Since few would argue against the seemingly effortless flight of a bird as the ultimate model of efficiency in motion, it is fitting that automation supplier Festo created its bionic SmartBird to embody the trends it sees driving automation technology into the future: energy efficiency, high levels of mechanical efficiency, functional integration and lightweight construction (which also facilitates speed and efficiency in motion control applications).
"Festo has observed these factors in international markets and has taken them as the basis for the development of tailor-made products for its customers all around the world," explained Dr. Ansgar Kriwet, member of Festo AG's management board, region and sales Europe, during the company's international press conference in June 2011 to mark the opening of a Festo plant expansion in Budapest.
A Lesson from Nature
Festo's SmartBird flies, glides and sails through the air, just like its example in nature—the herring gull. Its wings not only beat up and down, but also twist in a specific, controlled way to provide thrust. This effect is produced with an active articulated torsion drive, which in conjunction with a complex control system, achieves unprecedented efficiency in flying operation. (See the SmartBird fly at www.controlglobal.com/industrynews/2011/efficiency-sustainability-driving-global-growth.html.)
Its forward propulsion and lift are generated by the beating of its wings, and need only about 23 watts of power, despite the fact that SmartBird has a total weight of approximately 450 grams and a wingspan of two meters. SmartBird is thus an example of functional integration, extreme lightweight construction that is also resource-efficient, and an optimum use of flow phenomena in air. Festo reports it will provide important ideas for the further optimization of future generations of pneumatic cylinders and valves. Similarly, the global automation marketplace will require increasing levels of system expertise, functional density, software capabilities, energy efficiency and safety features.
"Already today, our system solutions are characterized by function integration, no matter whether in hard-drive test equipment for the electronics industry, servo-pneumatic welding guns for the automotive industry or milking robots," said Kriwet.
The press conference also featured other functionally integrated examples from Festo's line-up of products, including actuators with onboard diagnostics and controllers with built-in position sensors.
Efficiency in Pneumatics, Motion
Sustainability, especially as it relates to energy efficiency, is a central corporate tenet of Festo's—not only in terms of its own manufacturing processes, but also in how it enables its clients to be more energy efficient. Key elements of Festo's approach to sustainability include the proper dimensioning of automation components (oversized elements tend to waste energy), attention to efficiency in the product specification process, as well as employee training in energy efficiency principles and practices. Festo Energy Savings Services also are available to help customers increase efficiency through pre-assessment, analysis, planning, implementation and sustainment activity phases.
And when it comes to making handling applications more efficient, speed of movement is important—and that directly relates to the sizing and weight of automation components, explained Jörg Tertünte, promotion concepts handling and solution. "It's all related to minimum moving mass," he said.
Global Record Sales
Thanks to its range of appropriate customer solutions, Festo was able in 2010 to increase its global sales by 37% to a record level of €1.8 billion. Outside Germany, China is now Festo's most important and largest market.
"This is not surprising, since the growth markets of China and India will account for almost 40% of the entire global gross domestic product in the next 15 years," said Kriwet.
Germany and Europe will nonetheless remain important for Festo, said Kriwet.