Gripping and moving whilst hovering

Article of 26 February 2016 

Gripping and moving whilst hovering with superconductors: SupraMotion 2016

A transporting slide glides over an expanse of water without touching it, a hovering gripper holds a rod and lets it go again, and a round, magnetic disc glides through a tube filled with liquid: the three new SupraMotion projects, which Festo will present at the 2016 Hanover Fair, demonstrate exciting applications once again for superconductor technology.

Superconductors are materials that can ‘freeze’ the field of a permanent magnet below a certain temperature (approx. –180°C) at a defined gap and make it hover in this way. The gap remains steady on any spatial plane – even through walls or liquid media.

SupraJunction: transfer on a horizontal plane

The SupraJunction exhibit uses this effect to make two support plates hover above the superconductors. The two magnetic rails on the underside of the plates make this possible. The hovering object carriers transport small glass containers on a circuit across a pool of water and through locks. In doing so, they are transferred from one superconductor element (cooling container with superconductors) on a transport system to the next element on another system. During this contactless transfer process, an electromagnet pulls the plate onto the next cryostat (cooling container) in the working direction of the magnetic rails. For the first time, this transfer is also possible on a horizontal plane.

The advantage of the superconductor technology: the support system and automation technology can therefore be completely separated from one another, which protects the components against contamination and enables very easy cleaning – ideal for an application in the packaging industry, laboratory automation, medical technology, food or pharmaceutical industry.

SupraJunction: transfer on a horizontal plane
SupraJunction: transfer on a horizontal plane

SupraGripper: hovering gripping

The SupraGripper FutureConcept puts a completely new application into practice: holding and transporting objects with two hovering grippers. These each have three fingers and hover freely above two crescent-shaped plates, under which three cryostats with superconductors are fitted. In order to grip an object, electric coils on top of the cryostats give off an electrical impulse. This releases the saved connection to the magnetic gripper elements or restores it. This impulse makes the individual finger elements turn up or down, which in turn causes the grippers to open or close.

This technology could be used, for example, to grip and transport objects through a partition or in enclosed spaces, which is ideal for clean rooms or for work in gases, a vacuum or liquids.

SupraGripper: hovering gripping
SupraGripper: hovering gripping

SupraTube: rotation in a sealed tube

The SupraTube project shows how the movement of an object in a tube filled with liquid media can be controlled from outside and executed without contact. A round cryostat with superconductors is fitted at each end of the glass tube. Inside the vertical tube is a magnetic puck, which is pinned to both cryostats with a hovering gap of around five millimetres and at the start hangs underneath the cryostat positioned on top. A magnetic ring fitted around the cryostats is set in a rotary movement, which is transferred to the hovering magnet in the tube. This is pushed away with an electrical impulse from the cryostat and tumbles down in a circular motion. At the other end it is caught again by the superconductor in the other cryostat and centred.

In this way, for example, the contents of a sealed container – for instance hazardous liquids or explosive gases – could be safely set into a rotating motion or an object could be accurately guided through.

SupraTube: rotation in a sealed tube
SupraTube: rotation in a sealed tube

Regulated electrical cooling

With the three current SupraMotion exhibits, Festo is again expanding the range of bearing and movement types previously shown. All three applications feature electrically regulated coolers with a maximum rating of 80 Watts, meaning that the necessary cooling temperature can be precisely determined with the regulation depending on the system requirement.