Industry is driven today by the quest for the smaller parts and components often with sub-micron features, and more accurate, reliable, and repeatable manufacturing processes. Crucial to many exacting applications requiring nanometer-level accuracy and repeatability are best-in-class motion control solutions. This article will look at the top-end solution in terms of accuracy and repeatability, and the applications that benefit from a motion control solution that has achieved quantum-sized improvements in the precision achievable across numerous applications.

Walter Silvesky, Vice President of Sales, ALIO Industries

Discussion of the most precise motion control solutions inevitably leads to a focus on the numerous hexapod options that are available to industry today. However, it is easy for manufacturers to be confused as to the real accuracy and repeatability of these motion control systems through a mixture of supplier hyperbole, and also in truth, a standardization and regulation environment that is not geared up to truly and effectively differentiate between precise, very precise, ultra-precise, and nanometer precise alternatives.

Precision is by its very nature a vague term, it means one thing to one person, one to another, and the lack of “precision” when using the word “precision” allows for at the best unhelpful, and at the worst deceptive claims to be made by motion control solution providers.

This article is written from the perspective that precision means nanometer precision, an accuracy measurement that is only relevant in industrial applications if it is 100% repeatable, not something that can be achieved 20% of the time. It is in the production of nanometer precision and highly repeatable motion control solutions that ALIO has existed since its inception nearly 20 years ago, making it unique in the motion control sector.

The Ultimate in Nanometer-Precise Motion Control

The latest addition to the range of ALIO Industries’ motion control solutions is the patented Hybrid Hexapod®. Traditional hexapod users face numerous restrictions in travel range, speed, and precision – factors that must be optimal to improve production processes and achieve the levels of efficiency and precision demanded by industry today. With the next generation of motion control devices exemplified by the Hybrid Hexapod®, manufacturers can achieve sub-micron and nano-levels of precision and increased accuracy.

Traditional hexapod structures are based purely on parallel motion. A Hybrid Hexapod® achieves its movement through the combination of both parallel and serial kinematic structures. Rather than using six legs to create motion, it uses a traditional X-Y stage, a tripod, and a rotation stage to provide 6 degrees of freedom (6DOF) in the device. The tripod’s parallel kinematic structure delivers Z-plane and tip/tilt motion, which is integrated with a monolithic serial kinematic structure for X- and Y- motion.

This combination removes previous application limitations and positioning errors synonymous with traditional hexapods. With the Hybrid Hexapod®, the precision of serial kinematics combined with the flexibility and compactness of a parallel kinematic device allows users to have all of the strengths of a 6DOF hexapod with none of its critical weaknesses.  This key differentiator of the Hybrid Hexapod® opens the door for using a 6DOF positioner in a wide range of applications not previously considered possible. The Hybrid Hexapod® is therefore a true blue ocean technology, allowing manufacturers to achieve the impossible and stimulating innovation at every level.

The levels of precision and repeatability that characterize the Hybrid Hexapod® are such that existing standards for verifying precision accuracy and repeatability are not adequate. These inadequate existing standards give some motion control solution suppliers the latitude to claim nanometer accuracy, as they were basically designed for a 2D world.

ALIO Industries is working with NIST to improve this situation and give manufacturers confidence in the accuracy and repeatability claims being made. The company is doing this through the development of the measurement standard known as Point Precision®. Point Precision® gives a precision value that considers all 6 possible sources of error, or in other words a true 3D representation. The current standards can only represent precision one dimension at a time and make assumptions in linear repeatability and accuracy that the motion of a stage is straight and flat with all datapoints falling along an ideal line and ignoring the other five possible error sources.  The current standards can measure the pitch, yaw, roll, straightness and flatness but without any consolidation of these error sources it is impossible for a user to get a result from the data where each of these error values is integrated which is where the significance of the Point Precision® becomes obvious.

Applications of the Hybrid Hexapod®

Using Point Precision® to “prove” the absolute precision, accuracy and reliability attainable through use of the Hybrid Hexapod®, opens up a vast array of applications for which it is now seen as the “go-to” motion control solution.

The umbrella under which all these applications sit is a requirement for nanometer-level control repeatably, with many of the applications involved rendered unfit for purpose if such motion control cannot be achieved. Here we will touch upon some of the key areas where manufacturers are using the Hybrid Hexapod®.

In general terms, aerospace users often incorporate the Hybrid Hexapod® in metrology systems. In precision optical elements, the tool can characterize, test, or measure optical components, and optical subassemblies. In precision assembly applications such as in the joining of optical image stabilization (OIS) modules to ultra-high resolution CCD arrays the Hybrid Hexapod® can serve as the motion device that manipulates the OIS module in 6DOF space in the alignment and bonding process.  The high accuracy of the Hybrid Hexapod® decreases assembly time as the OIS can be properly placed into a package without any time-consuming post alignment measurements and re-alignment steps.

Active alignment of 4k lenses. 4K lenses require extraordinarily advanced material technologies, highly sophisticated manufacturing techniques, and precision assembly practices.  Tolerance concerns in all degrees of freedom are paramount. Often the manufacturing techniques used to make the lenses result in positional inaccuracies, and this is where active alignment comes into the picture. The lens and sensor are aligned while projecting multiple targets through the lens and onto the sensor while the sensor is imaging. The active alignment machine continually monitors the modulation transfer function (MTF) at each of the target images until all MTF values are within acceptable limits.  When all MTF values are sound, pre-applied adhesive is partially cured using UV, with complete thermal cure performed later. This allows the sensor to be aligned extremely accurately to the appropriate lens image plane. The absolute precision and repeatability of the Hybrid Hexapod® makes it ideally suited for control in such precision-oriented applications.

