Levitating into the future

The transport system of tomorrow will be contactless, versatile and simplify processes. Bosch Rexroth is looking ahead to the future with a visionary technology study.

In the factory of the
future, virtually everything will be aimed at achieving maximum mobility and
flexibility. Given the limitations with conventional transport systems, the
question is how agile planning and versatile operations can become reality. A
fascinating study provides the first answers.

Are you levitating or
still just transporting?

In the future, this
question may very well arise in Bosch Rexroth’s dealings with machine
manufacturers and users. The outlook is both fascinating and captivating:
products and materials will levitate autonomously through machines. Turning,
tipping, lifting, “flying” at variable heights – all degrees of freedom will be
available. The basic standard tiles with integrated magnet technology can be
combined in an ad hoc manner to create areas of any size where carriers can
move around freely and autonomously. If this is not revolutionary enough for
you, read on.

A transport system of
this type is able to support processes actively. Simply transporting things
from A to B was yesterday. The consequences? The boundaries of what was
previously possible no longer apply. These five properties are responsible for
this:

1. Free movement, clean
and wear-free

The versatility of the
transport system of the future is based on a number of pillars. The first one
is unprecedented freedom of movement. The technology study from Bosch Rexroth
offers users six degrees of freedom including a variable flying height of up to
20 mm. The carriers in the study can be rotated by 360° freely and endlessly on
every tile and in every position and can also tip. For example, fluids can be
accelerated and decelerated quickly and without splashing in this way. Suitable
for use in clean rooms and vacuums, the contactless system based on magnetic
levitation technology works without wear and abrasion.

2. Autonomous travel on flexible process routes

The second pillar of this groundbreaking flexibility is the tiles’ internal intelligence. Like a traffic control system for autonomous driving, it not only guides the carriers to their next destinations along optimum routes and without collisions. It also allows the versatility needed to personalize products and produce a large number of different product versions in an economical manner. Whether the products involved are prototypes or mass-produced parts including the supply of materials, the transport system of the future will adapt to changing requirements extremely quickly. Movement is the result of control – and not the other way around as it was previously. Or in other words: the user defines the destination and the intelligent tiles produce the movement.

https://www.edge-cdn.net/video_1322073?playerskin=56632

3. Transport and
processes are merging

It is not difficult to
imagine the potential unlocked by connecting adjacent production areas
seamlessly using M2M communication. Ultimately, however, the system must offer
the right level of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. The low maintenance
requirements of the wear-free system and its great flexibility and versatility
along with new possibilities for process support play a crucial role here. For
example, carriers in combination with simple devices can take over simple
processes, replacing smaller work stations or even entire handling robots in
the process. Because transport and processes become more closely interlinked,
it may even be possible to replace a number of conveyor belts in a production
line with a single tile track. To ensure that the carriers can levitate in one
place for long periods of time, no heat must be generated – even when under a
permanent load.

4. Universal and safe

Transport systems of
this type can be used in a very wide range of areas – from assembly and
semiconductor production to the packaging industry. The semiconductor sector
has used magnetic levitation technology for many years, albeit not with this
new level of flexibility. This alone will lead to other exciting applications
in the future. As the study points out, the universal approach with scalable
carrier sizes will make it possible to transport goods of different weights.

Safety also plays a
crucial role in future practicality and market acceptance. For example, it must
be ensured that carriers operating vertically do not drop down even in the
event of a power outage. The solution should also avoid strong permanent
magnets to rule out the risk of crushing during manual handling.

5. Quick engineering
and simulation

Last but not least, the
transport system for the factory of the future should offer seamlessly digital,
straightforward plug-and-run engineering.
After all, this is the only way to ensure that production with its entire tool
chain starting with product development can react quickly enough to changing
requirements. Put simply, the complete task should be solved digitally in an easy-to-use manner, i.e. intuitively and without
time-consuming programming work, before any tile is moved. The Bosch Rexroth
technology study takes into account this aspect through a user-friendly logic
layer across the distributed control system which allows advance simulations
and a straightforward setup with the help of digital assistants.

Conclusion

After
recent innovations such as the flexible transport system FTS, Bosch Rexroth is
now pressing ahead with the next evolutionary stage. On the basis of the
technology study shown, the transport system
of the future impresses not only with its wear-free operation and adaptability.
The new possibilities which result from its enormous freedom of movement and
its ability to support processes are truly revolutionary too. Finally, they
reduce the complexity from previous procedures – with the smallest of
footprints as well as maximum design freedom and cost-effectiveness. What
specific applications can you imagine as a result of the new degrees of
freedom?

Discuss further development with us and suggest specific use cases for
the transport system of the future. We look forward to hearing your views!