Q&A. Festo Updates its Levitation Technology


Courtesy of Festo

Festo announced innovative application concepts for its superconductor technology at SPS. Georg Berner, Project Coordinator for the SupraMotion future concepts, talked to DirectIndustry e-magazine about SupraGripper and SupraMotion.


DirectIndustry e-magazine: What is the technology behind SupraGripper?

Georg Berner: SupraGripper uses superconductors to levitate the gripper modules. Below a certain temperature, superconductor materials can “freeze” the field of a permanent magnet, allowing them or the magnet to hover at a defined distance. The resultant gap remains stable regardless of orientation. The hovering effect is generated by three cryostats containing superconductors which are installed beneath two plates and can be driven upwards or downwards. Thus, the grippers either hover above the plates or under them. In addition, the two plates can be rotated and precisely positioned by means of rotary drives, moving the two grippers from one cryostat to the next.

DI e-mag: How do the grippers work?

Georg Berner: To grasp an object, electrical spools fitted to the cryostats emit an impulse, which either severs the connection to the magnetic gripper elements or restores them, as required. This impulse causes the individual gripper fingers to fold up or down, opening or closing them.

[Watch our report from SPS 2015]

DI e-mag:  Can you tell us about the SupraTube?

Georg Berner: A round cryostat with superconductors is attached to the outside of each end of a liquid-filled glass tube. Inside the vertical tube is a magnetic puck that is held between the two cryostats without physical contact, and with a levitation gap of around five millimeters. It is initially suspended beneath the upper cryostat. A magnetic ring surrounding the cryostats is made to rotate by a stepper motor, transferring the motion to the suspended magnet. The magnet is repelled by the cryostat via an electrical impulse and spirals downward. At the lower end, it is captured once more and centered by the superconductor in the other cryostat.

DI e-mag: What are the possible applications for the automation industry?

Georg Berner: SupraGripper technology could enable objects to be grasped and transported within enclosed spaces, a practical solution for clean rooms or for working in liquids, gases or a vacuum. In a slightly modified SupraTube configuration, drive units with superconductive magnetic couplings could be fitted along the longitudinal axis of the tube to draw a cleaning unit through it, entirely without contact. Alternatively, the contents of a closed container—for example, hazardous substances or explosive gases—could be set in rotation.

About the Author

Abigail Saltmarsh is a freelance journalist with 25 years’ experience for industry publications (Packaging Europe) and national magazines (The New York Times, International Herald Tribune).

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