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Magnetic levitation movers increase transport flexibility

Magnetic levitation movers increase transport flexibility

Contactless movers, floating above tiles that are simply clicked together to make a track, will open up new possibilities for flexible manufacturing and packaging lines in industries such as pharmaceuticals, electronics and chemicals.

As a pioneer in linear transport systems, Beckhoff has seen its XTS define a new era in machine design, enabling increased flexibility on production lines and manufacturing operations. Now the company is introducing another alternative for transporting parts through the production process, in the form of the XPlanar – a transport system that uses magnetic levitation as its operating principle.

Opening up new possibilities in machine design, an XPlanar system comprises planar movers that float freely on arbitrarily arranged planar tiles, offering flexible, precise and highly dynamic positioning. For machine builders this results in maximum flexibility and simplification in the design of machines and plants.

The XPlanar system combines the individual arrangement of planar tiles with the multi-dimensional positioning capability of the planar movers floating above them. The movers can be moved jerk-free and contact-free in two dimensions at up to 4m/s with 2g acceleration and 50µm positioning repeatability, completely silent and free of any contact. Not only is there no wear, but the system also eliminates emissions and the carryover of contaminations, suiting it to use in hygiene sensitive applications. Indeed, even the planar tiles can be cleaned easily to maintain a hygienic production environment.

Beckhoff says the planar motor system is highly scalable to suit individual needs, and considerably simplifies the design of machines and plants. Due to the maximum flexibility in mover positioning and the very high dynamics it is possible, for example, to divide product flows very simply and individually, so that previously necessary robots or inflexible mechanical devices can be efficiently replaced. That said, the company sees this very much as part a bigger manufacturing solution with robot integration.

The basis of the XPlanar system is the planar tiles, which measure 240x240mm and can be arranged in any desired geometries that are precisely adapted to the application at hand. The tiles contain the entire electronics and support EtherCAT G communication. A freely selectable number of planar movers float above them, made possible by integrated permanent magnets. The movers can be used not only horizontally, but also vertically and even upside down.

Beckhoff has initially introduced a choice of four different sizes of planar movers: 95x95mm for payloads of up to 0.4 kg; 155x155mm for payloads of up to 1.5kg; 155x275mm for payloads of up to 3kg; and 275x275mm for payloads of up to 6kg. The two-dimensional X/Y positioning of the movers is supplemented by further motion functions: lifting and lowering by up to 5mm, optionally including a weighing function; tilting by up to 5° for transporting and handling liquids; and rotation by up to ±15° or up to 360° above special planar tiles

The collision-free and synchronised movement of several movers with automatic path optimisation are further features provided by the TwinCAT automation software. The movement of several movers together in a group, for example, allows the maximum payload to be increased.

XPlanar is suitable for use as a highly flexible transport system in general machine building, especially for the automation of packaging, assembly, sorting and order picking processes. The free choice of surfaces – easy-to-clean glass, stainless steel in hygienic design or plastic film – enables the use in the clean room, and in the pharmaceutical and food industry as well as in a vacuum.

Beckhoff has had systems in operation in Germany with three beta testers, with extremely favourable results. And the company has been producing plug and play starter kits since the product’s launch at the SPS/IPC/Drives show in November. However, Beckhoff reports that it has already sold its entire production capacity for 2019.

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