HomeCorporateNews"Contactless energy transmission will make automation more flexible"

“In the long run, contactless energy transmission will make automation more flexible”

Interview with Product Manager Klaus Leuchs from Weidmüller on areas of application for contactless energy transmission in industry.


What trends and tendencies did you see at HMI and what inspiration did you draw from them for your work?

One of the hottest topics was definitely collaborative robots, which will be used even more in the industrial sector in future because they make difficult production tasks easier. Real progress has been made in this area over the last year and this was evident at the Hannover Messe. Another equally strong trend can be seen in the field of Virtual or Augmented Reality, major topics that are entertaining and fascinating both the exhibitors and the public. 


At the exhibition you presented FreeCon Contactless, a system for non-contact energy transfer. How is this development progressing?

Productmanager Klaus Leuchs is convinced of the advantages of contactless energy transfer

The technology itself has been around for some time, but more in the consumer sector – a typical example being electric toothbrushes. In the industrial sector, things have yet to get off the ground, but work has begun on the development for a range of applications. The most progress has been made in connection with initiators or proximity switches. This only involves low levels of power. The challenges begin in earnest with power levels considerably higher than 10 Watts, that is to say 100 or 1000 Watts. The aim is to transfer the greatest possible energy over the smallest possible space. However, the inherent power loss – 100 percent efficiency is not technically possible because of the physical principle involved – results in heat being produced, which means it is difficult to produce a product with an IP65/67 degree of protection.


The system is primarily designed for use in machine construction and is incorporated in production lines

Is use over wider distances, such as 1 metre or 10 metres, also conceivable?

This is not possible because of the Tesla principle of inductive resonant coupling. Unrealistic expectations must therefore be avoided. Contactless power transmission works by means of inductive resonant coupling and can only be achieved over a small gap. This means that a kind of Bluetooth for contactless power transmission within a range of several metres will not be possible. At the same time, the air gap represents resistance for the magnet, which means energy is lost during transmission. 


In general, what can contactless energy transmission be used for?

Charging batteries is a big topic when it comes to contactless energy transmission. In robotics, for example, the robots of the future will be very small and mobile. The plan, which has already been implemented in pilot systems, is for them to automatically travel to the charging station once their battery charge falls to a defined level. This makes them completely autonomous. This technology can also be used for electromobility, but the very high power levels mean large coils are required. This poses completely new challenges for the system, unlike the application described above.


In what context can you envisage Freecon Contactless from Weidmüller?

Our system is primarily designed for use in machine construction and is incorporated in production lines. Burnt, bent or dirty contacts are often the cause of time-consuming and costly production failures. Production line downtime of just one or two hours can quickly run up five-figure costs in industry. The most often affected are applications requiring frequent plugging cycles, such as frequent tool changes for industrial robots. Here, the level of wear is especially high. Our system has a really high energy density and extremely good efficiency. We developed the system to have defined switching points so that electronic devices can be powered safely, which makes it very interesting for the industrial sector. The feedback we have received from customers to date has been positive, as the system makes their plants more fail-safe and many of the tasks currently carried out manually are no longer required.


What is the next step for the development?

Our long-term aim is to build up a product range to give us a presence in a range of automation functions. We are focusing on specific core areas, such as tool changes for industrial robots. In the future, the system should be able to transmit power and data too, which is an important area of application given increasing levels of digitalisation.


What applications are conceivable for the current product?

As I mentioned, we want to move in the direction of automation. The transmission of data is one of the elements of this, as is increasing transmission power. With power of up to 1 Kilowatt, it will also be relevant for applications such as forklifts. Contactless power transmission will also make automation even more flexible. At the moment, electrical connections cannot be established automatically in mobile applications; there is always the need for a plug or a connector which needs to be connected manually. The contactless connection offers new possibilities, such as fully autonomous charging of driverless transport systems. On the other hand, the complete lack of maintenance of the contactless connection makes plants considerably more efficient. Further development in the area of contactless data transmission or contactless fieldbusses will again increase the number of potential applications many times over.