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B&R enters the fray for linear motor transport systems

10 May, 2016

Austria’s B&R Automation is the latest company to offer a linear-motor-driven production transport system as a fast, flexible alternative to conventional conveyors. It has joined forces with Canada’s ATS Automation to offer a system called SuperTrak, which it demonstrated at the recent Hannover Fair.

The system, which ATS originally developed for use in-house, carries vertical “movers” along straight or curved linear motor tracks which can be 50m long – or more. The movers’ direction, speed, acceleration and position on the track can be controlled independently. They can carry loads of 10kg or more, travel at speeds of up to 2.5m/s, accelerate at 1g for a 10kg load or 4g for a 10kg load, and stop precisely with a repeatability of ±0.01mm.

The modular track does not need any extra sensors, actuators or mechanical drives. Routing of the movers can be reprogrammed on-the-fly, and the system can be reconfigured for a new application simply by resetting a few commands. A built-in x-axis eliminates the need for lift-and-locate, lift-and-transfer or auxiliary pick-and-place systems, and cuts cycle times.

Track segments and movers can be exchanged without needing to disassemble the track. B&R’s low-latency, real-time control technology will allow the system to be synchronised easily with other systems such as robots.

ATS has been developing the system since 1995 and installed its first production system using SuperTrak in 2002.

B&R’s international marketing manager, Stefan Schönegger, argues that traditional conveyor belts are slow, imprecise and need high levels of maintenance. They are inflexible and are not designed to handle small batches, but “they’re still the standard for industrial transport technology”.

He describes the SuperTrak as a “next-generation conveying system” which offers variable-speed conveying, avoids the need for accelerating or decelerating conveyors, can operate with any batch size (allowing smaller production runs), boosts production speeds by 50% or more, and reduces energy consumption and noise levels. The system handles loads gently and allows rapid changeovers in product formats without needing any mechanical adjustments. SuperTrak will deliver “a new dimension in time-to-market,” Schönegger predicts.

B&R already has some pilot installations operating at customer sites. Its agreement with ATS is non-exclusive.

At the Hannover Fair, B&R was demonstrating the SuperTrak system operating with a pair of robots

The SuperTrak system joins an increasingly competitive field for advanced linear-motor-based transport systems, including:

•  Rockwell Automation’s iTrak system, which it acquired when it bought Jacobs Automation in 2013;

•  Beckhoff’s XTS system;

•  Siemens and Festo’s MCS (multi-carrier system); and

•  Rexroth’s ActiveMover system, which it announced earlier this year and appears to have similar characteristics and specifications to the SuperTrak system.

Rexroth says that the changeover times for its magnetically coupled workpiece pallets are 0.1–0.3s, depending on their size, and that they can achieve time savings of up to 90% compared to conventional transfer systems, resulting in productivity improvements of up to 20%. The vertical pallets can be accessed from any side and deliver a drive force of up to 160N. 

Rexroth's ActiveMover is a recent entrant to the market for linear-motor-based transport systems

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