Fiber optic alignment. One of the most challenging tasks in photonics assembly is the positioning and alignment of optical fibers and components. Nanometer accuracy, exceptional resolution and extremely high stability are required when coupling laser light with the core of an optical fiber. Manufacturers of such items as lasers, amplifiers, connectors, filters, receivers, switches and other fiber optic components and modules need to minimize the amount of signal loss that occurs across the component-to-component or component-to-fiber junction. If alignment of the optical fiber and component is off just slightly, the product will be rendered useless. With packaging accounting for upwards of 50% of the cost of optical components, that’s something manufacturers simply can’t afford, and because of this, the Hybrid Hexapod® is routinely used to provide nanometer-level motion control for fiber optic alignment applications.

Metrology of optics and other complex shapes. Throughout the world, various types of metrology applications share a common need for increased precision. Markets such as life science, semiconductor, and electronics manufacturing rely on metrology instrumentation to ensure their process is completed correctly. The need for precision is further underscored when you realize the samples/products can be extremely small (i.e. human cell) as well as highly sensitive (i.e. touch-screen electronics). Having high precision, motion technology is key to ensure the application will be completed successfully, and hence the common use of the Hybrid Hexapod® to achieve such levels of required accuracy and repeatability in metrology applications.

Laser ablation processes. Laser ablation works by focusing a laser onto a substrate to remove material that is on its surface. The amount that is removed depends on the intensity, pulse length, and wavelength of the laser, as well as the material itself. Laser ablation has many benefits over more traditional methods which are often costly multi-step processes that are by their very nature time-consuming and inflexible. Laser ablation is a much more efficient, reliable and cost-effective method. Precision laser ablative processes require control of a combination of a number of motion characteristics, and the repeatable nanometer accuracy of the Hybrid Hexapod® coupled with the ability to give customers confidence of motion control in 3D through the use of Point Precision is key. Customers typically use the Hybrid Hexapod® for the laser ablation of silicon and glass. 

Optics beamline assembly. In accelerator physics, a beamline refers to the trajectory of the beam of accelerated particles, including the overall construction of the path segment (guide tubes, diagnostic devices) along a specific path of an accelerator facility. This part is either the line in a linear accelerator along which a beam of particles travels, or the path leading from particle generator to the experimental end-station (as in synchrotron light sources, cyclotrons, or spallation sources). Beamlines usually end in experimental stations that utilize particle beams or synchrotron light obtained from a synchrotron, or neutrons from a spallation source or research reactor. Beamlines are used in experiments in particle physics, materials science, chemistry, and molecular biology, but can also be used for irradiation tests or to produce isotopes. Hybrid Hexapods® are used in such applications where the need for nanometer precision is a must.

Semiconductor inspection and manufacturing. Nanometer positioning and stability is a must in semi-conductor applications , with motion control solutions often needing to be able to operate in clean-room or vacuum manufacturing environments. Nanometer motion control is required from the get go in any semi-conductor application, even being used to perform a number of necessary processes on the base raw material for all semi-conductor wafers (silicon) onto which integrated circuits are embedded. Silicon for semi-conductor applications must be free of any defects , and must then be modified, patterned, and coated to provide the complex final chips. All this requires hugely accurate and repeatable motion control, and with the demand always being for better, smaller, and stronger products year on year, it is obvious why the Hybrid Hexapod® is used in the semi-conductor industry to ensure exacting motion control requirements.

Smart phone and small part assembly. For a product to be assembled successfully, it’s essential to move the right parts, to the right place, in the right orientation, at the right time. Motion control technology makes that happen.  Populating circuit boards for smart phones and tablets, for example, places special demands when it comes to accuracy and speed, and demands the use of nanometer precision motion control solutions such as the Hybrid Hexapod®.

Precision CNC machining. The key advantage of using the Hybrid Hexapod® for any precision CNC machining operation is that it depends on mathematical algorithms not the mechanical relationship between components for accuracy and repeatability. The Hybrid Hexapod® allows CNC spindles to be driven almost in freeform fashion, allowing the manufacture of parts with geometric complexity impossible on conventional machining equipment. Tools can be directed in any plane required and with a huge reduction in the need to move the actual part being machined. With the hexapod, the tool never needs to leave the part being machined which also promotes better surface finish. The Hybrid Hexapod® is the most rigid and accurate hexapod on the market today, and while standard hexapods claim accuracy in the micron area, the Hybrid Hexapod® boasts nanometer repeatable precision for precision CNC machining applications.

MEMS assembly. Sophisticated motion control technologies such as the Hybrid Hexapod® enable MEMs manufacturers to make devices previously deemed impossible. Motion control and assembly issues are a barrier to MEMS development, and are overcome by the Hybrid Hexapod®. With its 6DOF, the Hybrid Hexapod® is able to perform important manufacturing and testing operations in MEMs fabrication, and is a spur to innovation and new MEMs product development.

Summary

The ability to control motion with nanometer repeatability elevates motion control to an enabling technology that stimulates innovation and new product development. ALIO exists in this environment and, through nanometer performing solutions such as the Hybrid Hexapod®, is finding uses at the cutting edge of numerous applications across various industry sectors.

Often, the technical descriptions of “how” technologies allow greater and greater precision in motion control and tighter and tighter tolerance attainments are pretty impenetrable. Interesting on a level, but rarely passing the “so what” test when it comes to understanding the possibilities that exist for embracing sometimes expensive technology options when viewed through the prism of the upside for business and the enhancement of the bottom line.

