Completely new and previously unimaginable applications in automation technology are possible with superconductors. They allow hovering, contactless motion using very little energy and without wear. Festo has been researching superconductor technology and its industrial use for several years. At Hannover Messe 2015, the company presented three new, innovative application concepts for SupraMotion.
Superconductors are metal compounds or ceramic materials with very special properties: if they are cooled below a certain transition temperature their electrical resistance drops to zero. The magnetic fields that are generated have a very high energy. Therefore superconductors can freeze the field of a permanent magnet at a constant gap so that either the magnet or the superconductor starts to hover. Objects can be held in position without contact and without control technology, and moved using very little energy.
Superconductors have huge potential for industrial applications wherever contactless handling is called for. They are resistance-free with low power consumption. Even handling through walls is possible. The technology is starting to make its mark in large-scale systems such as marine propulsion systems, wind generators with high power density and loss-free transmission of electricity.
The use of superconductors in the field of industrial automation is still in the development stage, but completely new processes are conceivable. There is huge potential for the low-energy transport of workpieces in a production facility or for superconductive magnetic bearings with no need for a high level of control.
Festo’s newest three applications of SupraMotion are contactless linear movement (SupraLinearmotion); positioning in the level plane (SupraHandling); and handling in an hermetically sealed room (SupraPicker). Ceramic superconductors with a transition temperature of 77°K are used. Liquid nitrogen together with a small compressor keeps the superconductor blocks in the cooling tanks at operating temperature. The tanks with the superconductive material are integrated into the slides.
With SupraLinearMotion a person can take a seat on the superconductive slide, which hovers at a defined distance above a magnetic rail. The rocker is tilted by an electric cylinder and the passenger glides over the magnetic rail under gravity, carried by the superconductor.
Three pneumatic semi-rotary drives are integrated into the rail for end-position limiting. In the middle of the rocker, four electric drives raise the seat slide into the rest position so that the passenger can safely climb on and off. A CPX terminal in the base of the rocker coordinates all the electric and pneumatic drives.
The SupraHandling system embodies an X/Y table. The base plate is mounted on a ball joint. The gantry, which comprises four magnetic rails, two superconductive slides and a workpiece holder, is mounted on the base plate. Two Festo servo motors are attached at right angles underneath the base plate. The two drives can independently tilt the base plate in the X and Y directions. This enables the two slides to move and hover over the magnetic rails. Two opto-electrical sensors in the corners of the base plate sense the position of the slides during this process. The CPX terminal actuates the two drives to tilt the base plate to the required positioning of the workpiece carrier.
SupraPicker demonstrates an hermetically sealed room made from plexiglass in which a handling operation is completed from start to finish. It can execute at any angle. The vertical movement of the lever arm is realised by an electric toothed belt axis and a servo motor installed beneath the base plate. A further servo motor moves the SupraPicker in both horizontal directions by rotating the arm and the two-armed mount around their own axes. A rotary drive is attached to the end of the mount. It moves the cantilever axis that carries the compressor and the cooling tank containing the superconductive material. A permanently magnetic puck hovers beneath the axis at a defined distance. It picks up the object to be gripped and conveys it into the sealed room where an electric rotary drive module enables six different positions to be approached where six vials can be placed. Beneath the base plate are pneumatic grippers which mechanically take the object from the puck. The multi-axis movements of the lever arm and the pneumatic drives are coordinated by the CoDeSys controller of the CPX terminal.
The technology is still at the research stage and is not yet in industrial use. Festo’s goal is, together with partners from industry and science, to promote research into this technology, leading to the development of new technologies for more efficient and environmentally-friendly generation, distribution and utilisation of electrical energy.
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