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Smaller batch sizes and more frequent changeovers have manufacturers and their OEM suppliers on the search for more flexible, responsive manufacturing solutions. Flexible conveyor systems could potentially play an integral role in these solutions, but have yet to break through to widespread implementation. B&R's mechatronic technologies manager Robert Kickinger explains how SuperTrak is about to change that.

Robert, with a number of linear-motor-driven conveyor systems on the market, why do we still see so few of them in the field?

Robert Kickinger: The systems available so far have a variety of shortcomings that make them unsuitable for industrial usage. They are prone to wear and their maintenance requires extended downtime. A lot of times you have to disassemble the entire track just to replace a component or add a workpiece carrier.

How is it that SuperTrak doesn't suffer these same problems?

Kickinger: With manufacturing solutions specialist ATS on board, we have a very strong partner with many years of field experience. SuperTrak has seen action in many applications across a variety of industries since 2002. The system is already in its third generation, so the technology is fully mature.

Robert Kickinger is B&R's mechatronic technologies manager.

What does that mean, exactly?

Kickinger: SuperTrak is exceptionally reliable, service friendly and readily adaptable. The secondary motor components, called shuttles, can be added or replaced in seconds. Even the electrical components are modular and can be replaced without having to disassemble the track. The low mean time to recovery (MTTR) meets the tough requirements of 24/7 operation. We've made SuperTrak an integral component of our automation system, so our customers gain important benefits from the way it synergizes with the rest of our portfolio.

What kinds of benefits?

Kickinger: With development, simulation, diagnostics and maintenance all handled in Automation Studio, they have a single software tool that covers their entire automation solution. They also only need a single controller. The Automation PC 910 that controls the SuperTrak can also handle the rest of the control tasks for the machine or system. They can even integrate robots without having to add a dedicated controller.

How does that work?

Kickinger: We've worked together closely with robotics manufacturer COMAU to develop a solution called openROBOTICS. Equipped with B&R automation components, the robot mechanics become an integral component of the machine. There's no need for a dedicated robotics controller because the Automation PC handles everything.

How does that help the machine operator?

Kickinger: With no external robotics controller – and thanks to the high power density of B&R's servo drives – the machine footprint shrinks considerably. The solution also allows very tight synchronization between robots and workpiece carriers. The robots can process workpieces while the shuttles are in motion. SuperTrak's extreme precision even makes it possible to eliminate additional processing axes in the direction of the track, since these tasks can be handled by the movement of the shuttles.

How does SuperTrak work?

SuperTrak is a flexible conveyor system based on long stator linear motor technology. The system comprises a motor stator in the form of an oval track and any number of shuttles. The shuttles are held in place on the track by magnetic force alone and are propelled electromagnetically, so there's no need to transfer drive torque to the guide rails via the shuttle wheels. This minimizes frictional wear. The wheels and guide rails themselves are constructed from materials selected to guarantee rugged reliability in industrial applications.

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