XPlanar eliminates the need to move the plasma jet; instead, a floating planar mover carries the workpiece exactly into position for precise surface treatment. (Image: Plasmatreat)

At nearly every trade show where Beckhoff Automation presents the XPlanar system, attendees stop in their tracks to watch. They comment on how exciting and interesting the magnetically levitating and flying movers are. And then they ask, “What can you actually do with it?”

For Automate 2023 in Detroit, we provided a real-life answer with the XPlanar-equipped system from Plasmatreat GmbH.

Plasmatreat, a Steinhagen, Germany-based manufacturer of plasma systems for high-efficiency surface treatment and environmentally friendly production processes, recently unveiled a new plasma treatment unit. A key innovation with this treatment unit is that it uses XPlanar, a planar motor system from Beckhoff, to transport workpieces with high precision and flexibility. XPlanar replaces prior systems used to move often sensitive workpieces such as PCBs and eliminates the need to install complex six-axis robots and linear motors.

Plasmatreat’s new plasma treatment unit is highly compact as it no longer requires a six-axis robot or additional linear axes. (Image: Plasmatreat)

The plasma treatment unit can surface-treat a variety of material samples in a two-stage process, according to Jochen Stichling, Head of Design at Plasmatreat. “During the first stage, the substrate is moved under a nozzle for cleaning and activation. During the second, a separate nozzle applies a functional coating,” said Stichling. This, he explained, is where the company focused its innovation efforts: “We wanted a fast, fully programmable, wear-free system to transport the workpieces. And when it came to custom programming of tracks and travel there was no real alternative to XPlanar.”

The XPlanar system consists of planar tiles that can be arranged in any pattern, combined with contactless movers that float over them and provide exceptionally fast, flexible, and precise positioning. The movers operate jerk-free and can travel at speeds of up to 2 m/s; they can also accelerate at 1 g and be positioned with a repeatability of 50 μm — silently, and without wear or abrasion. The system not only supports movement within the x-y space, but it also provides additional functions to allow mover positioning with up to six degrees of freedom when necessary:

  • raising and lowering by up to 5 mm (unloaded)

  • tilting by up to 5° when transporting and handling liquids

  • rotation of +/-5° while moving in XY and 360° when stopped.

The XPlanar system in the Plasmatreat machine consists of six 240 × 240 mm planar tiles and a single planar mover.

At Automate 2023, Beckhoff showcased the XPlanar-equipped Plasmatreat system as a real-world example of how the mechatronics system can redefine what’s possible in material handling and processing. (Image: Beckhoff)

A major advantage Plasmatreat gained by implementing XPlanar is that the plasma jets used to treat surfaces no longer need to be moved and, as a result,can now be installed in fixed mountings. The jets are complex, both mechanically and electrically, and the ability to move the workpieces rather than the plasma jets themselves reduces wear to the feed lines.

Stichling also sees additional benefits from the increased flexibility. “We can attach a variety of material samples to the mover for treatment using just simple adapters,” he said, adding that “We can easily add processing stations alongside the plasma jets — markers for good parts, for instance, or optical sensing heads to conduct full part inspections — and carry workpieces to them flexibly as needed. And XPlanar’s rapid acceleration also lets us move material samples at high speeds; with thin samples, for instance, this helps minimize treatment time with the fixed jet.”

With six degrees of freedom in motion, XPlanar is highly flexible and suitable for the most diverse transport tasks in the widest variety of application areas, extending up to the food, pharma, and lab automation industries. (Image: Beckhoff)

According to Stichling, XPlanar’s functional benefits are proving valuable in a range of applications. “Conventional setups use a six-axis robot or linear motors to move a plasma jet around a stationary workpiece. From a cost perspective, XPlanar comes in somewhere between linear-axis and robotic systems,” ” he said. “With flat parts that don’t require much vertical travel on the z-axis, where robotic systems are usually ideal, XPlanar offers an excellent alternative to gantry-type systems. XPlanar’s advantages in terms of lack of wear, easy cleaning and clean-room compatibility also play out here.”

For Stichling, XPlanar has the potential to optimize plasma surface treatment in two key areas, going forward: direct integration of in-line testing for full inspections during the treatment process, and custom-programmable mover travel routes for end customers.

Another advantage for Plasmatreat was that it took less than two months to integrate the XPlanar system into its machine — not least because Beckhoff was quick to supply the 3D data and the electrical connection information that enabled the company to rapidly incorporate the XPlanar starter kit into its machine design. XPlanar, according to Stichling, has proved to be both robust and reliable. And another advantage, he pointed out, is that the entire plasma treatment cell has now been fully automated using PC-based control, making it a complete system solution from a single source.

This article was written by Jeff Johnson, Mechatronics Product Manager, Beckhoff USA (Savage, MN). For more information, visit here .