‘Always stay cool!’ is the motto of superconductors. Below temperatures in the low minus range (around –180°C), these materials take on special properties: they suddenly lose their electrical resistance and can also save the field of a permanent magnet at a predefined distance, so that the magnet hovers above the superconductor. Festo makes use of the second property in its research platforms relating to superconductivity. They show what application options the technology could offer the automation sector in future.
Festo presented initial potentials and research fields relating to technology for automation back in 2013. With its three current exhibits, SupraHandling 2.0, SupraShuttle and SupraChanger, Festo has developed these ideas further. Under the heading ‘SupraMotion 2.0’, they demonstrate the linear and rotational movement of hovering objects in all directions and all spatial planes at the 2014 Hannover Messe.
SupraHandling 2.0: linear motion in three spatial planes
In the case of SupraHandling 2.0, a hovering slide moves above two 2.5-metre long magnetic rails. The slide is equipped with three cryostats (cooling tanks) with superconductors. The whole system can be rotated by up to 180 degrees around its longitudinal axis and shows that the slide can move vertically or when suspended overhead. The SupraHandling 2.0 thus demonstrates a stable, contactless positioning, which could enable the hovering transport of objects in production, for example.
SupraShuttle: Hovering and moving in all directions
With the SupraShuttle, Festo shows the movement of a hovering object in all spatial directions and for the first time the handling of the cryostat with the superconducting material itself. The latter is transferred from one horizontal electrical axis system to a second one, which is vertical to it. The exhibit also demonstrates how hovering objects can be very easily moved into hermetically sealed spaces. This function is suitable for applications where work is being done with gases or a vacuum.
SupraChanger: controlled rotation
With the SupraChanger, this is the first time an application can transfer a rotational movement onto magnets, which hover thanks to superconductivity, in a controlled and contactless manner. The exhibit shows this effect on three different applications that automatically change: a centrifuge, a mixer and a hovering rotary index table. One future area of use for these applications could be laboratory automation; here, several processing steps are often performed on an object one after the other.
Energy-efficient electrical cooling
All three new applications use electrical cooling units with cryostats. They have a power consumption of just twelve watts per cryostat for maintaining the temperature. The exhibits are controlled locally and do not require any control technology to enable the objects to hover.
Various applications possible
Conceivable applications in the automation sector of the future are energy-efficient, stably hovering positioning systems that make do without elaborate measurement and control technology. It is also possible to use superconductors to move objects through walls in enclosed spaces and in all planes. There is also a call for contactless handling wherever facilities have to be cleaned easily or while machinery is operating, such as in laboratory automation, medical technology or the food industry.
You can find more information about the new superconductor projects here