Motion control

For some, the subject of motion control may seem a little dry, a little chewy! Often, the technical descriptions of “how” technologies allow greater and greater precision in motion control and tighter and tighter tolerance attainments are pretty impenetrable.

Interesting on a level, but rarely passing the “so what” test when it comes to understanding the possibilities that exist for embracing sometimes expensive technology options when viewed through the prism of the upside for business and the enhancement of the bottom line. In this article, we will take a completely different perspective.

Motion Control
Motion Control

We will suggest to you that the ONLY reason that you should invest in an ultra-precision motion control technology solution is if there is a real and understandable business case for doing so. We will also attempt to clear the fog. Fog? Well yes! Many technology providers make claims.

Let’s face it, it is simple to say that a motion control technology can do something that it cannot. Many companies offer solutions at entry-level price points suggesting premium-priced functionality, others simply tell untruths or half-truths that flatter to deceive.

“All well and good — classic lines of competitive engagement” you may say. But when working at the cutting edge of ultra-precision engineering, where manufacturers are constantly pushing the envelope and innovating, false claims and counter claims are at best confusing, but at worst lead to disappointment and disillusionment.

Manufacturers miss out on real opportunities because they have sub-optimal experiences with inappropriately positioned technological solutions.

This is good for no-one! It is within this context that this article will focus not just on general motion control issues, but also why one newly introduced motion control option in particular — the Hybrid Hexapod® technology — is disruptive and unique in its ability to open up motion control accuracy that to this point has been impossible to achieve.

Motion Control in Ultra-Precision Engineering When discussing micro manufacturing, precision engineering, and ultra-precision engineering, we are in a relatively undefined environment. What is precision for one company will not be precision for another, and in many instances technologies that are “good enough” when it comes to accuracy and attainment of tolerances are perfectly well suited for many applications.

As they say, you don’t always need a Rolls Royce to get to the shops! But when looking at the area of ultra-precision engineering, we are all working at the bleeding edge of what is possible, where not just microns matter, but sub-micron and nanometer tolerances are an everyday requirement.

This is a world where repeatable reliable precision and motion control not just desirable, it is vital. When looking at motion control in precision and ultra-precision engineering, there are a plethora of alternative technologies, and also an array of options that provide a range of accuracy parameters suitable for different applications.

Let’s start by taking a 6-mile high view of the area of precision motion control options. The burgeoning field of precision motion control is driven by industry demand for technologies that will improve production processes.

The emphasis from across industry is for smarter, smaller, and faster precision motion control and positioning equipment, and demand is especially high in areas like laser micro machining, micro assembly automation, optical inspection, semiconductor metrology, and photonics components test and alignment applications.

We are working at the cutting edge here. For example, finer and faster control of motion is at the heart of super-resolution microscopies and the latest photonics and materials developments.

Like never before, design engineers and motion control engineers from across a host of industry sectors have at their fingertips motion control options that not only achieve what their applications require, but in many instances advance innovation by enabling processes that were previously impossible.

This article will have at its core focus hexapod technologies. In the last 20-25 years, there has been more and more interest in hexapods to cater for the increased demand for micron, and sub-micron level precision in multi-axis motion applications.

Hexapod motion control technology exists at the ultra-precision end of motion control, and it has been the best-in-class motion control solution for exacting industrial applications.

The Hybrid Hexapod® sits at the very top of this ultra-precise tree when it comes to repeatable ultra-precision motion control, and this article will describe why the Hybrid Hexapod® is unique and opens up new levels of innovation and manufacturing efficiency previously considered impossible.

But before looking at the opportunities this unique technology opens up, lets back up a little, and briefly overview a few of the array of alternative motion control solutions that exist today. The General Motion Control Environment In the area of motion control, one-size certainly does not fit all.

As just mentioned, hexapods in general and the Hybrid Hexapod® technology in particular exists where precision means ultra-precision, and such accuracy is not always required. In a three dimensional space, an object can rotate about or translate along and on three axes.

Linear actuator

Thus, the object is said to have six degrees of freedom (3 rotational and 3 transitional) More “entry-level” motion control technologies for less exacting applications include precision linear actuators, linear translation stages, and rotation stages, all of which exhibit only one degree of freedom. Hexapod are characterised by 6 degrees of freedom (6DOF) which as we shall see make them appropriate for extremely exacting applications. Precision Linear Actuators.

Linear actuator
Linear actuator

Many with even a passing interest in motion control will be aware of precision linear actuators — positioning devices that produce motion in one degree of freedom, and usually don’t include a guiding system for the payload.

Typically electrically driven units are the most accurate, and some drive technologies such as electro-mechanical, piezoelectric, and linear motor acuators are capable of producing linear motion.

Such precision linear actuators are designed to deliver high performance in situations that require continuous duty operation, and are often to be found in applications such as value control in vehicle applications and the process and packaging industry, pressing and clamping, edge-guide control, backstop adjust, loading and unloading, and drilling, welding, gluing or thermoforming.

Translation Stage and Linear Stages

Linear Stages. A linear stage or “translation stage” builds on the principles of a linear actuator, but adds a work piece or platform for fixing an application load, or for stacking extra stages to form a multi-axis configuration.

translation stage
Translation Stage


The stage’s workpiece is a precision component with a linear bearing for guidance. Linear stages consist of a platform that moves relative to a base. The platform and base are joined by some form of guide that restricts motion of the platform to only one dimension.

A variety of different styles of guides are used, each with benefits and drawbacks making each guide type more appropriate for some applications than for others.

