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Highly Repeatability Magnetic Levitation Part Transportation – New Era for Manufacturing

ABB is partnering with Planar Motors Inc. (PMI) to expand its machine automation offering: The integration of PMI’s magnetic levitation technology into the company’s Machine Automation Division’s (B&R) portfolio will accelerate industry’s transition from strictly linear production to an open, adaptive manufacturing space. This will support manufactures in the transition to highly flexible and precise manufacturing in response to the fundamental shift to batch size one production and shorter product lifecycles. Furthermore, ABB has taken a significant equity stake in PMI as part of the agreement.

PMI, founded in 2017 as a startup is based in Vancouver, Canada. It is the global leader in magnetically levitated planar motors, designing and producing smart conveying robot systems. PMI’s intelligent shuttle technology has been integrated into B&R’s portfolio and launched under the product name ACOPOS 6D. It will offer B&R customers the highest flexibility in manufacturing, assembly, and packaging.

ACOPOS 6D is a rail-free product transportation system, with intelligent shuttles that move independently between stations, without being bound to a rigid, sequential production flow. The ACOPOS 6D shuttles are contactless, noiseless and precise, gliding freely above a surface, accelerating and maneuvering in every direction with six degrees of freedom – they can even move vertically on walls. The company states that the rail-free ACOPOS 6D system, can carry loads weighing from 0.6–14kg at speeds of up to 2m/s with a positioning repeatability of ±5µm, heralding z “a new era for manufacturing”. The micron level positioning repeatability makes ACOPOS 6D perfectly suited for applications with strict positioning requirements including inspection in the assembly of mechanical and electronic components.

ACOPOS 6D is fully integrated in the B&R ecosystem. That allows the shuttles to be synchronized with servo axes, robots, track systems and machine vision cameras with microsecond precision. Path planning for the shuttles occurs in a dedicated controller, connected to the machine network via POWERLINK – which means it has no impact on the performance of the network or machine control system. For systems with more than 200 segments or 50 shuttles, multiple controllers can be synchronized with each other.

With no mechanical friction or resulting contamination, the technology is particularly timely given rapid shifts in manufacturing accelerated by the current pandemic and the need for a sterile environment in industries that are accelerating automation as a result.

Similar to automated guided vehicle systems (AGV’s), users benefit from the freedom of movement of objects carried within or between several machines. With ACOPOS 6D, machines can simultaneously manufacture different product variants or even entirely different products, with each shuttle able to navigate its own way through the production process, amongst a swarm of other shuttles, taking its individual product on a unique path to the stations it needs for customized production.

“With ACOPOS 6D we are once again pushing the boundaries of technology by capitalizing on our strong partner network. The capability of ACOPOS 6D delivers unprecedented flexibility for a wide range of industries, allowing sectors such as healthcare and pharma to benefit from our flexible manufacturing solutions,” said Sami Atiya, President of ABB Robotics & Discrete Automation. “Through our partnership, we are complementing our industry-leading robotics and machine automation portfolio and fostering our position as the only company to offer machine manufacturers and industrial customers the entire range of integrated hardware and software solutions from a single source.”

Xiaodong Lu, President and co-founder of PMI, said: “Partnering with ABB will ensure we can further develop our technology and revolutionize industrial manufacturing. Our technology will work seamlessly with ABB’s machine automation solutions, allowing customers to benefit from unrivaled flexibility, precision and intelligence. We are excited to jointly continue the success story of our technology together with ABB’s global presence and domain expertise.”

B&R is a unit of ABB’s Robotics and Discrete Automation business and a global technology leader in machine automation. It combines state-of-the-art technology with advanced engineering to provide customers in virtually every industry with complete solutions for machine and factory automation, motion control, HMI and integrated safety technology.

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