy saving benefits of using a variable-speed drive to adjust an electric motor’s speed depending on end user demand, instead of the more common practice of running motors at full speed regardless.

Funnell also stressed the importance of nurturing the innovators of tomorrow, describing ABB’s investment in the Engineer Your Future exhibition at the Science Museum and its partnerships with Imperial College and Cambridge University. Attendees saw evidence of ABB’s commitment to the next generation by the presence of two of its apprentices and one of its recent graduates who manned exhibits at the event.

Hosted by Graham Evans, the Member of Parliament (MP) for ABB’s Daresbury headquarters, the event saw 110 customers, and MPs discuss a range of ongoing UK projects with ABB personnel. These included ABB’s contribution to MeyGen, Europe’s largest tidal energy project in the North of Scotland and to the Great Western railway electrification programme which is aimed at providing faster, greener, quieter and more reliable journeys in the south of the UK.

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