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Hepcomotion has provided a linear actuation system for use in the production of a stop/motion animated film by Ko Lik films.

Ko Lik specialises in stop-frame animation, a method that involves clay models being moved, frame by frame, to create a sequence.

Typically, 25 camera shots are required to complete one second of film.

Previously, Ko Lik used a rig whereby the camera was mounted on a hand-wound helical screw allowing it to be moved along the scene set, which was neither accurate nor flexible.

This resulted in increased production hours and compromised cost efficiency.

The company therefore sought the help of engineering designer and model maker David Campbell and his colleague Michael Gormley.

’We explored proprietary motion systems for Ko Lik but they were too costly and over specified for its needs,’ said Gormley.

’So we set about designing a system ourselves.

’And although what we came up with was a fairly straightforward two-axis system carrying a small load, there were several factors that made it a nifty bit of kit,’ he added.

The resultant system comprises two Hepcomotion PDU profile-driven units with a Smartdrive stepper motor and controller.

Designed to straddle the set, it was a fairly long-winded development.

’We had to translate exacting production needs into design engineering and both Hepcomotion and its motion control partner Smartdrive contributed a great deal in this regard,’ said Gormley.

The rigidity of the Hepcomotion profile-driven units was an important criterion.

As the system is cantilevered, the vertical axis had to provide solid support for the motorised X-axis onto which the camera is mounted.

Campbell and Gormley also had to contend with an element of bounce within the system, but the rigidity of the beams and use of the motor to counterbalance the camera and camera head at extremes of travel ensures that this effect does not compromise the camera’s positioning accuracy.

Key to the success of this rig is its controllability.

It is able to move the camera a set distance to within 0.1mm accuracy and, most importantly, provide a datum.

This is critical from a production cost standpoint.

When a sequence has been shot it is naturally reviewed for quality.

If part of it needs to be retaken, it is now easy for the production team to re-shoot, for example, from frame 10-20 in a 100-frame sequence.

This is because the exact camera position is now known.

The Smartdrive controller also provides other valuable automation features.

Knowing what distances to move the camera to achieve the required visual effect is a complex task.

Previously, it needed a combination of mathematical calculation and intelligent guesswork on the part of the production team.

’On the new system we have fed these algorithms into the controller so it has executable routines that the camera operators can just run,’ said Gormley.

’It’s completely transparent to them,’ he added.

Designing a unique engineering principle and making it a commercial success is quite an accomplishment.  Developing that concept and embracing complementary technologies to the point where the business becomes a world leader in its field takes that achievement into a different league.  HepcoMotion has achieved both and in 2009 celebrates 40th year of trading.   

Today HepcoMotion is one of the world’s foremost innovators and manufacturers of linear motion technology.  And this can be attributed to the important tenet – continued investment in its people processes and products.  This has allowed the company to grow even at times of economical difficulty.  

Although its range of individual, linear motion products remains an important part of its business the growth area for HepcoMotion in recent years is in specials and assemblies.  Almost one fifth of its shop floor space is devoted to assembly and the company has invested heavily in flexible manufacturing to ensure that even last minute changes can be accommodated to customer specification.  

Constantly re-assessing its strengths against changing market demands continues to provide HepcoMotion with the momentum for business growth.  The culture of ongoing investment has certainly worked well throughout its first 40 years and will continue to underpin its business in the decades to come.

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