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Posts From July, 2015

Switching on after the switch off – how TV White Space could boost Scottish tourism 

28 July 2015 09:20:00

By Ian Reid, chief executive, CENSIS

A quiet revolution has taken place in one of Scotland’s forests. Its results could have incredible consequences for many of the country’s remote tourist attractions – connecting them with the rest of the world for the first time, writes Ian Reid.

We take for granted the connectivity we enjoy today – whether it’s Wi-Fi in city centres or the ability to surf the internet with relative ease on our mobile devices. But, when one ventures off the beaten track, that often ceases to be the case; most of the UK still only receives the lowest level of 3G coverage, according to Ofcom’s latest available data.

In a country with Scotland’s topography, that can be a major challenge – particularly for tourist destinations which tend to be in remote locations. If these areas could be enfranchised, there could be real benefits for some of Scotland’s most picturesque attractions, nearby businesses and local people.

A recent pilot project in Glentress forest – a remote and hilly terrain in Peeblesshire, typical of “adventure tourism” attractions – was an important milestone on the road to achieving this.

At this year’s Enduro World Series mountain biking competition, a consortium of companies came together to bring an emerging networking approach, known as TV White Space (TVWS), to the event. This method uses VHF/UHF channels, released by the analogue TV switch-off, to transmit internet traffic wirelessly over long distances.

This technology could offer an economically viable way of delivering connectivity to remote and inaccessible locations, without the need for regulatory approval or the installation of extensive cabling. It also has the added benefit of being able to propagate through trees, meaning you don’t require a direct line of sight for transmission – especially useful in forested and mountainous areas.

Working together, Scottish Enterprise, CENSIS, Boston Networks, Microsoft and Indigo Vision were able to provide the event organiser, Tweedlove, with capabilities which were previously unavailable in this location. The project, based on pioneering work from The Centre for White Space Communications at the University of Strathclyde, allowed the company to provide and make use of live video streaming, increased access to data and enhanced automation for its staff and spectators.

In practice, this meant Tweedlove could stream live video of the races to a nearby screen in Peebles town centre, provide live information and cut down on the need for manual data input and radio communications. This is great progress on what was available at the event last year. But, the real excitement is the potential that could be released if this connectivity is rolled out to attendees and the local area.

At many events, this could mean organisers, participants and tourists will be in a position to share their experiences in real-time on social media platforms – opening up a huge, hitherto untapped, audience for Scotland’s remote regions and attractions. That could cement Scotland’s place on the adventure tourism map and make it a top destination for young, tech-savvy sports enthusiasts.

There are obvious benefits for the companies involved too: this breakthrough for connectivity gives the project partners a unique opportunity to gain an early lead with technology which is on the cusp of widespread adoption. Significant progress is already being made on introducing this technology across the world, in both mature and emerging markets.

The Enduro World Series attracts more than 600 riders and 15,000 spectators – it’s a huge opportunity to promote Scotland on the world stage. The project at Glentress has opened up this possibility and, with further adoption of TVWS technology, we could be looking at a revolution for Scottish tourism.

Connectors for tomorrow’s system integrators 

27 July 2015 09:55:00

Have you ever heard the claim that there are more neurons in the human brain than stars in the Milky Way? The assertion has never been proven, but chances are the numbers are relatively close. The baffling numbers involved remind me of a day in the life of a systems integrator, especially given the rise of smart factories and smart grids – systems that fulfil multiple functions and require more connections than ever before in industry.   

Here, Amy Wells, marketing manager of industrial connector specialist Electroustic, explains the latest trends in systems integration.

In the last few decades, factories have changed a lot. Concepts like Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet of Things and the smart factory all have a common trait: interconnectivity.

Let’s connect
With increasing levels of industrial automation in manufacturing and adjacent sectors, systems integrators are looking for more complex connectors. X-coded M12 and M8 sensor connectors, for example, provide a future-proof interface and support high bandwidth needs of up to 10GB/s, which makes them ideal for industrial internet. Chances are you won’t be able to walk into a factory without finding M12 or M8 connectors in I/O boxes, sensors, actuators, switches and programmable logic controllers (PLCs).
 