Roller guides, for example, are inexpensive, but are relatively low accuracy, have a relatively short life span and can be found in optics lab stages and drawer slides. Flexures, however, are a different kettle of fish, have excellent accuracy, there is no backlash, and they last pretty much forever, and are extensively used in optic fiber alignment applications.

Rotation Stages. Rotary stages again only exhibit one degree of freedom, and comprise of a platform that rotates relative to a base. The base and platform are joined by bearings that restrict motion of the platform to rotation about a single axis.

Precision motorized rotation stages are frequently used in bio-medical applications, or for semiconductor inspection, assessment of fiber-optical alignment, or X-ray crystallography. Air-bearing rotation stages — generally used for the highest precision and smoothness of motion/velocity — deliver ultra-low runout and wobble, as well as very high resolution and repeatability.

Hexapods and Six Degrees of Freedom For many manufacturers, any of the above mentioned one degree of freedom motion control technologies will afford the required level of precision. In addition there are adaptations of motion control technologies that offer 2 degrees of freedom, 3 degrees of freedom etc… that may also suit applications where micron and and sub-micron accuracy may not be critical.

However, increasingly, industry is demanding greater and greater precision and nanometer accuracy, and when this is the case, such solutions are entirely inappropriate. Enter stage left hexapod motion control solutions.

With hexapod Robots, we are talking motion control technologies that operate with 6DOF, and have characteristics that make them appropriate for the most exacting of industrial applications where micron accuracy is an everyday requirement.

First off, let’s nail what we mean by 6DOF.In it is most simplified definition, 6DOF refers to the specific number of axes that a rigid body is able to move in three dimensional space. It can move up and down, forward and backwards, and left and right (translation), and it can rotate in order to face a different axis (pitch, yaw, and roll).

Hexapod robots are six-legged “parallel-kinematic mechanism” (PKM) motion systems.Most often, they consist of two platforms — a fixed base platform and a second movable platform — which are connected and supported by six independent legs that expand and contract in parallel.

By coordinating the motion of the six legs, the movable platform (and whatever is mounted on it) can move in any direction relative to the base platform. Here we have a compact technology that allows absolute freedom of movement in 3D space.

For manufacturers operating in areas where they demand micron tolerances the hexapod motion control solution has been revolutionary, and today it is used extensively throughout a range of sectors, most notable optics and medical.

But in the world of precision engineering, the quest for better and better and more and more accurate technology solutions is inexorable, and whereas the standard hexapods that abound on the market today satisfactorily service applications where micron motion tolerances are required, as the demand for nanometer requirements expands, standard hexapods cannot keep up.

This is where a new advance has just been made building on the hexapod platform, the Hybrid Hexapod® now unique among all motion control technologies in that it caters for ultra-precision sub-micron applications.

The Trouble with Conventional Hexapod Technology As with any newly introduced disruptive technology, the starting point for ALIO Industries (creator of the Hybrid Hexapod®) was to listen to and respond to customer demand.

ALIO — along with a number of highly skilled and reputable companies in this space — has a long pedigree in the supply of standard “micron” tolerance hexapods. But increasingly, industry began to articulate concerns about the limitations of hexapods for their more exacting applications.

OK, so now here comes the technical bit, but we will keep it simple. There are performance limitations inherent in all “conventional” hexapod designs. All hexapod motion systems operate within three-dimensional space, and have errors in all six degrees of freedom.

However, hexapod motion systems have typically only been characterized by performance data of a single degree of freedom.This practice leaves error sources unaccounted for in several degrees of freedom, especially in the areas of flatness and straightness, which are critical precision needs at the nanometer level.

The hexapod’s best flatness and straightness of travel is still no more precise than in the order of magnitude of tens of microns per axis.

Because hexapods have six independently controlled links joined together moving a common platform, the motion error of the platform will be a function of the errors of ALL links and joints.

Hexapods are known to have optimum accuracy and repeatability when performing Z-axis moves, because all links perform the same motion at the same relative link angle.

However, when any other X, Y, pitch, yaw or roll motion is commanded, accuracy and geometric path performance of the hexapod degrades substantially because all links are performing different motions.

In the case of legacy hexapods built with non-precision joints and motion controllers that are not capable of forward and inverse kinematics equations, the source of error is even more pronounced.

Furthermore, it is generally accepted that hexapods have relatively good stiffness compared to serial stacked multi-axis systems. However, it is often only the hexapod’s “Z” (vertical) stiffness that is considered.

Geometric design stiffness has a critical impact on and hexapod’s platform repeatability and rigidity. A lack of design stiffness relates directly to a weak XY plane stiffness with the conventional hexapod working platform.

Moreover, this inherent design flaw of the conventional hexapod negatively affects XY axis performance, especially with thermal bonding or machining applications that require more force to be performed accurately within the XY plane.

While there are compensation methods to reduce error sources in conventional 6-link hexapods, they do not improve performance at the single-digit micron or nanometer level.

Motion systems’ straightness and repeatability performance must be analyzed and specified using a “point precision” methodology that accounts for ALL 6-D spatial errors in order to provide a true representation of nanometer precision, or what we can call “True Nano” precision.

The Hybrid Hexapod® The Hybrid Hexapod® was developed to address the critical weaknesses of conventional legacy hexapod designs as outlined above, as well as the weaknesses of stacked serial stages, and to achieve nanometer accuracy, repeatability, and high-integrity flatness and straightness during motion.

The name Hybrid Hexapod® is indicative of a 6DOF function motion positioning system constructed of a hybrid serial and parallel kinematic structure, rather than a six-link pure parallel kinematic design structure seen in traditional hexapods. It utilizes a tripod parallel kinematics structure to deliver Z plane and tip/tilt motion, integrated with a monolithic serial kinematic structure for XY motion.

