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Optifab & New Way: A Spotlight on Air Bearings

Optifab & New Way: A Spotlight on Air Bearings

Optifab 2017 Highlights from New Way

Every two years, a gathering of scientists, engineers, and manufacturers descend on Rochester, NY to participate in North America’s largest optical fabrication event, known as Optifab. Optifab 2017 recently convened from October 16-19, boasting 186 exhibiting companies, and close to 2,000 attendees. The conference is sponsored by the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE) and American Precision Optics Manufacturers Association (APOMA), both of whom have a shared interest in advancing light-based technologies.

SPIE is one of the five members of the National Photonics Initiative (NPI), which was established in 2012 as a result of the National Research Council’s report calling for collaboration of academia, government, and industry to advance photonics technology to maintain competitiveness and national security. Optics and photonics affect our everyday quality of life with the use of products such as:

  • TV
  • Phone
  • Computer
  • Internet

Additionally, services we take advantage of around us utilize optics and photonics, such as:

  • Medical Imaging
  • Energy solutions
  • Government technologies ensuring national security
  • Advanced manufacturing

Recognizing the increase of photonics, Optifab provides an opportunity to advance NPI by providing an environment where people & companies can:

  • Learn about new technologies, trends, and opportunities in the industry
  • Connect with current and future customers
  • Showcase products

Recognizing this growing market, New Way® has been attending or exhibiting at Optifab since 2011. In addition to displaying and providing demonstrations of applicable products, New Way also has engineers available to problem solve with customers. We caught up with New Way’s Technical Sales Manager, Rich Hesse, to hear more about this conference as well as what New Way has to offer the optics industry.

The Draw of Optifab

With more than 25 years of experience, New Way had its beginnings in the metrology world by providing air bearings for Coordinate Measurement Machines (CMM.) New Way knows first-hand the demanding requirements in today’s optics industry for precision and repeatability.

“Over 50 years ago, air bearings revolutionized the CMM by providing straighter and Frictionless Motion®️, resulting in greater precision,” noted Hesse, referring to the Check Mate CMM. Russ Shelton, also known as the father of CMM, was the first to utilize porous media air bearings, the same technology New Way employs. The porous media distributes air through millions of sub-micron holes removing friction and wear providing an even, non-contact surface.

In the past, companies who realized the benefits of air bearings would custom design their own as there were no providers available. New Way’s predecessor company, Aeolous Bearings, removed this burden by becoming the first company to provide a standard line of porous media air bearings.

Now under the name New Way Air Bearings, the company has expanded this line of products with its Porous Media Technology™, meeting needs of the growing optics industry as well as a variety of other industries, such as automotive, turbomachinery, and web handling.

Despite the success and history of air bearings, Hesse explained that not everyone is aware of air bearings and how they can be used in the optics industry: “Knowing our products can help customers meet the stringent precision and performance requirements demanded in the optics industry is what drives us to attend Optifab. We want to equip users with the knowledge and capabilities of air bearings and provide solutions.”

Solutions to Common Challenges Seen at Optifab

Optical metrology systems, one of the many technologies present at Optifab, are heavily utilized in industrial automation and quality inspection, making mechanical stability and reliability a common industry focus. Hesse echoed this sentiment, “The specific need in this industry is accurate positioning and repeatability.”

New Way’s approach at exhibits like Optifab is to explain the capabilities of New Way’s Porous Media Technology. The customers are then able to experience this core technology and its capabilities through demos.

At Optifab, New Way had demos and products for both rotary and linear motion metrology applications on-hand such as:

  • Radial air bearings
  • Linear slides
  • Bushings
  • Air turns
  • Spherical bearings
  • Thrust bushings
  • Spindles
  • VPL bearings
  • Flat and round air bearing pucks

We asked Hesse how he thought New Way was positioned to provide solutions to the challenges he saw at Optifab.

“Our Porous Media Technology is what distinguishes New Way,” Hesse said. There are several advantages porous media technology offers:

  • No Friction
  • No Wear
  • Greater Precision Positioning and Repeatability
  • Smooth & Silent Motion
  • Increased range of speed and acceleration
  • Even Distribution of Air Cushion

“A feature that a lot of people do not realize with the porous media air bearings is that you can also pull vacuum to hold them in place,” he said.

These performance characteristics of New Way’s products make them a superior choice for meeting the challenges of the optics industry.

Forging New Relationships

Exhibitions like Optifab provide an opportunity for New Way to learn about challenges customers are facing. Even though New Way offers a standard line of air bearing products, some clients still need modifications or a completely unique component.

“Customizing products is one of our specialties,” Hesse explained.

He shared one example of an interested client he met at Optifab, Erik Larsen, President of Larsen Equipment Design, Inc..

Erik Larsen experienced first-hand New Way’s ability to customize a solution for him at Optifab. Larsen had never heard of air bearings but noticed a demo of the spherical bearing. He had the opportunity to feel the sphere and how frictionless it was in the tip/tilt direction. Larsen indicated he was looking for this tip/tilt feature to remove “a rigorous physical calibration procedure,” but he also needed the free range of motion offered by the New Way flat pucks.

Hesse proceeded to develop a proof of concept idea with Larsen of placing a spherical air bearing on top of a flat puck to allow the range of motion that he required. Larsen was pleased with this result but had still yet another challenge for Hesse to tackle. Once in position, how could position be held?

“This is where I recommended that he could get to position using positive pressure and once in position he could switch to negative (vacuum) pressure to hold the position. In theory, this was a perfect solution. So, I offered to send him out a demo which consisted of a spherical air bearing coupled to a standard flat bearing, so he could test a proof of concept in order for him to gain confidence without spending money. The proof of concept worked well and produced the results he was trying to achieve,” Hesse explained.

Larsen’s confidence in the demo resulted in an order for a prototype solution. Hesse and New Way continue to work with Larsen on next steps for his project.

Hesse concluded our interview by noting that Erik Larsen’s experience is, “one I see often when people can have the opportunity to see, feel, and experience air bearings.” He went on to emphasize again the importance of exhibitions like Optifab, as it provides an opportunity for New Way to showcase their technology and problem solve with interested customers on site. Hesse recognizes the confidence this gives customers with New Way’s capabilities.

Lighting a New Way Forward

Just as evidenced at Optifab, New Way’s team of engineers work persistently to find a frictionless solution using Porous Media Technology as its foundation. If you are interested in learning how New Way might be able to solve your friction, precision or performance problem, tell us about your optics application. Capitalizing on 30 years of experience working directly with clients, we’re confident we can work with you to integrate a frictionless solution into your system.

Contact us today for a complimentary consultation