Another result of the interconnectivity trend in systems integration is the increasing demand for industrial Ethernet products. Whether in power generation, public transport, manufacturing or oil and gas, Ethernet technology has established itself as the most popular choice for company-wide data networks. Ethernet allows the rugged connectors and industrial equipment on a factory floor to communicate data with control equipment and the enterprise network, while also reducing electrical noise that can cause serious equipment damage.
 
Bring out the big boys
Although industrial automation equipment has been getting smaller, it still needs to work in difficult environments, tolerating a wide range of temperature, continuous vibrations and electrical noise. Not to mention its fair share of bashing about. Similarly, industrial connectors for factory automation continue to have the same ruggedness requirements. A bit like Rocky, they need to be able to take a battering and still perform.

This means that over the last few years, we’ve seen a move towards more robust Mil-spec connectors. Originally developed in the 1930s by the US Department of Defence for difficult military applications, like aeronautical and tactical service, these heavy duty connector ranges are now a common sight in manufacturing environments. They are the perfect combination of complexity, because you can put several signals through them, size, because they are smaller than regular connectors, and functionality, due to their minimum IP67 rating.
 
When the going gets tough
Systems integrators today like their connectors tough and resilient, but also smaller and easy to assemble. For this reason, push-pull and bayonet mount connectors are much more common these days than older models. Although they can be pricey, system integrators prefer them because they are easier to install and change, plus they ensure a system is future-proof.

This takes us to the final trend in system integration - quality. Historically, system integrators looked at the high value products when it came to the controller, motors or drives, but didn’t see the point of choosing more expensive, higher quality connectors. After all, the connector's role was a simple one and if it failed, it would just be replaced with another. 

Today, systems integrators are starting to understand that increasingly complex industrial automation systems require increasingly advanced and resilient connectors. After all, if even one connector fails, the entire system could go down before a replacement is found. And in industries like oil and gas, automotive or aerospace, even a few minutes of downtimes can cost thousands of pounds.

Smart factories are becoming a bit like the human brain, with industrial connectors playing the role of neurons. In our brains, each neuron may be connected to up to 10,000 others, passing signals via as many as 1,000 trillion synaptic connections. By some estimates, this is equivalent to a computer with a 1 trillion bit per second processor – something that the factory environment is still a long way away from achieving. Nevertheless, the onward march towards the factory of the future continues apace and connectors remain at the vanguard of the movement. 
 

Hard coatings specialist helps motorsport students find the right friction formula for braking 

02 July 2015 06:19:00

Formula Student, the annual competition to build a racing car from scratch, attracts over 100 international teams to Silverstone every year. Participating for their sixth time, in 2015, The University of Sheffield Mechanical Engineering Department overcame many technical challenges. Material selection for the braking system posed an especially sticky problem that was overcome with help from ultra-hard coating specialist Wallwork Cambridge.

Team Principal, Thomas Bloomfield explained, “The competition exposes students to a raft of real-life engineering problems from the design of components, using computer aided design (CAD), through manufacture using additive manufacturing (3D Printing) to the final fitting and testing of components on the completed car. A key design objective was to achieve good power to weight ratio for race advantage, so titanium alloy was selected for brake components, but this created a new technical challenge.”

Nathaniel Wellicome, a final year student who led the chassis and vehicle dynamics team, explained, “Titanium is very strong, fatigue resistant and most of all light in weight. We were able to translate the design into a manufactured component using an additive process where metal powder is fused by electron beam melting (EBM) to create the complex component shapes. Unfortunately, relative to heavier alternative materials such as steel alloys, titanium is a soft material, so it can bind when under load in metal-to-metal contact. Wallwork have a lot of experience in the application of titanium in aerospace and motorsport so we asked them how to overcome the problems.”

