Back to Page 1 of 2 … || Acquisitions in the motion-component supplier space have let some bring integration of specialty subsystems under one roof. “PI recently added a motion-systems engineering group (ACS Motion Control) specialized in high-speed air-bearing positioning systems. By fully controlling the design and manufacturing of the mechanics, controllers, drivers, and software, we can provide integrated solutions with higher performance. The customer sees reduced risk, cost and time to market — and only has to talk to only one partner for answers and support,” said Vorndran of PI.
Taking the lead: Industries spurring most change in stage and gantry design
All industries are changing due to the demand for faster throughput, higher yields, and more accurate processes. “High-tech industries such as semiconductor, medical, and research, are always pushing technology — and customers here are asking for customization to make their machine, process, or system better,” Brian O’Connor, director of product and market development, Aerotech.
Customization of components themselves is giving OEMs and plant engineers competitive advantage. After all, off-the-shelf components are the building blocks of machines or systems — but sometimes don’t let machine builders get exactly what they need. “So we have systems and applications engineering teams that dedicate their time to servicing this need for custom motion systems,” added O’Connor of Aerotech.
Others identified significant changes in automotive manufacturing — especially in the demand for more flexibility. “We’ve seen a large shift over the past few years in the automotive industry — from fixed indexing devices to programmable solutions,” said Halliburton. This shift is industry-wide … with OEMs and their tier suppliers. “Most likely the trend is due to the machine being very versatile in terms of loading capacities as well as being a future asset for reuse in future applications,” he added.
Automotive manufacturing is also demanding higher-precision motion setups. “We provide solutions for myriad industries — though in the past, our precision positioning systems were considered overkill for the automotive industry. Now that’s changing,” said Vorndran of PI. “So we’re seeing a new demand for hexapod parallel robots in automotive manufacturing, because traditional robots can’t provide the required precision for some newer motion tasks.”
Automakers are also leveraging the increased reliability of today’s indexing tables. “A few years ago, a large automobile manufacturer contacted us to look at replacing some older indexing units, as they had constant failures quarterly,” said Halliburton of Motion Index Drives.
“We found the inertial load on the existing indexing devices to be extremely high — greater than 409,200,000 lb-in.-in (120,000 kg-m-m). To solve the issue, we used one of our larger TMF series index drive, driven by a high-efficiency helical bevel-gear reducer with integral ac motor and absolute encoder.”
The motor is controlled via a high-performance closed-loop VFD.
“10 years ago, we would’ve been unable to solve their problem, as the loading on the power-transmission index drive would’ve been too much for the traditional fixed-style index drives. In addition, the index time would’ve been impossible, as the required would’ve exceeded any possible solution available then,” explained Halliburton.
But the manufacturer’s modern programmable index drives with modern controls let it boost loading and speed capabilities in a reliable solution that delivers consistent running without downtime.
Elsewhere, the electronics industry pushes the envelope for precision motion design — as for better galvanometers, for example. Galvanometer scanners are electromechanical devices that track current through a mirror-deflected light beam. They’re used in general manufacturing and material-processing applications involving lasers — including welding, cutting, and marking.
“Our controller has a feature called Infinite-Field-of-View (IFoV) that lets designers use galvanometer systems combined with servo stages to get large field-of-view processing with high accuracy and throughput,” explained O’Connor of Aerotech. “We’ve put significant effort over the last few years into making the most accurate galvo system commercially available. A decade ago, galvanometers had 10s or even 100s of micrometers of image-plane accuracy. But now (using precision engineering principles) we offer a thermally-stable ultra-precise galvanometer scanner with single-digit micrometer accuracy over 100s of mm field-of-view.”
Combining this highly accurate scanner with IFoV has enabled new applications in fields such as electronics manufacturing and direct laser sintering. Customers no longer need to sacrifice laser-spot or field-of-view size to get the needed performance, added O’Connor.
Another electronics-industry example also involves expanded use of lasers. Demand for higher data-communication bandwidth and faster computing (and the need for energy efficiency) has driven the electronics industry to integrate lasers and optical components into silicon wafers. “This is called silicon photonics or SiP,” said Vorndran of PI. “Industrial production of SiP components needs automated test and packaging equipment two to three orders of magnitude more accurate and speedy than current electronic wafer probing and packaging.” Now application engineers integrate hexapod alignment systems and ultra-fast piezo-driven scanning and alignment systems to produce these next-generation computer chips.
Others agreed that integrated photonics is a hot market right now. “Putting more features in a smaller area is exactly the mantra of the semiconductor and electronics markets,” concurred O’Connor of Aerotech. Now, suppliers are combining these semiconductor and electronic devices with waveguides and other photonic devices to make an integrated photonics package. “With this miniaturization comes packaging and device-manufacturing challenges. Motion components and systems used in the manufacturing and testing of these components require exacting precision and typically some level of customization to meet the needs of the end customer.”
Other trends in stages for nanopositioning continue unabated. “On one hand, we see a need for complex turnkey systems. On the other hand, we see demand for extremely small components — miniaturized motors, actuators and stages that cannot be met with traditional electromagnetic designs,” noted Vorndran of PI. Here, piezo-electric motors such as inertia drives provide the basis for ultra-small designs with minimized power consumption and excellent size-to-force ratio. Piezomotors are also self-clamping — so once a position is reached, no power is required to hold it.
IoT and 3D printing affecting stage and table design
Burgeoning applications incorporating Internet of Things (IoT) functionality as well as additive manufacturing or 3D printing are changing the design and application areas for stages as well. New additive-manufacturing applications need high-precision motion control. But there’s another effect on the industry.
“3D printing in the past few years has become an indispensable tool in system design and motion design. With 3D printing, miniature scaled prototypes of any motion system can be made — and all designs can be validated for clearances in a dynamic mode … as well as prove the process,” said Halliburton of Motion Index Drives.
3D-printed parts can also let designers and engineers visualize how things in motion will be manufactured to clear cables, hoses, and other items inside a machine. “Designers’ use of new materials greatly impact our motion design as well. Proliferating use of lighter materials in automation such as aluminum and UHMW allow for smaller and faster indexing devices to comparable designs made of steel,” Halliburton added.