Festo Introduces Two New Superconducting Industrial Automation Concepts

The German industrial control and automation company Festo AG & Co. KG
has announced two new concepts for using superconductor technology in industrial automation. The SupraMultitool and the SupraDrive 2.0 are the latest of the company’s Future Concept SupraMotion applications that benefit from the magnetic levitation capabilities of superconductors, allowing objects to be held in position and be moved without contact. 

Of these new concepts, the SupraMultitool operates as a handling system that places various work pieces one after the other on two different magnets with various bearings and movements. It is designed to carry out different automation tasks simultaneously and contactlessly as a single system.

The SupraDrive 2.0 is an updated version of Festo’s original SupraDrive. It has two continuous, 1.5-metre-long cryostats with superconductors, which allow for a uniform and dynamic method of transporting slide. The cryostats are tilted diagonally towards each other, thereby centering and stabilizing the transporting slide from both sides.

Superconducting Applications Most Suitable Where Contact is Best Avoided

Festo has been a pioneer in developing superconducting concepts in industrial automation. The company has cited numerous advantages of the technology: low power consumption, no requirement for control technology for the bearing, and the ability to operate without dust and wear, the latter making superconductors especially suitable for clean environments.

“Typically, the handling of chemicals, biological matter, and electronic or optical components during processing or production is not free of contact,” commented Uwe Pracht with Festo’s Supramotion Project. “You move it, you touch it. Whenever absolute cleanliness is of pivotal importance, one sooner or later identifies touching as the ultimate source of contamination due to abrasion, lubricants or hard-to-clean grippers or conveyors.

“Getting a handle on these sources of contamination requires substantial time and effort, and is always a compromise between benefit and performance. A complete removal of this contamination is only possible once the contact itself can be avoided. Levitation techniques offer this unique possibility and are a disruptive new approach to clean handling of delicate goods.”

New Superconducting Concepts Introduced Each Year

Festo introduced its first three SupraMotion applications at the Hannover Messe in 2013. Each year since, the company has presented a number of new concepts and now has a total of about twenty.

Festo has divided its concepts into four general applications: transporting in all spatial planes and directions; transferring hovering objects; handling with spatial separation through walls; and contactless turning, shaking and measuring. The SupreMultitool falls in the application category of transferring hovering objects, while the SupraDrive 2.0 is a hovering transport slide. These contactless control systems use YBCO bulk material with a Tc of approximately 93 K.

In addition, Festo has begun researching superconducting drives. In 2018, the company introduced the SupraMotor technology platform, a superconducting claw pole motor with solid-state cooling. It features a very compact design, a high holding torque and a long-life electrical direct cooling system.

Contactless Balance for an Isolator Currently Under Development

“Festo is open to working with any branch of industry, where specific needs call for contactless handling,” Pracht said. “This aspect of cleanliness is of special importance to the pharmaceutical, food, chemical, and biological industries. We try to conceptualize typical applications with our demonstrators at trade shows all over the world and seek to anticipate potential usage scenarios.

“For instance, for Hermann Waldner GmBH & Co. KG, a German supplier for process systems in the pharmaceutical, chemical, and food industries, Festo has developed and implemented a superconducting contactless balance to an isolator. Measuring the weight of goods can now be realized with the weighing pan inside and the balance outside of the well-controlled interior through the solid bottom plate of the isolator. This application prototype was first demonstrated in mid-2018 and is currently under joint development.”

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