Aerotech: Precision, Automation, Excellence in Manufacturing

by Simon Smith, European Director Aerotech


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.”