Taking bombs away

Aug. 1, 2004
An Ordnance Disposal Robot (ODR) is being used in Iraq to secure and transport hazardous, dangerous, or suspicious materials to places where they can be safely disarmed or destroyed

An Ordnance Disposal Robot (ODR) is being used in Iraq to secure and transport hazardous, dangerous, or suspicious materials to places where they can be safely disarmed or destroyed.

The ODR is compact and portable, so it can fit in the trunk of a car or the storage space of a helicopter. The multiaxis remote-controlled robot has a twin-track design, enabling it to traverse nearly any terrain, including city curbs and steep sidewalks. It can even climb stairs up to an angle of 40°.

When it comes to motion control and propulsion, the robot relies on 24-Vdc electric gearmotors from Midwest Motion Products Co., Watertown, Minn. The gearmotors provide the motion for the shoulder-rotate axis, as well as the main drive units that power the twin tracks. The shoulder-axis motor incorporates planetary gearing, and measures less than 2 in. (diameter) by 6 in. (length). Despite its compact size, the gearmotor can deliver up to 78 lb-in. of torque at output shaft speeds of 70 rpm.

DeviceNet reorganization

ODVA has reorganized its DeviceNet specification, as well as released several specification enhancements for DeviceNet and EtherNet/IP.

Under the new organization, the Common Industrial Protocol (CIP), which is used by all CIP networks, will be defined in one volume, while the specific network adaptations of CIP will be covered in separate volumes. CIP — which is managed jointly by ODVA and ControlNet International — allows complete integration of control with information and Internet technologies. It provides seamless communication from the plant floor through the enterprise, combined with scalable network architecture, and allows companies to integrate I/O control, device configuration, and data collection across multiple networks.

Available developments to the CIP, DeviceNet, and EtherNet/IP specifications include new encoder capabilities, device self-documentation, QuickConnect over DeviceNet, new semiconductor-industryrelated enhancements, M12 connector option for EtherNet/IP, and increased flexibility to configure the data link layer of EtherNet/IP.

Design process gets framed

Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Pennsylvania have developed a new framework to support the design of automated manufacturing and robotic systems used for such purposes as assembly, part feeding, and material handling. The framework can also be used to design and control robots to do a variety of jobs that humans can’t or that pose undue risks.

“Previously, designers of automated manufacturing and robotic systems developed prototypes using intuition gained by trial and error. With the new framework, designers have a precise set of guides to use in prototyping and refining automated manufacturing systems and robotic devices,” says Jeff Trinkle, professor and chairman of the Rensselaer Dept. of Computer Science.

The framework uses differential equations and inequalities to predict the results of actions. “For example, if a robot pushes against a box on the floor, we should be able to predict if the box will stick, slide, or tumble. The framework allows us to make such predictions so that we can now think about designing a series of actions to accomplish a specific goal,” said Trinkle.

Trinkle worked to develop the framework with Jong- Shi Pang, professor of Applied Mathematics at Rensselaer; Vijay Kumar, applied sciences professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering; and Peng Song, postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.

Free machine-vision seminars

Cognex Corp., Natick, Mass., hosts free machine-vision seminars called Understanding and Applying Machine Vision Sensors. The half-day events demonstrate how vision sensors perform automated inspection tasks in the automotive, medical, pharmaceutical, food and beverage, consumer products, and electronics industries.

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Designed as an introduction for factory-automation professionals responsible for production efficiency and product quality, each seminar combines a machine-vision basics tutorial with live demonstrations of industrial-grade In-Sight 5000 Series vision sensors and ID readers. The tutorial covers how vision sensors work in manufacturing applications to accurately gauge, guide, identify, and inspect products to reduce scrap costs, inventory problems, and achieve high product quality.

The seminars run from now until December in major cities across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.

The need for good motor decisions

In February, Motor Decisions Matter, a campaign that promotes motor-management strategies, introduced the 1-2-3 Approach to Motor Management, a free software tool to help companies calculate the potential savings of using a motormanagement plan.

