Control Unit for vacuum systems to safely control multi-branded systems


Technology abstract

A Dutch expert in vacuum and precision technology has software that manage, steer & monitor a vacuum-testing system. Careful automated control of the sub-systems makes both the system-performance and the tested-objects safer, more precise, repeatable and faster.
Main advantage is the steering which is completely independent from the component-manufacturers for more flexibility and remotely controlled.

The technology is a robust solution to safely control multi-brand components. The technology provider is used to developing customizable software for a specific case, which could be useful for partners. A new user-segment for the technology could be found in universities, R&D centres or test-facilities. A partner could help to scale the solution to regional level (EU and outside) from a distributional perspective, or help create a plug & play solution from a technical perspective

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Technology Description

When testing objects, instruments or processes in vacuum conditions, various sub-systems are involved to create the testing environment: pumps, turbo-pump (the vacuum is usually created in steps, by different kind of pumps), coolers (e.g. cryogene), heaters and all kinds of sensors inside the chamber.
The performance of the sub-systems allows the user to create a certain test-scenario, needed for the object inside.
The technology provider has its roots in ESA-testing facility and a track-record of almost 12 years at ESA ESTEC at the Science department.
The technology offered consists of a PLC (programmable logic controller: software and pc-board) that steers the sub-systems in such a way that the desired test-environment is being created and maintained.
Also it enables the user to play automated scenario’s (e.g. from +50° C to -150° C in 180 seconds) again and again, at precisely the same conditions.
The software is customized for a specific task by the technology provider. Based on the needs of the user (e.g. ESA wants to test an instrument) the specs are given and the company will initially make an inventory. In this phase, there is determined which devices are to be connected, which system and software there needs to be used and what are the specific system requirements / wishes.
Design; when all the specs and components are clear and understood, the software will be written.
Manufacturing: simultaneous to the design, the hardware set-up based on client specs is prepared and assembled.
Implementing; the technology provider can integrate the PLC in the system and is capable of maintenance contracts.

Innovations & Advantages

Systems for vacuum chamber testing can still be manually operated: pumps and equipment should continually be manned and that person also controls the safety and test-scenario.
Disadvantages of current situation:
-       not always exactly the same scenario
-       damage to test-object: if the person is not quick enough or not present, the tested object could be damaged. In case of space-instruments, this results in significant losses that easily exceeds € 500.000,-.
-       labour intensive: an expert needs to be present, always to monitor the test.
Automated steering is already on the market for this niche of vacuum-chambers, but is always supplier-owned (e.g. pump manufacturer). They generally do not provide software controllers for competitive components or other components. This limits the freedom to operate for users.
Advantages of this technology:
-       Automated scenario’s: identical and repeatable, even on different geographical locations if needed (the same test in Japan and US)
-       Stabilized testing: due to the automated steering, the test-object is safer
-       Damage control: valuable test-objects can be safer when the steering is programmed to shut-down at specific levels (temperature, deformation, etc.)
Non-experts are also capable of safely controlling the system (relevant e.g. for universities)

Further Information


Current and Potential Domains of Application

Current application:
Build & design of Vacuum chamber tests
Current market:
Transportation (all air transport has to do with pressure differences): medicine, high-precision instruments
Potential application:
Manual processes containing the steering of components
Systems and applications involving vacuum pumps
Potential markets:
Bio-science: vacuum for clean testing
Nowadays, testing with vacuum is finding more and more his way. Simulating (international) air transport.
Places where people want to work or test within extreme clean conditions (chip manufactures, labs etc.)