A new 'Centre for Distributed Automation and Control 'was recently launched at the Engineering Department's
Institute for Manufacturing in Mill Lane. The formation of this new Centre reflects the continuing growth of
activity in this area at the Institute. Duncan McFarlane, who heads the centre explains:
"We are working on problems related to automation and control of operations in the manufacturing supply chain. We now have a fully functioning automation laboratory on-site in Mill Lane, where we can carry out trials to test our systems and to extend our research. This includes a number of production robots, and small scale packing and assembly systems, all controlled by a series of powerful work stations. A mini warehouse facility will also be added in the next six months.
This laboratory, which has been up and running for some six months now, can be used not only for research
but also for teaching and demonstration purposes. What we are basically aiming to do is to distribute the
intelligence required to make critical manufacturing decisions so that it is tightly coupled to the physical
equipment and products in the manufacturing operation, so that when things go wrong, the machines can respond
rapidly and take appropriate action.
For instance, in a packaging production line, if the wrong number of cans are placed in a box, then through
intelligent sensing, the machines in the production system will be able to 'see' what has happened, analyse
the implications and make sure that the faulty box is diverted and replaced with a good one."
This work follows on from research on 'electronic tagging' of production items which was featured in the
newsletter 'Enginuity' last year.