Fagor Automation, a company at the forefront of technological innovation, has been collaborating in the Laser4Surf project. The aim of the project is the industrialization of the material surface treatment process during lasers with femtosecond pulses.
For 45 years, Fagor Automation has been a leading single source provider for automation products, controls, motors, drives…including high accuracy linear and angular encoders. needed for the machine from the. Accuracy is guaranteed with Fagor Automation encoders; thus a long and careful process is required to achieve reliable results. Now, an international research initiative called Laser4Surf (short for Laser for Mass Production of Functionalized Metal Surfces) has made significant strives to improve Fagor Automations process of manufacturing encoders. This project will have several benefits for linear and angular encoders including:
- Faster and more efficient production of the scales
- Increased repeatability
- A chemical free process that is better for the environment
Fagor Linear and Angular Encoders
Positioning encoders are used in a wide range of industries such as aerospace, automotive, electronics, manufacturing, medical, metrology and renewable energy. For example, the aerospace industry uses encoders to provide position feedback in antenna positioning systems, airborne guidance systems, X-Y positioning in automated assembly systems and even baggage handling systems. One of the most common applications for encoders is the manufacturing industry, ensuring machine tools are able to make parts with the tightest tolerance possible. There are two categories for these encoders, linear (measuring nanometric distance) and angular (measuring nanometric degrees of rotation).
Encoders are also crucial to positioning the many antennas that are used in giant telescopes. At the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) observatory in the Atacama Desert, northern Chile, angle encoders are used to position 25 antennas that form one of its arrays. Each antenna weighs several tons, so exact positioning is critical as even the slightest imprecision distorts results, leading to blurred images. “Encoders are one of the most enabling key technologies for measuring distance and displacements, and all industries are interested in using them,” says Morlanes.
Traditionally, scale gratings on Fagor encoders have been produced through a process called Photolithography. In this case, Photolithography involves UV light traveling through a cut pattern in a mask to the steel tape, reacting with chemicals to imprint an image of the pattern to the tape. Lithography is able to consistently produce an accurate pattern of 1nm. However, the process has several drawbacks. It’s time consuming, uses many chemical processes, and a master pattern mask must be replaced very often to ensure accuracy and repeatability.
Laser4Surf is an EU funded research project aiming to remove technical and economic barriers that prevent the use of laser technologies for obtaining functionalized metallic surfaces with textures ~1μm or less on mass production. Eight organizations from five countries contribute their skills and resources to the project, including Fagor Automation. The development of this system is continuously being tested in three different industrial sectors:
- Energy sector: to increase the efficiency of battery electrodes
- iotechnology sector: to improve the biocompatibility of medical prostheses
- Manufacturing sector: to improve the manufacturing of position encoders
Laser4Surf is set to ease the manufacture of both optical linear and angle encoders by replacing the photolithography process. The Laser4Surf system uses a program-controlled ultra-short pulse laser for surface texturing, and this laser source can be used to repeatedly and reliably produce grating features into the encoder.
The Laser4Surf process will also create sub-micron relief structures designed to reduce distracting background light. “We also hope to use this property to increase the optical contrast of our optical signals” says Tomas Morlanes PHD, optical technology manager at Fagor Automation. “Translating this effect to the electronic field will also provide a better signal to noise ratio”.
With the use of the ultra-short pulse laser, Fagor Automation aims to reduce the processing time of the scales by 95%. The process is fast, one step, and is chemical free making the process more “Eco-friendly”.
By participating in this research, Fagor Automation is contributing to the development of laser technologies, as well as a more eco-friendly and sustainable future.