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Motion technology for art installation

Motion technology for art installation Commissioned by Steinmetz Diamonds and created by the internationally famous artist Ron Arad, 'Last Train' is an interpretation of the 'strength of raw diamonds'. Using the visually impressive properties of LED edge illuminated glass, a composite cast of Arad's clenched fist with a striking Steinmetz diamond ring etches an enlarged replica of a work produced in real-time by an artist using an iPad on to a 875mm by 1155mm sized lead-glass panel - by way of a custom mechatronics positioning system.

'Last Train' was inspired from a mesmerising encounter on a railway platform in Naples where, just missing his last train, Arad witnessed a man in a slowly disappearing carriage etching the most amazing drawings onto a glass window using a ring on his fist. Currently on exhibition at the 55th Vienna Biennale in Italy until 24th November 2013, the complete installation includes the actual production equipment and original glass etched works by the artist.

Heason Technology was called into the project to design and build a creative solution for the motion system after an initial prototype had confirmed but not refined the performance or dynamic aspects of the artwork as envisaged by the artist. The basic concept called for the iPad app to output coordinate touchscreen information from the artist's work via an ad hoc Wi-Fi network to a PC program which then interpreted the information into a 2-axis positioning system, with a third axis used to position the fist and its diamond ring on and off the glass plate.

Improving on the prototype
The original motion system, based on stepper motors, was erratic in operation and did not transfer the etched information to the glass as fast or as smoothly and accurately as required. A solenoid used to position the diamond on the glass proved difficult to control and caused a worrying shock to the glass as it was 'fired' into the etching position. Furthermore, the H-frame gantry positioning system did not allow the diamond to cover the total area of glass, limiting the visual impact of the artworks. Finally, all of the drive and control electronics could not be housed inside the cabinet.

Using its full resources as a designer and builder of bespoke motion systems and with the full support of its distribution partners, Heason was able to supply a complete system in time for the Biennale. Using an extruded aluminium profile base frame, the use of M55 series Movopart belt driven linear positioning slides from Thomson in an 'I' frame arrangement with two synchronised parallel horizontal axes supporting a single vertical traversing axis allowed the fist and diamond to reach all parts of the glass.

With the main mechanical system design in place, the drives, EMC filters, motion controller, computer, Wi-fi components and interfacing panel could be placed around the cabinet. It was inevitably decided that to achieve the speeds and dynamic performance required, a servo motor based system would be best employed. ABB's NextMove e100 multi-axis motion controller using its integrated Ethernet POWERLINK network for motion synchronisation was chosen for its programming and installation simplicity.

A MINT program on the multitasking NextMove e100 motion controller receives real-time linear position coordinates and etching axis on/off information from a C++ program on the PC that interprets the separately commissioned iPad app. This multiple move information is stored in the MINT program's move buffer and may be advanced and started on demand - streaming these positions through the program to create the smooth coordinated and contoured motion that recreates the artist's work. The parallel axis synchronisation was easily taken care of using MINT with a feature added during the start-up procedure that self-aligns the axes using a modified datum command.

The third axis motion for etch on/off is taken care of through a separate brushless DC motor and drive using the NextMove e100's torque limiting feature - neatly enhancing the simple on/off input command to soften the impact when placing the diamond on the glass.
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