New Way Develops The Right Solution For Unique Applications
Throughout our history, New Way Air Bearings® has been proud to support our customers through the wide variety of standard products we offer. But, sometimes there simply isn’t an off-the-shelf product that meets your needs. For all of these situations, New Way sees challenges as opportunities and offers turnkey services for custom air bearing solutions.
We’ve been privileged to provide our customers with solutions customized to their exact needs. And, looking into 2021, we foresee a number of industries where our custom products can empower the next generation of innovative technologies.
On the Hawaiian Islands in the city of Kamuela is the Keck Observatory. Here, the observatory’s telescopes are often lauded as “The world’s most productive optical and infrared telescopes.” When Ean James, staff mechanical engineer for Keck Observatory was tasked with updating the observatory’s azimuthal encoder, he knew he needed a revolutionary technology.
The azimuthal encoder is the heart of the observatory’s telescopes and allows for precise angular measurements within a spherical coordinate system. This encoder tracks azimuth and elevation, and in turn, allows for positioning the telescopes to observe astronomical phenomena.
The observatory’s original encoder used a mechanical rolling-track system, and while it was an acceptable solution when the facility was first opened, it became more and more cumbersome over time. The inevitable wear and tear—which affects every contact system—came into play, causing motion slips due to oil on the tracks and frictional wear on contact components. The Keck team found themselves spending more and more time trying to acquire their targets, time which detracted from their actual mission.
The Keck team identified a new encoder technology, but the new encoder would be all but useless unless the components providing rotary motion could match it’s accuracy, while simultaneously reducing vibrations. James and his team worked with New Way, developing a rotary solution utilizing flat round and radial air bearings. Once this system was developed and integrated, the team’s nightly acquisition time decreased from an hour down to 15 minutes, and the system has been virtually trouble and maintenance-free for 5 years now.
Sytech provides the automation industry with fully-integrated hardware and software solutions. And now, they serve the industry with complete, end-to-end automation systems. Brent Balika, owner and president of Sytech knew about New Way products, but hadn’t yet found a need for them in his business…until he was presented with a unique challenge. A medical manufacturing client wanted a precision dental tool, except the tolerances they required created a problem.
A steel insert with a diameter of 0.0385 inches needed to be inserted and crimped into a brass handle with a diameter of 0.040 inches, while the manufacturing robot had a positioning tolerance of 0.000787 inches. Simply put, they had run up against the operational limits of their robot and turned to Sytech for a solution. The customer was considering an entirely new robot, but the cost was prohibitive. The client needed a solution that was not only operationally effective, but also cost-effective.
Balika spoke to New Way’s engineers on the phone and they jumped right into the design process. After a few conversations, New Way and Sytech developed a system to float the crimping process on an assembly comprised of three flat round air bearings, with a laser-based system for final alignment. Of New Way’s solution, Balika said, that it “melted into the background,” a testament to the ease of operation and maintenance-free nature of New Way products.
Future Custom Applications
In addition to the custom applications we’ve developed for numerous customers, we also see a future for custom New Way products in emerging industries. We also see it as the catalyst for jumpstarting technological revolutions in the manufacturing and power generation sectors.
3D printing, or “additive manufacturing,” as it’s often referred to in the industry, represents a massive step forward for the production of precision prototypes and increasingly, end-use ready components made from plastics, composites, and even metals. Additive manufacturing is a crucial tool for rapidly prototyping components to ensure fit-and-finish in the aerospace sector, and in the biomedical field (where titanium and composite implants are being printed to perfectly fit with each individual patient’s anatomy).
For this type of work, where fused deposition modeling (FMD) and selective laser sintering (SLA) offer tolerances of +/- 0.2mm and +/-0.01mm respectively, every potential gain in precision can open doors to new markets and applications. Furthermore, the improvement in speed to be gained from using linear air bearings could help drive down costs for printing suppliers and customers alike, potentially providing an order magnitude improvement over new technologies like High-Speed Sintering (HSS), which itself was already an order of magnitude improvement to precision and speed.
Given our extensive history of supporting rotating motion through our continuation of Don Bently’s legacy, New Way sees a bright future for air bearings in the power generation sector, both through retrofitting of existing fossil fuel and renewable technologies and through developing custom solutions to help empower emerging power generation techniques. In gas turbine engine systems, bearing failure was identified as the leading cause of plant unavailability. Similarly, for wind turbines, 76% of wind turbine gearbox failures can be traced to their bearings.
Our Radial Air Bearings are highly adept at supporting rotating shaft motion, and with their scalable and modular nature, we can develop an air bearing system from small-to-high megawatt systems. Furthermore, thanks to new technologies like our New-Seal™, which acts as a bearing and seal all in one, we believe air bearings can even improve promising, long-in-development technologies like tidal generation, where rust and water infiltration often lead to gearbox failure.
If you want to inquire about a custom air-bearing application or solution for your business, please reach out to us so we can discuss what New Way Air Bearings can do for you!