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Air Bearings: Positioning the Automation Industry for the Future

Air Bearings: Positioning the Automation Industry for the Future

Learn Three Benefits of New Way Air Bearings for the Future of Automation

The automation industry boasts a rich history beginning with the first use of the term “automation” in 1948 by Delmar Harder, Vice President of Manufacturing for Ford Motor Company. With electricity, companies were able to utilize machines to automate tasks, creating an assembly line to boost production and minimize labor costs. The automation industry began to take off on its merit to produce robots and machines for the automotive industry and beyond.

Fast forward to the 1960s to see the introduction of computers and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC’s), creating computer-driven automation. Continued advancements in microprocessors, open-source software, and high-speed computers led to major advances in the flexibility of controls systems, allowing for simple programming and optimization of modern robotic automation. Coupled with modern sensor technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and cloud-based communication, automation will become the rule as opposed to the exception even in small scale industrialization. This is the future with Industry 4.0.

Behind the success of the automation industry lies the evolution of its supporting components. Air bearings are one of the components whose history aligns closely with the automation industry.

Let’s take a closer look at how air bearings contributed to the success of the automation industry as well as how air bearings are uniquely positioned to handle the challenges of Industry 4.0.

Air Bearings Fuel Progress of Automation Industry

Coincident with the growth of the automation industry is the history of precision. Early applications of automation required manual inspection for quality and accuracy, which were labor-intensive and inefficient. Advancements in the military and aerospace arenas also demanded increasing levels of precision of parts, which traditional bearings were unable to offer.

One solution to this problem was presented in the form of the first Coordinate Measuring Machine (CMM). The CMM made inspections more efficient, as well as providing a more accurate assessment. Russ Shelton, considered the father of CMMs, was the first to use porous media air bearings in a CMM because of their straighter, frictionless motion providing exceptional precision and reliability.

Another solution was the use of air bearings to guide the ultra-precision diamond cutting of parts for missiles and aircraft. US National Labs led the way in the development of porous media air bearings as a method of removing friction to meet the precision requirements.

Critical to both of these advances was the removal of friction. While ideal, the usage of air bearings was limited. With no standard supplier available, companies needed to custom design their own which was often cost and time prohibitive.

A New Way Forward

In the early 1980s, New Way® Air Bearings predecessor, Aeolus Air Bearings, became the first standard air bearing supplier. Like Shelton and US National Labs, New Way recognized the advantages of porous media and proceeded to implement its Porous Media Technology™ across its entire product line. This unique method to remove friction offers a host of benefits for the automation industry, including:

  1. New Way offers solutions to produce flexible printed circuits requiring extreme precision such as these.Superior Precision
    The even distribution of air creates a surface averaging effect offering nano-level precision with almost infinite resolution, repeatedly.
  2. High-speed Operations
    The removal of friction allows for increases in speed during automated operations. The use of porous media resolves concerns of pressure gradients which can cause instability causing damaging crashes.
  3. Improved Operational Efficiencies
    Burdensome downtime to perform lubrication or part replacement from friction-induced wear is removed, allowing for an overall gain in operations time and production yield.

With a supplier available, air bearings have seen increased use in the automation industry, opening the doors to precision previously unachievable. This precision has enhanced the automation industry’s ability to create and inspect products, often opening doors to new technologies.

Let’s look at five applications capitalizing on these benefits of air bearings in the automation industry.

Five Applications of Air Bearings within the Automation Industry

  1. Flat Panel Glass Production
    From TVs to tablets and phones, flat panels are everywhere, demanding an automated production but also one with precision to support the care and handling of glass without contaminating special coatings. New Way is a leader in the flat-panel industry with an extensive line of Air Bars designed to convey glass with options to utilize vacuum for greater control, including for inspection purposes.
  2. Automotive Quality Testing
    For quality testing, automated inspection equipment needs to obtain a “true” read on a product, demanding even greater precision than the product itself. Companies like +Vantage Systems, who offer metrology and assembly solutions, have found themselves moving away from traditional bearings to air bearings, and specifically to porous media air bearings, for inspection of products like engine cylinder bores, crankshafts, and other automotive components. Solutions other than porous media air bearings are unable to meet the increased precision and tolerance requirements they are presented.
  3. Micro-machining
    The micromachining industry has grown significantly to support many of today’s technologies. New Way Linear Air Slides and Vacuum Preloaded Air Bearings are often used in micromachining because of their superior precision and reliability. The use of air over lubricants make them ideal for clean-room environments.
  4. Semiconductor Production
    The semiconductor industry is the brains behind the advances of technology we now use on a day to day basis. Similar to micromachining, the ultra-precision and clean-room compatibility are why the semiconductor industry is one of the largest users of air bearings.
  5. Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) Production
    FHE is considered a relative newcomer but with a big promise for impacting our future. Air bearings are enabling these flexible sensors/gadgets to go from prototype to mass automated production by overcoming the obstacles of contamination and precision. New Way offers three solutions for flexible roll-to-roll manufacturing, all of which offer non-contact motion with unmatched precision through Porous Media Technology.

Air Bearings: Poised To Address the Future of the Automation Industry

With history as our guide, precision demands on the automation industry will continue to increase as new technologies are launched and integrated as part of Industry 4.0. New Way has the experience and range of products with a frictionless solution to meet your needs! Contact us today to learn how air bearings can position your production for the future of the automation industry!