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Business

Hanover showcases modern manufacturing technology

The world’s largest industrial trade fair is underway in Hanover this week. Lightweight robots, virtual machines, and artificial seagulls await visitors eager to marvel at the latest technological innovations.

A robot in the workplace

The motto of this year's fair is 'Smart Efficiency'

A large, silver sea gull circles Hall 15 of the Hanover fairground. But when it flaps its wings, turns its head, or twitches its tail, its movements look a little choppy.

That's because there's electricity – not blood – flowing through this particular bird's veins. And it didn't peck its way out of an egg shell; rather, it's the work of engineers at technology company Festo in collaboration with renowned universities and development firms.

The Smart Bird from Festo AG

Festo's SmartBird robot at the Hanover Fair

Festo, a globally active family company from Baden Württemberg, has made something of a tradition out of showing robots inspired by Mother Nature at the "Hannover Messe" trade fair in recent years.

"This time, we chose the herring gull," said Heinrich Frontzek from Festo, explaining that the company's engineers were intrigued by the challenge of decoding bird flight to unlock the secrets of greater energy efficiency.

It's not just a game. The discoveries made while working on the bionic seagull could help make industrial production more effective.

Solutions for charging stations

Not far from the Festo display stand, visitors switch their gaze from the air to the floor. The innovation here is a black plate about one square meter in size. Next to it stands a sleek, white electric sports car from the California-based company, Tesla.

A similar black plate is installed in the floor of the car. By positioning the car over the plate, which is made by SEW Eurodrive, the Tesla's battery starts to automatically recharge.

It's safe and easy and vandals would have a hard time destroying it, according to the company's marketing rep, Thorsten Götzmann. He can't say yet when and if the recharging plate will be on the market - only that the company is in talks with car manufacturers.

Robots from German company Kuka on display at the Hanover Fair

They may be lightweights, but Kuka robots are strong

Helping hand from a robot

The auto industry has also always played a big role for German robot maker, Kuka.

The strong recovery in the auto sector has helped Kuka out of the financial crisis. After two years of losses, the automation technology specialist is now looking forward to healthy profits.

The company is currently exhibiting its complete spectrum of products and solutions at Hanover for the first time. Martin Sträb from Kuka's Sales and Marketing department demonstrates a light industrial robot.

"The special thing about this robot is that it doesn't weigh very much, and that makes it easier to carry," Sträb said.

"It also has seven moveable axes which are soft and pliable, because they contain intelligent technology. The robot can really work together with you on tasks. These could be household jobs, tasks in the laboratory, or assembly work," he added.

Machines in virtual space

This particular robot can even be controlled via a mobile phone. And because it's small and lightweight, it was easy to take to Hanover.

But what happens when a company wants to exhibit machines that are so big that they can't easily be transported? Or when a visitor is interested in seeing precisely those machines which weren't brought to the fair? Ralf Heimberg, head of the board at ICIDO, has a 3D modeling solution that can help.

The kind of technology most visitors only know from films such as "Avatar" can now be used to a company's advantage. You only have to don a pair of 3D glasses, and suddenly the machine in question appears on a 3D screen in front of you.

3D visualization display

Visitors can inspect complex machines using 3D models

The technology has many more advantages, says Heimberg. When machine manufacturers explain a product to their clients, they often face the problem that the active parts are hidden behind a casing.

"With this technology, we're able to fly inside the machine and look at its inner workings," he said. "In this way, we can present features, such as how to mount the machine, or how to conduct maintenance."

As practical as this solution seems, Festo is happy that it's not among ICIDO's customers. It prefers to have its silver robot sea gull swooping over the real stands at the Hanover fair, and not confined to a screen.

Author: Insa Wrede / dc
Editor: Sam Edmonds

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