Automation modules with superconductivity

Article of 27 February 2015 

Festo presents three new projects on superconductivity

Superconductors allow objects to be moved without contact whilst hovering – effectively and using little energy. This technology makes it possible to implement completely new and previously inconceivable applications in the automation sector. Festo has been researching superconductors and their industrial use for several years and will present three new, innovative application concepts at the Hannover Messe 2015.

There are in fact already various automation solutions for bearing and guiding objects without any contact. Yet only with superconductivity is it possible to carry out a spatial rotation of 360° in any direction – and all without elaborate control technology.

Besides classic automation fields, such as the hovering, low-energy transportation of workpieces in a production facility, automation with superconductors can break into areas that until now have been seen as impossible to automate or only with difficulty. In this way, for example, handling objects through walls or transferring them without contact beyond system limits is possible. In 2015 Festo is presenting three new future concepts for this technology in the form of SupraCycle, SupraHelix and SupraCarrier.

SupraCarrier – bearing and moving on hovering rollers

Two cryostats with superconductors are fitted on an electric axis, above each of which two magnetic transport rollers hover. A flat workpiece carrier lies on the rollers. The electrical axis moves the superconductor elements and with them the workpiece carrier back and forth. Between the superconductors and the hovering rollers is a cover with openings, through which the rollers disappear by lowering the cryostats; the workpiece carrier then rests on the cover.

The whole transportation unit is free of lubricants and very easy to clean: the cover protects the automation modules from contamination whilst the passive rollers  can easily be removed and cleaned separately from the installation.

SupraCarrier – bearing and moving on hovering rollers
SupraCarrier – bearing and moving on hovering rollers

SupraHelix – rotating conveyor shaft

In the case of the SupraHelix exhibit, two cryostats with superconductors are attached next to each other on a rotatable module. Cooled below their transition temperature they make a magnetic shaft hover with a gap of eight millimetres, which is then suspended underneath the cryostats. The shaft is then made to incline by 40 degrees.

An electronic drive makes the it rotate without contact so that it is able to move individual metal rings upwards via its thread. The exhibit shows how ring-shaped workpieces can be conveyed from one processing station to the next. This spring-driven shaft could also be used for polishing or sanding purposes.

SupraHelix – rotating conveyor shaft
SupraHelix – rotating conveyor shaft

SupraCycle – contactless transfer

The SupraCycle shows the active transfer of a hovering permanent magnet from one superconductor automation module to another for the first time. Three cryostats with superconductors, which can be rotated by 360°, are installed on a baseplate. Two magnets are frozen with a levitation gap of a few millimetres to the superconductors and then transferred in turn from one cryostat to the next.

One possible application that can be derived from the SupraCycle is to transfer the object support between two systems without contact. This makes process chains of any length possible for the first time.

SupraCycle – contactless transfer
SupraCycle – contactless transfer

You can see here how the superconductor technology works: