Festo SupraMotion: superconductors in industrial automation


Superconductors in industrial automation

Superconductors have tremendous potential for future industrial applications. They make it possible to suspend and move objects without contact – with minimal power consumption and no closed-loop control technology at all for suspension. Dust and abrasion-free operation makes them ideal for the protected conveyance of levitating objects in very clean environments. Handling functions which penetrate walls are also 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 therefore its position, even if the two are separated from each other.

Electric Cooling with a Long Service Life

SupraMotion utilizes 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 its high thermal capacity, the system will even continue operating for several minutes in the event of a power outage. 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 makes it possible to move and handle objects contact-free – ideal for industries with the most stringent cleaning and cleanliness standards, such as laboratory automation, biotechnology, or semiconductor production.

In the SupraCube, magnetic levitation is reduced to the essentials: a passive magnetic base unit with a coupled levitation carrier 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 millimeters and more – plenty of space for separating plates that can enclose clean or sterile work environments, for example.

Superconducting Levitation Makes High-End Technology Possible

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.

Searching for Pilot Customers and Specific Applications

The use of superconductors in industrial automation is still in the developmental stage. Yet completely new and efficient processes are already conceivable with this technology today.

As such, we are specifically investigating application ideas with partners and customers that can be implemented in pilot projects. Why not take the next step and join us in leading superconductor technology into the field of industrial applications?

Contact us by email at: supramotion@festo.com