Known for its innovative development of electro-mechanical motion control systems, Basingstoke-based LG Motion Ltd
has worked across many industry sectors collaborating with technology partners including Heidenhain (GB) Ltd
in Burgess Hill.
LG Motion’s customers are usually derived from a range of industry sectors including aerospace, defence, pharmaceutical, energy, packaging and motorsport — but now the world of fine art is also benefitting from the company’s expertise.
With oil paintings valued in the millions, it is only logical that they should undergo some form of health check every now and then to ensure they can remain on show for many years to come.
Digitising these artworks was the obvious solution and back in the 1990s a European-funded project - VASARI - was set up to do just that. Using the technology of the time with limited camera resolution and incremental encoders for positioning.
The demand to digitise these masterpieces remains the same today, but the technology available has moved on considerably. Gary Livingstone, LG Motion’s managing director took up the challenge to make the art scanning system more efficient and this was achieved by collaborating with Heidenhain.
LG Motion’s system combines Heidenhain’s position encoder technology and high-specification motion control equipment, with the latest digital imaging equipment and software which is all brought together in a modular portal frame to allow the creation of high-resolution images of a painting, showing the finest detail and creating a record for both archivists and restorers to work with. Paintings can be easily scanned to identify any developing issues caused either by age or during transportation.
As a long-term distributor and integrator of Heideinhain products, LG Motion chose the RSF MC15 scale tape encoder on a stainless steel backing and scanning head. These are connected via the Heidenhain ENDAT bi-directional interface to ensure fast data transfer with high transmission reliability. Accuracy and reliability
Mr Livingstone added: “With each art scanning system capable of scanning up to 6 x 4m in size we needed accuracy and reliability, along with the ability to re-visit specific areas of an artwork if required. The RSF MC15 absolute encoders give us this capability.”
Typically, the art scanning system takes a scan every 0.1mm to create 100mm2
tiles across the entire image. These are then stitched together to form a high-resolution digital image with the ability to also capture the artwork in infrared, UV and X-ray.
While these movements are well within the specification of the RSF MC15 encoder, which is capable of measuring movement down to 0.05µm (50nm), the precision of the encoder allows controlled and more assured fine movement, with every step monitored in the closed loop system to ensure smooth movement.
The art scanning system is designed as an academic tool with the camera system able to use spectrometry to look behind the surface paint to identify the artist’s original work or maybe a hidden masterpiece, with one gallery even identifying a hidden Michelangelo.
To ensure the highest quality of image it is the artwork that is moved in front of the camera. Given the weight and value of these pieces this seems to be the wrong way around, but this way guarantees consistency of lighting a technique established and replicated by the galleries.
Typical customers are national galleries and art institutions, with The National Gallery, London having two systems, The National Gallery of Art, USA (three systems); Rijksmuseum, Netherlands; and the Kimbell Art Museum, USA among the most recent centres to adopt the technology.
While initially developed as an academic tool for large works of art, the system has scope to be expanded to a horizontal scanning system that will focus on other collections, such as cataloguing entomology collections and scanning smaller works of art.
Additionally, galleries have also identified the commercial aspect of the scanning system to produce postcards or posters for sale in the visitor shops, hence the duplication of systems at some locations.
Neil Prescott, Heidenhain managing director, said: “Applications such as the art scanning system from LG Motion are typical of the diversity that Heidenhain products can be used for. Throughout our history we have led the field in the manufacturer of encoders, digital readouts and TNC/CNC numerical controls. As this application demonstrates we continue to provide our customers with the best technology available to meet their requirements.”