A rotary stage integrated into the top of the tripod (or underneath it depending on application needs) provides 360-degree continuous yaw rotation.In this hybrid design, individual axes can be customized to provide travel ranges from millimeters to over one meter, while maintaining nanometer levels of precision.

We started this article by saying that all information provided had to pass the “so-what” test, while at the same time elevating the value of ultra-precision motion control systems from a necessary evil to a truly disruptive enabling technology.

As an engineer working at the cutting edge of what is possible, you must be stimulated to ask more as you see that this technology reaches places others cannot, has the potential to promote innovations, and will optimise your efficiency and cost-effectiveness in manufacture. At this stage, motion control articles typically disappear into pages of equations and descriptions of mathematical models that “prove” the working of the technology and how it measures up to alternatives.

Instead, we will round things up by summarising what the Hybrid Hexapod® opens up for you, answer your “so what” questions, and hopefully whet your appetite to ask more. (At some point you may well need a purely technical discussion, and we are fully equipped to oblige, but for now, let’s detail the opportunities that are now open to you.) Stimulating Innovation Let’s make one thing clear from the get go.

Conventional hexapods are a great technology, but as is the case in all industry sectors, things move on, and pioneers in ultra-precision engineering are continually adding to the palette of technology options available to engineers. If you are happy with micron accuracy a traditional hexapod may serve you well.

But the Hybrid Hexapod® provides orders of magnitude improvements in precision, path performance, speed, stiffness, and larger work envelope with virtually unlimited XY travel, and fully programmable tool center point locations at the same price point as normal hexapods.

So saying, while it achieves less than 100 nm 3-dimensional 6 axis point precision repeatability, (making it an essential technology for sub-micron mission critical applications in the laser processing, optical inspection, photonics, semiconductor, metrology, and medical device sectors — and indeed all micro-machining projects) it also arguably provides an obvious alternative to a conventional hexapod for micron tolerance applications.

Returning to our motoring analogy earlier in this article, you may not always need a Rolls Royce to go to the shops, but if you can go in a Rolls Royce to pick up the burger buns for the same price as a going on a push bike, why wouldn’t you? As an engineer, the Hybrid Hexapod® is now forcing you as a professional working in the ultra-precision engineering space to look outside the box, raise your eyes to new horizons, recognise that there is now a new generation of ultra-precision motion control technology that allows you to achieve engineering goals you considered were previously impossible.

The precision and ultra-precision engineering world has a history of such quantum changes, technologies in the area of plastic molding now allowing the manufacture of dust-speck sized components, metrology options allowing the measurement of previously impossible geometries and details, and new machining technologies achieving the manufacture of seemingly impossibly precise and complex parts and components.

The Hybrid Hexapod® adds advances in motion control to that list. Engineers and manufacturers now need to look at their applications and achievement of tolerance parameters through the following prism, and innovate and create without restriction.

You can now use a motion control technology that due to the use of high-dynamic non-contact linear motors can achieve velocities from microns per second to hundreds of millimetres per second; 1-2 orders of magnitude better bi-directional repeatability when compared with conventional hexapods; nanometer level step sizes; no backlash; no hysteresis; smoother, straighter, flatter motion; and a mean time between failures of over 80,000 hours! In the world of 6DOF nanotechnology applications, the Hybrid Hexapod® technology allows for the provision of documented proof of performance over all six degrees of freedom of a body in motion at the nanometer level of precision.

As such it is unique, and this is the first time that this has been possible. We now see leading blue-chip OEMs working on nanometer applications in the optical, semiconductor, manufacturing, metrology, laser processing and micro-machining sectors, and achieving successes previously unattainable.

There are times when technological advancements are such that they necessitate a root and branch change in the language and nature of discussion associated with them.

When electricity became available in every home, it would have been somewhat perverse if we had all continued to talk in terms of our preferred candles rather than the relative luminescence and longevity of various forms of light bulb. Likewise, when the car began to emerge, and eventually replaced the horse and cart as the most efficient form of transportation, the discussion logically switched from the best hay to feed the horse to the merits of different forms of internal combustion.

Without stretching this analogy to breaking point, there is a similar shift in the area of motion control. A new technology has emerged that pushes the boundaries of what is deemed possible in terms of precision to such an extent that the language surrounding the technology has to change, and the nature of the conversation needs to shift in order to differentiate this new technology from standard industry alternatives.

The technology in question is the Hybrid HexapodTM from ALIO Industries, Arvada, CO, USA. We are in blue ocean territory here. In the last 20-25 years, there has been more and more interest in hexapods to cater for the increased demand for micron, and sub-micron level precision in multi-axis motion applications.

Hexapod motion control technology exists at the ultra-precision end of motion control, and it has been the best-in-class motion control solution for exacting industrial applications for a couple of decades.

The burgeoning area of more and more precise motion control is driven by industry demand for technologies that will improve production processes. The emphasis from across industry is for smarter, smaller, and faster precision motion control and positioning equipment, and demand is especially high in areas like laser micro machining, micro assembly automation, optical inspection, semiconductor metrology, and photonics components test and alignment applications.

The Hybrid HexapodTM represents a quantum step forward in motion control, and for the first time provides the ability to achieve repeatable nano-level accuracy, stimulating innovation and promoting manufacturing efficiency previously considered impossible. It is redefining the area of precision motion control, and the rule book is having to be rewritten to accommodate it and to position it correctly against industry alternatives. One key area for focus is how motion control process suppliers describe the level of precision achievable. Standard industry vernacular talks in terms of micron and sub-micron precision, but ALIO is now working with NIST to move to a new and more effective methodology of measuring and quantifying motion systems by introducing the concept of Point PrecisionTM.

