Superconductors in industrial automation
Superconductors have tremendous potential for future industrial applications. They allow objects to be held in position and moved without contact – with low power consumption and completely without control technology for the bearing. The way they work without dust and wear is ideal for transporting objects whilst hovering in very clean environments in a protected manner. Even handling through walls is possible.
What are superconductors?
Superconductors are materials with unique magnetic properties. If you cool them below a certain temperature, they can store the field of a permanent magnet inside them. This creates a strong but invisible coupling. This keeps the magnet and superconductor at a defined distance from each other – even through walls, in liquids or in a vacuum. As long as the superconductor remains below what is known as the transition temperature, its magnetic memory stores the fingerprint of the magnet, and thus its position, even if the two are separated from each other.
Electric cooling with long service life
SupraMotion utilises high-temperature superconductors made of ceramic material. The coolers currently in use consume a maximum of 40 watts of power per cryostat (cooling container). This keeps operating costs comparatively low. The levitating effect itself requires neither power nor control technology.
Thanks to the high thermal capacity, operation is guaranteed for many minutes, even in the event of a power failure. The coolers currently have a service life of more than ten years.
SupraCube: separation of superconductor and cooling
The SupraCube is the first SupraMotion concept from Festo in which the superconductor unit can be separated from the electric cooler and operate autonomously for up to two hours. This compact technology enables the contactless movement and handling of objects – ideal for industries with the most stringent cleaning and cleanliness standards, such as laboratory automation, biotechnology or semiconductor production.
The SupraCube reduces magnetic levitation to its essentials – only a passive magnetic base unit with a coupled carrier levitating above it. The modular design of the system allows the superconductor to be cooled to -210 °C before the cooling unit automatically switches off and the SupraCube decouples from it for up to two hours.
Once cooled down and disconnected from the cooler, the SupraCube is ready for operation – either mounted on the end of a robot arm, connected in series with other SupraCubes on a transport system, or for use in the safety laboratory next door. The stable levitating connection between the magnetic carrier and the superconductor permits distances of ten millimetres and more – plenty of space for separating plates that can enclose clean or sterile work environments, for example.
Superconductor-based magnetic levitation
- Large levitation gaps of 10 mm and more possible
- Features a low power requirement irrespective of the levitation height and payload
- Remains functional for up to two hours in the event of a power failure
- Does not cause surfaces and levitating modules to heat up
Superconducting levitation enables high-end technology
This contactless and frictionless form of superconducting levitation offers an elegant and practical solution to some of the most challenging problems in high-tech industries – from semiconductors, batteries and biotechnology to pharmaceuticals, food, medicine and laboratory automation. Reducing contamination of all kinds to an absolute minimum will help pave the way for the high-end technologies and products needed for a clean, healthy and sustainable future.