Harvard scientists have developed a system for using magnetic levitation technology to manipulate nonmagnetic materials, potentially enabling manufacturing with materials that are too fragile for traditional methods.
While assembly lines have been the gold standard in manufacturing for more than a century, and have put together everything from Model T’s to tablet computers, one aspect of their operation has remained constant: the need for a hand, robotic or human, to manipulate objects.
If Anand Bala Subramaniam, a postdoctoral fellow in chemistry and chemical biology, has his way, however, that could soon change.
Working in the lab of Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor George Whitesides, Subramaniam and colleagues, including Dian Yang, Hai-Dong Yu, Alex Nemiroski, Simon Tricard, Audrey K. Ellerbee, and Siowling Soh, have developed a system for using magnetic levitation, or maglev, technology to manipulate nonmagnetic materials, potentially enabling the use of materials that are too fragile for traditional manufacturing methods. The system is described in an Aug. 25 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“What we’ve demonstrated in this paper is a noncontact method for manipulating objects,” Subramaniam said. “A conventional method for manufacturing is to start with simple components that are easy to manufacture, which are then assembled into more complex objects. Typically, robotic arms grasp the components and twist or turn them during the assembly process. That works very well for hard objects. But soft and sticky materials, which are of interest for building bio-mimetic objects, could easily be damaged.”