Mini robot builds NPL probe

August 31, 2012
Mini robot builds NPL probe
The micro-scale CMM probe was designed at NPL and built in Germany at TU Braunschweig.

Precision engineering requires accurate measurements and these are often made using co-ordinate measuring machines, or CMMs.

The measurements need to be, at the very least, of equal accuracy to machining capabilities, especially when working with small components with functional micro-scale features. While some new micro-CMMs are capable of making such , many existing probing systems lack the functionality to do so.

To address this, NPL has developed a novel micro-scale CMM that aims to reduce the of micro-CMMs to below 100 nanometres (or 0.0001 millimetres). The probe consists of a three-legged flexure device and a micro stylus with a spherical tip.

Each flexure is 2 mm long, 0.2 mm wide and around 0.02 mm thick. The stylus is 2 mm long and 0.2 mm in diameter with a 0.07 mm diameter spherical tip.

The probe is a MEMS device (micro-electrical mechanical system). It has built-in piezoelectric film coated onto the flexures so they act as , allowing the device to vibrate away from measurement surfaces and counteract surface forces that are very strong at these tiny distances. The also allows the probe to operate in non-contact mode.

To assemble such a device there is a need for high-precision, repeatability, flexibility and low cost, as well as a that takes up as little room as possible. In order to meet these demands, a miniaturised assembly setup using a robot called Parvus (which is Latin for 'small') was constructed. The robot was built at the Technische Universität Braunschweig, Germany, to function as a mini industrial production robot, to demonstrate the possibility of reducing the size of assembly lines and realising a 'desktop factory'.

The video below, put together by TU Braunschweig, shows the assembly process:

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Four micro-CMM probes were successfully assembled using the process which took 30 minutes per probe. This time could be reduced to around five minutes if an automated system was put in place to feed the parts into the system, as would happen on an industrial-scale assembly line. This is just one potential improvement to the system that will be investigated in future work.

Explore further: Mini robots to undertake major tasks?

More information: View a poster on the CMM probe

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