Just as 20th Century engineers relied on electric motors, 21st Century engineers are turning to lasers and fibre optics to create machines and technologies that will change the world and redefine life as we know it. Here, Gerard Bush of motion experts INMOCO explains how the precision optical systems required are pushing the boundaries of drives and controls.
Lasers were invented in 1960, and at first nobody could find a use for them. The theory behind optical fibre was postulated in Victorian times, but it was not until 1973 that Gerhard Bernsee of Schott Glass developed a material able to support the concept.
Today, photonics are ubiquitous, embracing everything from normal life to advanced scientific research. Relatively mundane applications include telecommunications, information processing technology and computing, home electronics, lighting, printing, information displays and bar code scanners. In the technical and engineering world lasers and fibre optics are used in metrology, spectroscopy, and holography. In medicine surgery, endoscopy and health monitoring have all been transformed. Today military technology, laser material processing, biophotonics, agriculture, aviation, construction and robotics all rely increasingly on photonics, while artists have a whole new medium with which to produce thought provoking installations.
Challenge and solution
Precision optics applications require smooth, fast motion with high acceleration and short settling times. High resolution and repeatability in a compact, lightweight package are also essential. Traditional mechanical systems do not offer the precision or small system size required, while wear and tear of the components quickly render them insufficiently accurate.
INMOCO and many of its principal partner companies have been working to develop precision motion systems for photonic applications. In one example, a Celera Motion’s Juke Series voice coil actuator and Optira Series encoder were integrated into a compact linear stage platform to deliver the high acceleration, speed and precision movement required.
The Juke Series motor is a simple two wire device that can be controlled with readily available amplifiers and PID controllers. The Optira Series encoder’s five nanometre resolution, one micron accuracy, extremely small 13x11.8mm footprint, and flexible mounting and cabling options enabled high precision motion and easy integration into the small linear stage.
Celera Motion’s Juke and Optira components achieved the specified system performance needs in a compact yet powerful package. The linear stage has even been designed so that can be modified to suite a range of different projects, including mounting locations on both the stage and the moving surface.
Celera Motion (the recently combined businesses of American companies MicroE and Applimotion) also provides fully assembled and tested linear stages and mechatronics packages designed by an expert engineering staff with many years of experience. In many cases, like INMOCO, Celera Motion‘s specialists work closely with customers’ engineers so that solutions are not only arrived at quickly, but are also to the specific application requirements.
INMOCO has been at the forefront of precision motion technologies for three decades, during which time the core technologies have developed in terms of capabilities and accuracy, while the user base has grown from those few applications that could justify high cost equipment and considerable engineering time to a far wider universe that embraces almost all fields of technological endeavour.
Its core product portfolio includes servo amplifiers, position controllers, servo and stepper motors, linear motors, sensors and encoders, electric actuators and mechanical gearheads. However, INMOCO's ability is not only in supplying products, it also provides highly technical application and after sales support, and can incorporate products into customer-specified electromechanical sub-assemblies, and deliver calibration and testing services.
Photonics is a new frontier for engineers and technologists in the UK and around the world across a wide range of industries. It is clear that there are many years of further advancement and development yet to come. Users will need the support of several levels of specialist if they are to realise the potential of the new technologies and progress the state of the art in their chosen fields. Experts from INMOCO and Celera have already put into place the lines of communication that are needed to bring the benefits of photonics and the expertise to support them to the widest possible audience.