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Festo floats three superconducting ideas at Hannover

10 April, 2015

At next week’s Hannover Fair, Festo will be demonstrating its latest ideas for using superconductor technology in industrial applications. In three different demonstrations, it will show how superconductors can be used: to store and move objects on suspended rollers (in effect, acting as superconducting bearings); to transport workpieces using a rotating helical conveyor shaft; and to achieve contact-free transfer of objects from one automation module to another.

For several years, Festo has been investigating and demonstrating potential industrial applications for superconductor technologies. It says that is now close to using some of the technologies in real applications.

“We are now not merely showing impressive levitation effects and the opportunities offered by superconductor technology, but are actively discussing their potential together with the automation industry,” reveals Festo’s head of strategic corporate development, Georg Berner. “We are currently working towards initiating our first pilot projects.”

Festo’s demonstrations do not exploit the ability of superconductors to carry large currents with almost no resistance. Rather, they make use of another superconducting phenomenon ­– their ability to make themselves or a permanent magnet hover at a fixed distance in any plane. This allows objects to be held in position or moved without making physical contact, without needing much power and without requiring control electronics.

The first of this year’s demonstrations (starting at 2:40 in the video above) is called SupraCarrier, and consists of two superconducting cryostats mounted on an electrical axis, with magnetic transport rollers held in suspension above them. A flat workpiece carrier rests on the rollers. The axis moves the superconductor elements horizontally. Between the superconductors and the suspended rollers is a cover plate with openings through which the rollers are retracted when the cryostats are lowered. The workpiece carrier then lies on top of the cover plate. Similar suspended transport rollers could be used to move flat, non-ferromagnetic products of all sizes, says Festo.

In Festo's SupraCycle demonstration, glass vials are transported from one process to another without making physical contact

The second demonstration (at 4:11 in the video) is called SupraHelix and uses two cryostats with superconductors that are located next each other on a semi-rotary drive. When the superconductors are cooled to below their transition temperature – the extremely low temperature (around –180°C) at which they lose all electrical resistance – they suspend a conveyor shaft incorporating permanent magnets below them and keep it at a distance of 8mm from them. The semi-rotary drive keeps the shaft is inclined at an angle of 40 degrees. A permanently excited stepper motor rotates the shaft without making contact, allowing it to convey metal rings upwards along its thread. The demonstration thus shows how ring-shaped workpieces could be transported from one processing station to the next.

The final demonstration, called SupraCycle (6:00 in the video), will show a suspended permanent magnet being transferred from one automation module to another. Three rotatable cryostats are installed on a baseplate. Two magnetic object carriers are suspended in the cryostats a few millimetres away from superconductors, and then transferred in turn from one cryostat to the other.

The SupraCycle could be used to transfer objects without making contact with them. In the Hannover demonstration, these objects are glass vials. Festo says that the technology could be used to create process chains of any length.

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