Mechatronics – Controlling machines with hardware and software
At NTS we develop and manufacture precision equipment for semicon, analytical & life sciences, digital printing and industrial markets. In case of production equipment, in most cases the throughput is dominant, and therefore the acceleration, speed and accuracy of motion. Accuracy is typically in micrometers. In the case of metrology equipment, in most cases the accuracy is in 6 degrees of freedom, sub-micron or even nanometers, but at lower speeds.
Examples of modules and systems developed by NTS are stages and handlers carrying a wafer or other substrate, optical columns with adjustable optical elements, industrial robots taking care of product handling inside a machine, and arrays of printheads in industrial printers. Good examples are the combinations of the above into a complete industrial inkjet printer with over 50 printheads or metrology machines with over 25 motion controlled axes.
"As your partner, NTS implements mechatronics system solutions consisting of custom made precision mechanics, off the shelf and (semi-)custom actuation, off the shelf sensors, and re-usable motion control hardware and software building blocks"
- Sander Gielen, Manager System Engineering
Multidisciplinary product development teams for customer specific design
A common denominator between above applications is that the mechanical hardware is a customer specific design, due to customer-specific requirements like the required degrees of freedom, geometric and volume requirements, dynamic behaviour, interfaces to other modules and parts, and additional requirements such as cleanliness, thermal behaviour, manufacturability and costs.
Based on system requirements such as machine dynamics behaviour and the derived mechanical stiffness and eigen-frequencies, as well as the product- and NRE costs, NTS creates a multidisciplinary product development team. It includes team members from the NTS manufacturing organization to leverage the best matching manufacturing technologies. For example a machine frame can be either a milled or a welded frame, each having their own cost- performance ratio.
Actuation of precision hardware
For actuation of precision hardware, NTS has a catalogue of proven actuation technologies such as electromagnetic, linear or piezo actuators, or the combination of these. We strive to use existing off the shelf actuators, yet in some cases we customize the design in dialogue with customer and suppliers. In parallel we explore new technologies like thermal actuation for specific high precision applications as an alternative for piezo actuators.
Like for actuation, NTS is well-acquainted with a wide range of sensors typically used in industrial motion and control systems. Position sensing of the hardware we typically do with off-the-shelf sensor modalities which are selected for the given application such as encoders, interferometers or cameras. For closed loop position control we use either our high-end, mid-end or low-end in house developed motion platform, and design PID and Iterative Learning Control (ILC) controllers. For example in a digital printer, the print heads control and the substrate handler control can have their specific hardware- and software design, but are still in governed by NTS’ proprietary building block architecture.
What do we offer?
NTS provides mechatronics solutions consisting of precision mechanics, actuation, sensing and control loops that meet your specific required mix of performance, time to market and product cost criteria. NTS' mechatronic solutions are targeted to your application and business case. This is achieved by:
- Balancing the needs on accuracy, throughput and other system specifications via trade-offs between hardware and software implementations of specific machine functions.
- Offering a portfolio of motion control hardware and software reusable building blocks. Hardware from third party vendors enabling access to state-of the art technology, shorter time to market, less design risk, and worldwide availability of spare parts.
- Offering multi-disciplinary design teams including precision mechanics designers. Our teams have direct access to their colleagues in NTS factories to ensure the optimal manufacturing technology and future cost of ownership
What can you expect?
- A proven NTS Product Creation Process and underlying design workflows to specify, design and realize the customer product
- NTS proprietary Matlab toolboxes for system dynamics and control design, which are equipped with interfaces to tool suites of commercial CAD and FEM tooling vendors
- System architects, mechanical designers, electronics and control designers fully integrated in multidisciplinary and co-located design teams determined to meet customer’s challenging market introduction time lines.
- Through re-use of existing building blocks, the control software is being created in parallel with the hardware design, enabling faster time to market at lower costs.
Product compliance integrated in the design process
NTS incorporates product compliance into product development right from the first draft of a machine design. This relieves customers of having to map out all the risks, amending the design to those and making all the necessary documentation available. The chance of needing to redesign is thus prevented, and with it additional costs and loss of valuable time-to-market.
Complementary software competences
When developing high precision equipment, design teams sometimes enter the limits of what is possible in terms of hardware, either from technical point of view, or from cost point of view. Rather than designing very accurate but expensive components, sometimes it’s better to realize the overall specification partly in software. That is why we have a dedicated software team in place.
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