A survey conducted by MDM in the summer of 2003 offers statistics that support the need for such a campaign. Three key findings show that industrial managers are largely unaware of the energy savings and productivity benefits of sound motor management:

1. Only 12% of respondents knew that a motor’s annual operating costs are five times its purchase price or more.

2. Approximately 25% of respondents had some knowledge of the NEMA Premium specifications, but only 3% had an official policy regarding purchase of NEMA Premium motors.

3. While a sizable percentage of participants kept some form of motor inventory, only 3% tracked energy efficiency as part of it.

According to MDM, these results indicate that while awareness of motor planning and efficiency is increasing, there is still a need to promote the benefits of NEMA Premium motors and the strategy involved with using them.


RTP Co., Winona, Minn., introduces advancements in high-gravity compounds (HGCs) for lead-replacement applications that typically fall within densities of 5 to 11 gm/cc. These heavy-weighted HGCs provide improved processing capabilities for manufacturers of lead-replacement products with increased lot-to-lot material consistency and superior consistency within lots when compared to other HGCs.

With the advancements, RTP can formulate new grades of materials with lower viscosity, resulting in improved flow during processing. “Lower viscosity can help with filling thinner walls, more intricate designs, and can improve surface finish of molded pieces,” said Karl Hoppe, product development engineer. “Lower viscosity can even improve thermal stability, as it takes less shear heat to get the material to flow.”

Performance improvements are most dramatic in the highest specific gravity materials, typically in the density ranges of 9 to 11 gm/cc and compounded with nylon. This technology has been expanded to improve viscosity in other resin systems, including thermoplastic polyurethane elastomer, polypropylene, and even PEEK.

New PEM for microfuel cells

The researchers at the Dept. of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories are working on a new type of polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) to bring the goal of a microfuel cell closer to realization using diverse fuels like glucose, methanol, and hydrogen.

The Sandia Polymer Electrolyte Alternative (SPEA) could help fulfill the need for new, uninterrupted autonomous power sources for sensors, communications, microelectronics, healthcare, and transportation applications. The research team recently demonstrated that the SPEA could operate as high as 140°C and produce a peak power of 1.1 W/cm2 at 2 A/cm2 at 80°C. Under the same operating conditions, the SPEA can deliver higher power outputs with methanol and hydrogen than Nafion — recognized as the stateof- the-art PEM for fuel cells.

Because the SPEA can operate at elevated temperatures, it offers several key benefits Nafion doesn’t. These include smaller fuel-cell stacks because of better heat rejection, enhanced water management, and significant resistance to carbon-monoxide poisoning.

A PEM is a critical component of a working fuel cell. Its function is to efficiently conduct protons and possess low fuel crossover properties. It must also be robust enough to be assembled into a fuel cell stack and have long life.

“In the beginning of this project we were considering several polymer families, including a family of polyphenylenes,” says researcher Chris Cornelius. “When the physical properties of one of the polyphenylenes being considered was improved and integrated into a working fuel cell, we discovered that it works extremely well compared with Nafion.”

Shaft hub proves to be powder-tough

Chicago Powdered Metal Products Co., Schiller Park, Ill., won an award of distinction in the 2004 International Powdered Metal Design Competition for its output shaft hub for truck transmissions. Made for Ford Motor Co.’s Powertrain Operations in Livonia, Mich., the part competed in the ferrous category of the competition, sponsored by the Metal Powder Industries Federation.

The company’s 1,650-ton press made it possible to produce the part as a powdered metal warm compaction and resulted in a 30% cost savings over the original forged part. The powdered metal part also surpasses the performance of the machined forging. The new hub has a density of 7.2 gm/cm3, and a minimum ultimate tensile strength of 155,000 psi. The external helical teeth and straight involute splines are molded as a net shape. Secondary operations involved in producing the part are limited to deburring and minor machining.

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