What Does Precision Mean? Really Mean? The very nature of the word precision is vague. Readers will be used to hearing descriptions using phrases such as “precise” and “ultra-precise”. Also, you will be used to reading claims of achievable “resolution”. But what does resolution really mean and what does it tell you? In the area of motion control the focus should and must be on much more exacting criteria, by which we mean repeatability and accuracy.

Precision is actually synonymous with repeatability and accuracy, but too often suppliers hide deficiencies in these areas behind meaningless phrases such as precision, high accuracy, high precision, or ultra-precision When looking at the Hybrid HexapodTM, “precision” means 10 nanometers or less — repeatably! For standard Hexapods claims of precision are best condition, unidirectional one axis numbers, which don’t factor all six-axis error quotients or the backlash, which is the total error of all motion in a Hexapod due to the compression and tension of each leg for every move.Claims made for conventional hexapods may be designed to look like a similar duck to claims made by real nanometer accurate motion control solutions, but from the perspective of Point PrecisionTM they do not quack in nanometers but tens of microns.

Unless the word precision is accompanied by such quantifiable and definite statements in terms of what is achievable, it is truly meaningless. While still vague, micron, sub-micron, and nano precision is better. It at east gives an illusion to the level of precision that is being claimed.

Point PrecisionTM — The New Gold Standard The language used can be seen to be deficient, it is not being refined enough and evolving quickly enough to help differentiate available motion control solutions. So saying, ALIO Industries has introduced the concept of Point PrecisionTM which has now been adopted by NIST as the future standard methodology of measuring and quantifying motion systems.

Point PrecisionTM includes all 6 degrees of freedom of errors of each axis in motion, guaranteeing the precision point in the full work envelop. (As an example, the ALIO patented Hybrid HexapodTM has a 3D point precision of less than 100 nm repeatability anywhere in its full work zone. With that information a customer with, for example, a demanding metrology application can be extremely confident in their uncertainty measurement error quotient.)

Point PrecisionTM allows for a “precision number” to be quoted based on an exact point on the wall (as if you used a laser pointer) whereas today’s standard only gives the measurement to the wall as if using a flood light. As a signifier of accuracy and precision today, Point PrecisionTM truly is a must for many applications from laser processing to metrology.

We exist in a world where alternative suppliers are unable to match the precision of ALIO’s motion control solutions. The key is not just an ability to be nano precise, but to be nano precise repeatably. For some suppliers this is impossible, and so we see either false claims or illusory claims often hidden behind the veneer of meaningless phrases such as ultra-precise and high resolution.

Some even go as far as to publish “Typical Specifications” and “Guaranteed Specifications”. Typical specifications show what “could” be possible in a motion control solution, and allude to much greater precision than the guaranteed specifications, which is what the supplier will — obviously — “guarantee”. In other words, they show what they would like to be able to do repeatably, and then show that what they can actually do which is less good. They aspire to be better than they are. It may indeed be fair to say that they aspire to be as precise as ALIO. Unclear claims and false claims help no-one, especially the customer who often ends up with sub-optimal results.

This is why ALIO has moved the conversation along, and in terms of specifications we have changed the language and now routinely talk about Point PrecisionTM, referencing performance specifications to a point in space, not the planar methodology current standards use.

This is the basis of the new NIST standard for measuring motion systems mentioned above. While there are compensation methods to reduce error sources in conventional 6-link hexapods, they do not improve performance at the single-digit micron or nanometer level.Motion systems’ straightness and repeatability performance must be analyzed and specified using a “point precision” methodology that accounts for ALL 6-D spatial errors in order to provide a true representation of nanometer precision, or what ALIO call “True Nano” TM precision.

Point PrecisionTM is the gold standard when customers need to assess the REAL precision of alternative motion control solutions, and reinforces ALIO’s claim to be the ONLY motion control supplier that can provide repeatable nano levels of precision in motion control. Summary There are numerous companies working in the area of micro and nano manufacturing that exist because of a passion to lead and to provide industry with solutions that stimulate innovation and advance the chances of achieving success in ever more exacting precision engineering applications. By their very nature, they push the boundaries, and strive to provide technology solutions that facilitate greater and greater precision, which is consistently demanded across industry.

However, at the same time, there are numerous companies that follow, and attempt to compete with sub-optimal solutions, either making false claims of competence, or using language that is vague, and does not shine a light in a meaningful way on the levels of precision that can be achieved. It is the customer base that suffers from such lack of clarity and obfuscation. ALIO has adopted a new approach to address the lack of clarity that exists specifically in the area of motion control solutions. The company is independently acknowledged as the only supplier that can manufacture repeatable nano-level accurate motion control solutions, and through a process of education and redefining the language used to explain its technologies, ALIO will give industry the tools and understanding to differentiate between the alternative levels of accuracy and repeatability that exist in the market today.

The creation with NIST of the Point PrecisionTM as the future standard methodology of measuring and quantifying motion systems, ALIO is exemplifying the uniqueness of its motion control solutions in the area of nanometer precision, and as would be expected of a company at the bleeding edge of innovation in 6-D Nano PrecisionTM motion control, is leading and changing the conversation.

Claims made for conventional hexapods may be designed to look like a similar duck to claims made by real nanometer accurate motion control solutions, but from the perspective of Point PrecisionTM they do not quack in nanometers but tens of microns. Unless the word precision is accompanied by such quantifiable and definite statements in terms of what is achievable, it is truly meaningless. While still vague, micron, sub-micron, and nano precision is better. It at east gives an illusion to the level of precision that is being claimed.

