Particularly in the field of precision manufacturing, many companies have neither the necessary personnel nor the corresponding vertical integration to develop mechanics and control systems in parallel. Solutions are also becoming smarter and more complex, meaning that a single company can no longer master all the implementation steps. As a result, the supplier’s expertise is becoming increasingly important. And this is where Aerotech’s real work begins: after a detailed integration consultation, customers receive either individual components, a seamlessly integrated subsystem or a complete automation solution. Application training, training courses and services round off the range of services on offer.
Aerotech has been supplying standard product solutions such as motors, drives, controls and positioning tables since 1970. Customised motion subsystems include positioning systems on granite structures with undercarriage and vibration isolation as well as external measurement systems. The integrated systems are almost turnkey machines that have been developed together with the customer for the implementation of an automated process. These include not only precision components manufactured in-house for motion control, but also complete automation integration for e.g. parts handling, process instruments, safety elements and customised software.
Developing holistic processes
“Over the past few years, we have worked closely with customers from a wide range of industries and have progressed further and further into the field of process automation,” says Simon Smith, European Director at Aerotech. When it comes to drive components and control elements in particular, the motion control experts now have a high level of vertical integration. Thanks to the accumulated application knowledge from the individual industrial sectors, the right components for the right use in the application can be recommended after a short time. The ideal solution is then developed together with the customer. “As a manufacturer of automation systems, we support manufacturing companies holistically from the initial idea through to implementation. We therefore always ensure that our customers can optimally automate their process with the precision motion systems we manufacture.”
Working together to find the best solution
Aerotech thus offers its customers the complete spectrum of integration options, from low integration, i.e. only motion components, to high integration, i.e. only motion components. This clearly sets the motion control experts apart from standard suppliers or traditional integrators. “Some customers want to build the machine themselves, while others are not entirely comfortable with this option,” Simon Smith knows from numerous projects. “We are flexible in our approach and work closely with customers to find the best solution for their requirements. For example, if we develop a turnkey system for one of our customers, we see this as a partnership. The customer knows the application and understands the process for manufacturing their part – we are experts in correctly categorising the customer’s process in order to build a machine based on it that carries out this process with the highest accuracy and the highest possible throughput.”
Laser precise control of processes
The basis for all this is Aerotech’s philosophy of vertical integration, which has matured over many years and makes it possible to be flexible and at the same time guarantee quality and performance at all levels of the machine. Aerotech manufactures its own drives, motors, controls and positioning mechanics, so the experts know exactly how they work together and within a machine, interact with each other and within a system. This enables the team to adapt and optimise a machine so that it produces the best possible output during operation.
For example, if it is a laser process in which the laser beam needs to be deflected as quickly and precisely as possible, the experts at Aerotech work out which axes are suitable for this in combination with which galvo scanner.
“We can then prepare this accordingly so that the customer ultimately only has to couple in their laser and control it,” explains Simon Smith. “They may also use our control platform to control their lasers and complete their laser system straight away.”
Exactly what is needed
In addition, customised specifications can be incorporated into the subsystem that go far beyond Aerotech’s component level. For example, if the customer uses a control cabinet, the Aerotech control electronics can be flexibly integrated into it. Other elements, such as those required to control the laser when measuring parts, can also be installed in the control cabinet.
On the mechanical side, Aerotech also supplies partially integrated systems, which the customer only has to complete. If an adjustment system on granite is required for the machine, for example, the experts prepare this for the customer. The user can then integrate other additional applications such as laser beam guidance or sensor technology as required. “These are tasks that we are faced with here every day,” emphasises Simon Smith. “The aim is to offer the customer a freely expandable solution that is ready for use as quickly as possible without much effort and can also be flexibly adapted to future process requirements.”
However, the first step towards actual integration at Aerotech always begins with a detailed application consultation. Customers also learn that Aerotech control technology can be used to move far more than the 6 axes of a hexapod positioning system, for example. If, for example, the laser needs to be triggered depending on the position of the hexapod and pulse-fire at a certain point, this can be realised using the Automation1 control platform. In this way, the entire process can be operated from a central control unit. Measurement processes can also be triggered via the Automation1 platform in such a way that measured values are also processed and stored via analogue inputs so that the entire result is stored in a central control unit.
Ahead in medical technology too
Over the years, Aerotech has also become one of the main suppliers of motion control systems in the medical technology sector. The growing portfolio includes laser welding and stent cutting solutions as well as matching motion systems and components, which, according to Aerotech, can increase throughput by a factor of two to five with maximum precision. Other examples from the medical technology segment include stent cutting, pacemaker laser welding systems and the production of intraocular lenses (IOLs) and contact lenses, positioning systems for DNA and blood sequencing, haptic milling cutters and drills, positioning systems for X-ray machines, magnetic resonance tomographs and CAT scanners.
Simon Smith concludes by emphasising: “Our entire business strategy is geared towards close cooperation and giving our customers a long-term competitive advantage in their respective market segments. That’s why we ask intensively in advance what is to be achieved. In this way, we penetrate deeper and deeper into the actual application. Ideally, we can offer the customer a system where everything is already prepared so that all they have to do is configure their machine.”