Dr Jonathan Housden takes up the story for Wallwork, “The 3D printed parts were delivered to us with the mating surfaces machine cut to overcome the typical surface roughness that is common in 3D printing. This gave a smooth surface for the coating, but applying a hard coating to this machined surface on its own would be insufficient since the titanium substrate alone is too soft and the coating would break up under load. The answer was to use Nitron O, a duplex process that first infuses nitrogen compounds into the metal surface to produce a hard layer to support the subsequent titanium nitride surface coating. This permits the alloy to be used in high-load sliding wear applications, giving endurance and the required frictional properties, without binding.”

Silverstone will host around 100 international teams from leading UK and overseas universities for the race and technical judging between July 9 and 12. In addition to the race, a team of expert judges will score the Sheffield car for factors such as endurance, cost and sustainability.

Thomas Bloomfield concluded, “Our students participate in this challenge alongside their degrees so they gain multiple practical skills and develop fantastic time management skills and learn how to deal with realistic high pressure fast-paced environments. This makes them very employable and is why some companies, like Wallwork, are happy to sponsor the team by sharing their expertise. Dr Housden added, “Engineering is a dynamic profession and projects like this help us engage with the next generation of engineers, a collaboration that is beneficial for Wallwork, the University and the Students.”

To follow the Sheffield motor engineers story visit their You Tube channel https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1wg7llyBHhk.
 

Mouser-backed Piquet is Electric car racing’s first World Champion 

02 July 2015 05:26:00

Mouser Electronics congratulated Nelson Piquet Jr. for capturing the first-ever FIA Formula-E championship following a thrilling final battle in the London ePrix on Sunday.  The Mouser-sponsored Piquet went into London’s races ranked No. 1 among the Formula-E series drivers after a commanding victory earlier this month at the Moscow ePrix.

Piquet, who drives the all-electric Spark-Renault SRT_01E, which can go 0–60 in three seconds and has a top speed of 150 mph, went to London with two first-place finishes and a commanding 17-point lead in the driver championship standings over No. 2 Lucas di Grassi.

In Saturday’s opening round, Piquet finished fifth after an early clash with di Grassi, who crossed the line just ahead in fourth to give himself an outside chance of winning the championship. Piquet started 16th on the grid on Sunday, but managed to fight his way up to seventh in the final timings to clinch the title by just a single point ahead of Sebastien Buemi.

“It was an incredible finish to an incredible year,” said Todd McAtee, Mouser vice president for Business Development, Americas. “We could not be more pleased and proud to be partners with Piquet and the entire China Racing team.

“In tandem with our supplier partners, we are excited that we could be a part of this high-tech sport that is paving the way for future automotive technologies,” McAtee added. “High-tech auto racing provides the perfect platform to raise awareness for Mouser and our partners.”

Mouser is sponsoring the China Racing Formula-E Team this year in partnership with its valued partners Molex and Vishay Intertechnology.

Formula-E is a new FIA global racing series featuring cars powered exclusively by electricity. It represents a vision for the future of the motor sports industry over the coming decades, serving as a framework for research and development around the electric vehicle. To learn about the series and the drivers, visit the website at http://www.mouser.com/formula-e. Fans can vote on FanBoost for Piquet (or their favorite drivers). The three drivers with the most votes win FanBoost. The live leaderboard shows how each driver is performing and updates every time a new vote is cast. Racing fans can learn more about FanBoost at http://www.mouser.com/formula-e.

At the Moscow ePrix on June 6th, Piquet quickly took the lead from the second he left the grid. He broke away and led the race by as much as five seconds with 15 laps remaining, before managing his energy to eventually win by two seconds. He also took the top prize in California at the Long Beach ePrix in April after back-to-back podium finishes in Uruguay and Argentina. To watch a YouTube video from the race in Moscow, click here.

 

Michelle WinnyMichelle Winny

With a combination of news, products and feature articles, Michelle provides up-to-wire commentary on new technology and legislation. Coupled with in depth coverage for specifiers and purchasers of electronic components and equipment, Michelle brings everything within the electronics market directly to her readers.