Porous Media Air Bearings Expand Roll-to-Roll Manufacturing
You may have noticed that everything is getting smaller and thinner. Phones, computers, TVs, everything we use is being designed with a smaller three-dimensional footprint. This can only be accomplished if all the stuff inside is also getting smaller and thinner. All the materials that go into making circuit boards and other components need a way to be mass produced with high precision. From wearable medical devices to satellite communications, flexible hybrid electronics are the future of the flexible web market.
Many other new technologies can benefit from roll-to-roll processing. Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee has a whole division dedicated to finding new ways to utilize roll-to-roll. Scientists there recently demonstrated that cathode coatings on lithium-ion batteries can be instantly cured to a foil substrate by an electron beam as they move through the production line. This will greatly reduce the cost of producing the batteries since it eliminates the machinery necessary to dry the coatings.
Bringing Roll-to-Roll into the Future
Unfortunately, traditional roll-to-roll manufacturing isn’t really compatible with the tiny, delicate materials necessary to produce the circuitry for high-tech devices or deal with thin materials. Contact with hard roller surfaces can scratch the sensitive circuitry and lubricating machinery is not ideal for cleanroom environments. The high speeds desired are also a problem as thin materials can get snagged on the rollers they contact. There is also the difficulty in keeping the tension of the material consistent throughout the manufacturing process. This is commonly done by sandwiching the material between two rollers, doubling the chances of snags and damage.
This is where air bearings have really changed the game. Materials float over the turns on a cushion of air so there is no contact and no friction between them. But not all air bearings are created equal.
Orifice air bearings force air through machined grooves positioned on the surface of the bearing. Distributing the air evenly over the face of the bearing isn’t easy since holes are only placed in specific places and if scratches appear near the grooves, pressure gradients form causing crashes.
New Way’s Porous Media TechnologyTM completely removes these issues. Air is forced through the naturally porous carbon substrate that comprises our bearings. The winding paths the air must flow through produce a stiff, uniform cushion of air at the surface. Damage to the surface of the bearing doesn’t affect airflow so crashes are a thing of the past.
Three New Way Air Bearings Ideal for the Flexible Web Market
New Way Air Bearings® offers three options to bring roll-to-roll manufacturing into the 21st century.
1. Air Turns
New Way’s Air Turns are cylindrical bearings made from our Porous Media Technology. This distributes a stable, stiff cushion of air over the surface of the air turn. Instead of spinning, the air turn uses the air to gently move flexible substrates over its surface. With no contact or moving parts, maintenance time is drastically reduced. Air turns can also be combined to produce reliable tension in the materials, eliminating the need for turn bars, tension bars, and spreader bars. You can learn more details about our air turns and where they are being used on our blog.
2. Thrust Air Bushings
Thrust Air Bushings can replace traditional spindles with a non-contact, frictionless alternative. A porous media, cylindrical sleeve is encased in aluminum and attached to a porous media thrust face to prevent linear motion. These bushings can be placed on the end of a roller with a spindle to create axial motion. You’ll never have to worry about wear between the rotating components since the moving parts are never in contact.
3. Spherical Air Bearings
If you need precision motion while rolling your materials then Spherical Air Bearings are your answer. Your roller can be attached to a porous media sphere which floats in a spherical bowl. Our spherical air bearings provide infinite resolution and nanometer error motions at high speeds and air stiffness. These bearings can also come vacuum pre-loaded– increasing the positioning accuracy. New Way’s spherical air bearings are also ideal for any application that requires frequent set-up or disassembly of components.