Manufacturing industry: maglev could replace conveyor belts in factories

Manufacturing industry: maglev could replace conveyor belts in factories

In a typical factory, parts are moved throughout the facility on conveyor belts, to be picked up and manipulated by either teams of workers or, more frequently these days, by robots. According to a recent piece in Phys.org, a team at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) and National University of Singapore have developed a maglev system that could replace the conveyor belts, creating great flexibility in the manufacturing process.

Maglevs, which use embedded magnets to levitate objects, are most associated with high-speed rail technology. However, the technique is being used to move and manipulate objects with a greater degree of flexibility and accuracy than ever before. The system can produce lineal and rotational movement in all three dimensions on a nano-scale precision. In a factory, such a system would be able to move several objects in any direction simultaneously to any location in the facility that is desired. Conveyor belts can only move objects from one point to another in one direction.

The one significant advantage of a factory that uses maglevs to move things around instead of conveyor belts is that when needs change, say if the facility is being retooled to build some other product, the process would cost less, likely just a matter of installing new software. The disadvantage, for the time being, is that the maglev process is energy intensive. The research and development team in Singapore is exploring that problem, working in the selective switching of electricity from and to different magnetic coils, making the system more energy efficient.

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