Point PrecisionTM — The New Gold Standard The language used can be seen to be deficient, it is not being refined enough and evolving quickly enough to help differentiate available motion control solutions. So saying, ALIO Industries has introduced the concept of Point PrecisionTM which has now been adopted by NIST as the future standard methodology of measuring and quantifying motion systems.

Point PrecisionTM includes all 6 degrees of freedom of errors of each axis in motion, guaranteeing the precision point in the full work envelop. (As an example, the ALIO patented Hybrid HexapodTM has a 3D point precision of less than 100 nm repeatability anywhere in its full work zone. With that information a customer with, for example, a demanding metrology application can be extremely confident in their uncertainty measurement error quotient.) Point PrecisionTM allows for a “precision number” to be quoted based on an exact point on the wall (as if you used a laser pointer) whereas today’s standard only gives the measurement to the wall as if using a flood light. As a signifier of accuracy and precision today, Point PrecisionTM truly is a must for many applications from laser processing to metrology.

We exist in a world where alternative suppliers are unable to match the precision of ALIO’s motion control solutions. The key is not just an ability to be nano precise, but to be nano precise repeatably. For some suppliers this is impossible, and so we see either false claims or illusory claims often hidden behind the veneer of meaningless phrases such as ultra-precise and high resolution. Some even go as far as to publish “Typical Specifications” and “Guaranteed Specifications”. Typical specifications show what “could” be possible in a motion control solution, and allude to much greater precision than the guaranteed specifications, which is what the supplier will — obviously — “guarantee”. In other words, they show what they would like to be able to do repeatably, and then show that what they can actually do which is less good. They aspire to be better than they are. It may indeed be fair to say that they aspire to be as precise as ALIO. Unclear claims and false claims help no-one, especially the customer who often ends up with sub-optimal results.

This is why ALIO has moved the conversation along, and in terms of specifications we have changed the language and now routinely talk about Point PrecisionTM, referencing performance specifications to a point in space, not the planar methodology current standards use. This is the basis of the new NIST standard for measuring motion systems mentioned above. While there are compensation methods to reduce error sources in conventional 6-link hexapods, they do not improve performance at the single-digit micron or nanometer level.Motion systems’ straightness and repeatability performance must be analyzed and specified using a “point precision” methodology that accounts for ALL 6-D spatial errors in order to provide a true representation of nanometer precision, or what ALIO call “True Nano” TM precision.

Point PrecisionTM is the gold standard when customers need to assess the REAL precision of alternative motion control solutions, and reinforces ALIO’s claim to be the ONLY motion control supplier that can provide repeatable nano levels of precision in motion control. Summary There are numerous companies working in the area of micro and nano manufacturing that exist because of a passion to lead and to provide industry with solutions that stimulate innovation and advance the chances of achieving success in ever more exacting precision engineering applications. By their very nature, they push the boundaries, and strive to provide technology solutions that facilitate greater and greater precision, which is consistently demanded across industry.

However, at the same time, there are numerous companies that follow, and attempt to compete with sub-optimal solutions, either making false claims of competence, or using language that is vague, and does not shine a light in a meaningful way on the levels of precision that can be achieved. It is the customer base that suffers from such lack of clarity and obfuscation. ALIO has adopted a new approach to address the lack of clarity that exists specifically in the area of motion control solutions. The company is independently acknowledged as the only supplier that can manufacture repeatable nano-level accurate motion control solutions, and through a process of education and redefining the language used to explain its technologies, ALIO will give industry the tools and understanding to differentiate between the alternative levels of accuracy and repeatability that exist in the market today.

The creation with NIST of the Point PrecisionTM as the future standard methodology of measuring and quantifying motion systems, ALIO is exemplifying the uniqueness of its motion control solutions in the area of nanometer precision, and as would be expected of a company at the bleeding edge of innovation in 6-D Nano PrecisionTM motion control, is leading and changing the conversation.

When electricity became available in every home, it would have been somewhat perverse if we had all continued to talk in terms of our preferred candles rather than the relative luminescence and longevity of various forms of light bulb. Likewise, when the car began to emerge, and eventually replaced the horse and cart as the most efficient form of transportation, the discussion logically switched from the best hay to feed the horse to the merits of different forms of internal combustion.

Without stretching this analogy to breaking point, there is a similar shift in the area of motion control. A new technology has emerged that pushes the boundaries of what is deemed possible in terms of precision to such an extent that the language surrounding the technology has to change, and the nature of the conversation needs to shift in order to differentiate this new technology from standard industry alternatives. The technology in question is the Hybrid HexapodTM from ALIO Industries, Arvada, CO, USA. We are in blue ocean territory here. In the last 20-25 years, there has been more and more interest in hexapods to cater for the increased demand for micron, and sub-micron level precision in multi-axis motion applications. Hexapod motion control technology exists at the ultra-precision end of motion control, and it has been the best-in-class motion control solution for exacting industrial applications for a couple of decades.

The burgeoning area of more and more precise motion control is driven by industry demand for technologies that will improve production processes. The emphasis from across industry is for smarter, smaller, and faster precision motion control and positioning equipment, and demand is especially high in areas like laser micro machining, micro assembly automation, optical inspection, semiconductor metrology, and photonics components test and alignment applications.

