By Claudia Izique | Agência FAPESP – Sirius, Brazil’s new synchrotron light source under construction in Campinas, São Paulo State, is scheduled to go live in 2019. It will offer Brazilian scientists a powerful and globally competitive R&D tool that promises to take research to a much higher level in the areas of health, energy, food and environmental management, among others.
Even before its completion, Sirius has already changed the technological profile of the domestic firms accredited as component suppliers. “So far, 86% of the funding for the project has been invested in Brazil,” said Antonio José Roque da Silva, director of the National Synchrotron Light Laboratory (LNLS) and head of the project. These components are not exactly “off-the-shelf” products, he stressed.
Sirius has three electron accelerators, including a storage ring with a diameter of 518.4 meters and beam energy of 3 GeV (gigaelectron volts). Electrons travel at relativistic speeds through the ring, around which will be installed up to 40 experiment stations, called beamlines, where researchers will use synchrotron light to analyze the structure of materials at the atomic level (find out more at http://www.lnls.cnpem.br/en/).
This highly complex machine involves a number of technologies that require suppliers to develop components in compliance with strict parameters specified by the design team at LNLS.
A good example of such a supplier is WEG, based at Jaraguá do Sul in Santa Catarina State. It has already delivered half of more than a thousand magnets – dipoles, quadrupoles and sextupoles – that will be used in Sirius’s magnetic lattice.
“We brought together a dedicated team for the project to work with the LNLS researchers on validating these components. We even have our own coordinate measuring machine just like the one at LNLS and calibrated for the same temperature,” said Luis Tiefensee, WEG’s industrial director.
WEG took up the challenge because of the opportunity to “validate its technological and scientific robustness and to qualify the team”, he added.
“Every electrical device we make has a magnetic core. However, producing components for Sirius requires even greater precision, with a tolerance of less than 2 micrometers. Moreover, these components can’t be machined because of their electrical and magnetic properties, so we have to use stamped sheet metal fabrication.”
WEG was one of the first suppliers to win accreditation, even before LNLS accepted a recommendation from its Machine Advisory Committee (MAC), comprising world-renowned experts, to revise the synchrotron’s parameters and the configuration of the magnetic network in order to reduce the natural emittance from 1.7 to 0.24 nm-rad (nanometer radians, a measure of electron beam quality), Roque da Silva recalled. The change made Sirius one of the brightest synchrotrons in the world in its energy range.
Following the design redefinition, in 2013, LNLS began selecting suppliers for other components of Sirius based on a set of technological challenges. The first step was a shortlist of small, medium and large Brazilian firms that qualified to participate in the selection process.
They were invited to submit prototype solutions to 13 challenges ranging from ultra-high vacuum chamber fabrication to the development of sensors capable of detecting variations in height and vertical tilt within specified intervals. “The prototypes have to be validated by LNLS before a contract can be signed,” Roque da Silva said.
Calls for proposals
To support industrial development of components for Sirius by firms in São Paulo State, FAPESP and the Brazilian Innovation Agency (FINEP) issued a call for proposals in 2014 and another in 2015. Each call had a budget of R$20 million under the PIPE/PAPPE Grant Program. Twenty-three projects submitted by 18 firms were selected altogether as a result of the two calls.
“The FAPESP-FINEP calls for proposals from Sirius component suppliers encouraged small tech firms in São Paulo to develop world-class advanced technologies. The Sirius project leadership were highly receptive to this idea presented by FAPESP, showing how a large national science and technology project can also serve to drive local creation of the technology needed for its development,” said FAPESP Scientific Director Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz.
One of the firms selected was Engecer, based in São Carlos. It produces special high-tech ceramics (alumina and zirconium oxide) and hard-surface polishing powders (cerium oxide and aluminum oxide) for industrial customers.
“The challenge was to develop covalent ceramics from boron nitride and aluminum nitride by hot pressing, a technology that wasn’t in our portfolio,” said Marcos Gonçalves, Engecer’s managing partner. The covalent ceramics will be used in Sirius’s beam position monitors (BPMs).
The technology was developed by Engecer’s in-house R&D team, in partnership with researchers at the University of São Paulo (USP) and the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) in São Paulo State. The prototypes are undergoing thermal and mechanical testing at LNLS.
“We’re now discussing with LNLS the production of ceramic components by additive manufacturing involving a laser for thermal ceramics. This is cutting-edge R&D,” Gonçalves said.
Automated test beds for the BPMs are being produced by Atmos in São Paulo City. “We have a contract with LNLS to test hundreds of BPM boards and modules and to assemble 22 racks to hold the devices,” said Fábio Haruo Fukuda, managing director of Atmos.
Atmos is an electronics firm that specializes in radars but responded to the Sirius challenges as an opportunity to develop technology with multiple applications. “These test beds can be used in many other types of equipment, including radio frequency,” Fukuda said.
Another firm selected in the PIPE/PAPPE calls was FCA Brasil, a firm based in Campinas that will supply components for the ultra-high vacuum system to be used in Sirius. “We’ve supplied vacuum chambers to LNLS in the past. Sirius motivated us to produce ready-to-use ultra-high-vacuum chambers in stainless steel. For us, this represented a major technological leap forward,” said Fernando Arroyo, a managing partner at FCA.
With funding from PIPE/PAPPE, FCA acquired equipment, set up a vacuum technology lab, and hired physicists and engineers. “Previously, everything we did was based on practice, but now it has to be based on theory,” Arroyo said. The firm has delivered 200 chambers to date, and 200 more are in production.
More than a business venture, the development of components for Sirius is an investment in the future, since it opens up new market prospects for the firms involved. “It’s an unexpected gain. Sirius has become a quality seal,” Roque da Silva said.
WEG’s Tiefensee stressed that “if there are similar projects anywhere in the world, we’re a candidate. When a firm has the capabilities and competencies to undertake a project like this, it opens doors to high-tech industries like the oil or paper industries”.
For Atmos, the capabilities acquired to supply components for Sirius will translate into business opportunities in the field of test equipment for synchrotron ring systems. “Two engineers who participated in the Sirius project are now in Sweden working on a technology transfer program for the development of automated test beds for radio frequency items for the future Brazilian fighter plane,” Fukuda said.
Sirius is FCA’s only customer at present. “We lack capacity to take on other customers. We have demand until 2019, but it’s highly likely that we’ll submit a proposal to supply to MAX IV, Sweden’s new synchrotron. This year, we’ll invest in this opportunity,” Arroyo said. He also sees new domestic market opportunities in the offing. “The tire industry uses vacuum-activated systems, for example,” he noted.
Mastering the technology to produce components in aluminum and zirconium has given Engecer the opportunity to enter the US market. “There’s a prototype in the testing phase that could be continued. We’re the only producers of zirconium-based ceramics, and we’ll be the only producers of covalent ceramics,” Gonçalves said. The firm’s potential customers are in the oil and space industries. “The competition is global.”