Automatica 2008

The exhibitors at Automatica 2008, which takes place from 10 to 13 June 2008 in Munich, couldn´t wish for a better economic climate. Nine percent growth and sales of almost five billion euros was the forecast for 2007 – but it turned out even better than that. Thilo Brodtmann, Managing Director of the Robotics + Automation Manufacturers' Association, affiliated in the Frankfurt-based VDMA, Germany´s engineering federation, doesn´t want to pre-empt the official figures, but did confirm: "As things look, we are in the fortunate position of having to revise these figures upwards."

However, the full order books of the assembly and handling technology manufacturers are not preventing these companies from taking part in the fair. After all, this platform is the place where business is shaped for the coming years. What has not changed since the last Automatica are the parameters governing production – a high degree of flexibility is demanded, along with an ability to produce even smallest batch sizes cost effectively. And of course throughout the whole production cycle, including during the initial phases, quality has to be maintained at a very high level.

Every user has to interpret the demand for flexibility for himself – in some assembly jobs different batch sizes have to be processed for the same products, whereas with others the emphasis is on variety. On the safe side are those who can quickly switch over or refit their assembly concepts, cost-effectively and without any problems. In the current situation in the sector, assembly concepts that can cover all options with a single set-up are still possible, but are not regarded as up-to-date.

According to Dr Norbert Stein, Chairman of the Robotics + Automation Manufacturers´ Association, of Frankfurt am Main, and Managing Partner of Vitronic Dr.-Ing. Stein Bildverarbeitungssysteme, Wiesbaden, there are three main directions currently being taken in the drive to improve efficiency for systems operators. These are: accelerated planning processes while maintaining higher quality in planning solutions; hybrid systems with modular integration of different process steps; and microassembly with new-style solutions for gripping and holding. Even at the last AUTOMATICA it was easy to see that functional tesst integrated into assembly processes are the state of the art.

The results to which such integration can lead are demonstrated by the various mechatronics initiatives. DLR Oberpfaffenhofen, Wessling, for example, will be exhibiting new research and practical developments in gripper technology. Mechatronics, says DLR, is the highest possible integration of mechanics, electronics and computers, through to intelligent mechanisms and robots that interact with their environment.

Two further initiatives in mechatronics will be a magnet for trade visitors at Automatica 2008 the presentations by the Mechatronics Network from Göppingen and by the Mechatronics and Automation Cluster of Augsburg. Both of these will be represented at a stand in Munich. The companies in these networks and clusters work in cooperation on driving the development of ideas. They also work together on standards or at least common definitions. As yet the participants are keeping quiet about their trend exhibits but what´s certain is that they will be solutions integrating mechanics and electronics, and that imaging will be a part of this. The 'seeing gripper' will be the watchword.

Many such developments are independent of a certain product and have a common goal – to design production or assembly processes so that they are as simple and logical as possible, easy to operate and able to be modified with minimum extra effort. For this reason the emphasis is initially not on the products or components, but on ideas and approaches.

Automatica has become the platform for the sector, because as the leading trade fair for automation technology manufacturers, it offers plenty of scope for discussions and acts as a showcase for specific components groups, components and modules. Standing side by side at the fair these present an excellent opportunity to review the entire spectrum within the sector.

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