The Hybrid HexapodTM represents a quantum step forward in motion control, and for the first time provides the ability to achieve repeatable nano-level accuracy, stimulating innovation and promoting manufacturing efficiency previously considered impossible. It is redefining the area of precision motion control, and the rule book is having to be rewritten to accommodate it and to position it correctly against industry alternatives. One key area for focus is how motion control process suppliers describe the level of precision achievable. Standard industry vernacular talks in terms of micron and sub-micron precision, but ALIO is now working with NIST to move to a new and more effective methodology of measuring and quantifying motion systems by introducing the concept of Point PrecisionTM.

What Does Precision Mean? Really Mean? The very nature of the word precision is vague. Readers will be used to hearing descriptions using phrases such as “precise” and “ultra-precise”. Also, you will be used to reading claims of achievable “resolution”. But what does resolution really mean and what does it tell you? In the area of motion control the focus should and must be on much more exacting criteria, by which we mean repeatability and accuracy. Precision is actually synonymous with repeatability and accuracy, but too often suppliers hide deficiencies in these areas behind meaningless phrases such as precision, high accuracy, high precision, or ultra-precision When looking at the Hybrid HexapodTM,

“precision” means 10 nanometers or less — repeatably! For standard Hexapods claims of precision are best condition, unidirectional one axis numbers, which don’t factor all six-axis error quotients or the backlash, which is the total error of all motion in a Hexapod due to the compression and tension of each leg for every move.Claims made for conventional hexapods may be designed to look like a similar duck to claims made by real nanometer accurate motion control solutions, but from the perspective of Point PrecisionTM they do not quack in nanometers but tens of microns. Unless the word precision is accompanied by such quantifiable and definite statements in terms of what is achievable, it is truly meaningless. While still vague, micron, sub-micron, and nano precision is better. It at east gives an illusion to the level of precision that is being claimed.

Point PrecisionTM — The New Gold Standard The language used can be seen to be deficient, it is not being refined enough and evolving quickly enough to help differentiate available motion control solutions. So saying, ALIO Industries has introduced the concept of Point PrecisionTM which has now been adopted by NIST as the future standard methodology of measuring and quantifying motion systems.

Point PrecisionTM includes all 6 degrees of freedom of errors of each axis in motion, guaranteeing the precision point in the full work envelop. (As an example, the ALIO patented Hybrid HexapodTM has a 3D point precision of less than 100 nm repeatability anywhere in its full work zone. With that information a customer with, for example, a demanding metrology application can be extremely confident in their uncertainty measurement error quotient.)

Point PrecisionTM allows for a “precision number” to be quoted based on an exact point on the wall (as if you used a laser pointer) whereas today’s standard only gives the measurement to the wall as if using a flood light. As a signifier of accuracy and precision today, Point PrecisionTM truly is a must for many applications from laser processing to metrology. We exist in a world where alternative suppliers are unable to match the precision of ALIO’s motion control solutions. The key is not just an ability to be nano precise, but to be nano precise repeatably. For some suppliers this is impossible, and so we see either false claims or illusory claims often hidden behind the veneer of meaningless phrases such as ultra-precise and high resolution.

Some even go as far as to publish “Typical Specifications” and “Guaranteed Specifications”. Typical specifications show what “could” be possible in a motion control solution, and allude to much greater precision than the guaranteed specifications, which is what the supplier will — obviously — “guarantee”. In other words, they show what they would like to be able to do repeatably, and then show that what they can actually do which is less good. They aspire to be better than they are. It may indeed be fair to say that they aspire to be as precise as ALIO. Unclear claims and false claims help no-one, especially the customer who often ends up with sub-optimal results.

This is why ALIO has moved the conversation along, and in terms of specifications we have changed the language and now routinely talk about Point PrecisionTM, referencing performance specifications to a point in space, not the planar methodology current standards use. This is the basis of the new NIST standard for measuring motion systems mentioned above. While there are compensation methods to reduce error sources in conventional 6-link hexapods, they do not improve performance at the single-digit micron or nanometer level.Motion systems’ straightness and repeatability performance must be analyzed and specified using a “point precision” methodology that accounts for ALL 6-D spatial errors in order to provide a true representation of nanometer precision, or what ALIO call “True Nano” TM precision.

Point PrecisionTM is the gold standard when customers need to assess the REAL precision of alternative motion control solutions, and reinforces ALIO’s claim to be the ONLY motion control supplier that can provide repeatable nano levels of precision in motion control. Summary There are numerous companies working in the area of micro and nano manufacturing that exist because of a passion to lead and to provide industry with solutions that stimulate innovation and advance the chances of achieving success in ever more exacting precision engineering applications. By their very nature, they push the boundaries, and strive to provide technology solutions that facilitate greater and greater precision, which is consistently demanded across industry.

However, at the same time, there are numerous companies that follow, and attempt to compete with sub-optimal solutions, either making false claims of competence, or using language that is vague, and does not shine a light in a meaningful way on the levels of precision that can be achieved. It is the customer base that suffers from such lack of clarity and obfuscation. ALIO has adopted a new approach to address the lack of clarity that exists specifically in the area of motion control solutions. The company is independently acknowledged as the only supplier that can manufacture repeatable nano-level accurate motion control solutions, and through a process of education and redefining the language used to explain its technologies, ALIO will give industry the tools and understanding to differentiate between the alternative levels of accuracy and repeatability that exist in the market today.

The creation with NIST of the Point PrecisionTM as the future standard methodology of measuring and quantifying motion systems, ALIO is exemplifying the uniqueness of its motion control solutions in the area of nanometer precision, and as would be expected of a company at the bleeding edge of innovation in 6-D Nano PrecisionTM motion control, is leading and changing the conversation.

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