In this interview, Kyle Erlandsen talks about the technology behind TMC's new CleanBench™ vibration isolation tables, including the history of its development and some of the applications the product range is designed to serve.
Can you give us a brief introduction to TMC's CleanBench™ vibration isolation tables?
CleanBench is the newest generation of our industry-leading vibration isolation lab tables and microscopy workstations.
For decades, customers have loved our “stainless steel laminate” tops for both their sleek design and high performance. However, providing the increasingly popular array of tapped mounting holes in the surface required using a less ergonomic 100 mm thick honeycomb structure in order to provide anywhere near the same performance.
Thanks to recent manufacturing advances, the new CleanBench design solves that problem and offers customers the best of both worlds. Currently, TMC is working on a way to offer our new DoubleDensity™ holes in the table tops as well!
CleanBench™ Laboratory Vibration Isolation Table from TMC
Can you tell us a bit more about the Gimbal Piston® technology that the CleanBench tables are based on?
Gimbal Piston® is the highest performing isolation mechanism in the history of vibration isolation technology. No other isolator offers the combined response to both horizontal and vertical vibrations with the same efficiency. The device was a true “eureka” insight, and tremendous credit should go to the MIT engineer who first conceived it. There is just one problem with the original Gimbal Piston - it is actually a very expensive device to build.
Now, TMC is able to offer the Gimbal Piston in our CleanBench product line at an excellent price compared to our competitors. This is due to the high-volume manufacturing process we’ve been able to develop through our commitment to modular design and the commonality with our high performance workstations for precision metrology and laser optics.
TMC is committed to exclusively providing this design, and today it’s a genuine win-win for the researcher. That sort of "contributing to research" mentality is where we’ve always focused.
What are some of the key applications for the CleanBench line? Who is your typical customer?
CleanBench provides protection to a myriad of sensitive instruments and experiments, but its largest category of application is microscopy. In fact, versions of it are often built into advanced inspection stations.
Our customers range from individual researchers to major microscope and metrology instrument manufacturers, for applications that range from bioscience to semiconductor manufacturing and advanced materials research. You’ll find TMC anywhere technology is pushing to higher levels of resolution.
This technology has been around for quite a long time – can you talk about the history of the product line and how TMC's offering has developed over the years?
The need for small, isolated workstations has been around for a very long time. TMC first introduced the Micro-g® line of vibration isolation workstations in the late 1960's and has continuously improved the product since.
The Gimbal Piston version of the offering was introduced in the early 1980’s, essentially as the "high end" of the product line. Over the following years, as the technical superiority of the Gimbal Piston isolator became increasingly recognized and manufacturing volume grew, we gradually phased out all other technologies. By the late 1980’s, we were producing the Gimbal Piston exclusively.
The '80's was a period of rapid technological advance in many fields, and the differences in the performance of the various systems became obvious to researchers at the forefront of this advance. In fact, for a time, we offered Gimbal Piston "conversion kits" so customers could upgrade their existing workstations to keep pace with the resolution of the equipment being used on top of them.
Since then, TMC has developed higher performance table tops, more modular (and easily serviceable) frame structures, and useful accessory options—along with automated manufacturing processes that have enabled us to keep building these systems here in Peabody, MA.
What are the main improvements you have made in the most recent generation of these isolation tables?
The most significant advance in the new CleanBench is the result of a manufacturing achievement that enables us to now offer our high performance, 50 mm thick stainless steel tops both with and without the tapped hole array.
The performance standard set by our stainless steel laminate tops is very hard to match when the hole array is added. Previously, we had to use a modified 100 mm thick honeycomb top to get anywhere close, but we still weren’t fully satisfied with this solution, especially for smaller top sizes.
Some other manufacturers offer 50 mm honeycomb tops, but because we use the Gimbal Piston, which has a much lower stiffness than many other isolator designs, we’ve found 50 mm tops to be too lightweight to offer the necessary stability, especially for very sensitive applications such as atomic force microscopy.
The CleanBench design now allows us to control the material mix, and therefore mass and damping, to achieve the best combination for any size top.
Personally I feel the 50 mm CleanBench tops are a better product design and the 50 mm profile is definitely more user friendly.
Are there any especially novel or interesting uses for the systems that you have heard of from users - perhaps that have only become possible with the newer versions?
At the level of research our customers are working at, all the applications are unique to some degree, in almost every field.
Customers might say they "just want to isolate their microscope," but then you learn it's because they're doing something really advanced – this might be something like single-molecule imaging, or work with a customized instrument to simultaneously investigate two phenomena that had previously only been observed individually.
The individual requirements have always been fascinating. As you might expect, each lab seems to want to try a unique approach, even for rather well established applications.
While the Gimbal Piston definitely did enable many advances, I can't say that the CleanBench will necessarily make anything new possible; those advances come from the efforts and genius of our customers.
CleanBench will hopefully make it a little easier and more comfortable for them though, and we might even help them do it for a little less money in a little less space.
Looking to the future - can you talk about any further developments to the technology that you are working on, or ideas for innovations that you think will enhance these products even further in the future?
We are in the process of incorporating the CleanBench table design into our High Capacity 68 series versions of these products as well.
In those models, the "tops-with-holes" still need to be at least 100 mm, and sometimes 200 mm thick to achieve our stiffness and stability goals. Now, with the CleanBench concept we can fit the mass of a 100 mm or 200 mm top into a 67 mm envelope.
We are also working on ways to more economically incorporate our electronically "active" vibration control technologies into these products, which not only isolate vibration but actually cancel it as well. These actively canceled work surfaces have been the most quiet we've ever tested.
About Kyle Erlandsen
Kyle is currently the Applications Manager for the Micro-g line of TMC products, which includes CleanBench, the Gimbal Piston Isolator, and Optical Tables.
Currently his role is to harmonize the unique needs of the customer with the manufacturing techniques of TMC.
Kyle was previously an Applications Engineer, responsible for selling and manufacturing. He holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Clarkson University.
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