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11 May, 2021

Levitating transport system can operate power-free for 2h

15 April, 2021

At the virtual Hannover Fair, Festo has unveiled a superconductor-based levitating transport system that can be separated from its electrical cooling system and operate autonomously for up to two hours. This will allow contact-free handling and movement of objects and is aimed, in particular, at applications requiring high levels of cleanliness, such as laboratory automation, biotechnology or semiconductor production.

Previous magnetic levitation systems for industrial use have been bulky and have been limited by the need to stay connected to cooling systems that will keep their superconducting components at temperatures below –210°C. With its new SupraCube technology, Festo claims to have overcome these drawbacks by reducing the magnetic levitation to its essentials: a passive magnetic base, and a coupled carrier that levitates above it. This, it says, will lead to new levels of flexibility.

The modular system allows the superconductor to be cooled to -210°C before the cooling system switches off automatically and the SupraCube decouples from it for up to two hours. Once cooled and disconnected from the cooler, the carrier is ready for use. It can be mounted on the end of a robot arm, connected in parallel with other SupraCubes to form a transport system, or even moved to a separate cleanroom.

The magnetic carrier can be separated by 10mm more from its superconducting base – enough to allow it to accommodate partitions that enclose clean or sterile working environments.

While one carrier is being used, the docking station which contains the electrical cryocooler and power supply, can power other modules so that there are always more carriers ready for use. During operation, the SupraCube system is autonomous. It consumes no energy nor and does not need computing power to control its levitation. A high level of insulation allows the superconductivity to be maintained even during downtimes of up to two hours.

Because the SupraCube is passive, there are no interfering cables and no vibrations or electrical noise that could affect sensitive applications. Levitation is achieved without the carrier surface heating up, ensuring that heat-sensitive goods will not be damaged and costly cooling is not needed.

The box-shaped superconducting base with a carrier floating above it being transferred between its docking station and a conveyor

Festo says that the frictionless superconducting levitation technology 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, medical devices and laboratory automation. Minimising the presence of impurities will help pave the way for technologies and products needed for clean, sustainable future applications.

The superconductor used in the SupraCube system can anchor the magnetic field of a permanent magnet inside it, creating a strong but invisible coupling that keeps the magnet and superconductor at a fixed distance from each other, even through walls, in liquids or in a vacuum. As long as it remains below its transition temperature, the superconductor's magnetic memory stores the magnet's fingerprint and thus its position, even if the two are separated.

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The SupraCube carrier even maintains its separation from its base module when being held upside-down



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