European XFEL – the world’s largest X-ray laser

18. Jan 2017 item Redaktion

The European XFEL in Hamburg How cleanroom technology is supporting one of today’s most important research projects. 

Deep below the Earth’s surface, research history will soon be made. The European XFEL, a research project worth a ten-figure sum and headed by the DESY (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron) research centre, will start operating before the end of the year. A high-power X-ray laser forms the hub of a tunnel system with a total length of 3.4 kilometres that extends from a district of Hamburg to the edge of Schenefeld in Schleswig-Holstein. It will offer unprecedented insights into the nano world. A total of 11 European countries are involved in the project, with Germany assuming around 60 percent of the costs. 

Particle accelerator in Hamburg

Superlatives should generally be used sparingly, but the European XFEL research installation is genuinely a project of huge dimensions. Costing 1.22 billion euros, it produces 27,000 X-ray laser flashes per minute – a billion-fold increase compared with conventional X-ray radiation sources. This makes it possible to capture images of extremely rapid processes. 

The European XFEL centres around a superconducting linear accelerator 1.7 km long. The electrons are accelerated in a vacuum in 96 tube modules, each 12 metres long. The process of joining together the separate modules was extremely complex due to the technology they contain and the interconnected measuring systems. Everything also needed to be kept meticulously clean. Assembly work had to be performed under cleanroom conditions because any particles would significantly disturb the vacuum in the beamline tube. 

Versatile, mobile and cleanroom-compatible 

The assembly solution that had to be created also needed to be mobile because anything else would simply have been uneconomical. After all, this work had to be performed throughout the tunnel system. This is where CCI – von Kahlden GmbH came into its own. The cleanroom specialists from Leinfelden-Echterdingen built three mobile cleanrooms. CEO Thomas von Kahlden has been using our profile technology for over eight years. Given the specific requirement for clean processes and closed grooves, Profile X 8 was used for this project, too.  

Cleanroom-compliant assembly and maintenance for the European XFEL 

A basic platform from item forms the basis of the mobile cleanrooms. The platform has “hoods” that are pressed against the module connections on the right and left, with the beamline tube as the core. Ventilation technology with appropriate filtration creates a clean environment within minutes of the system being switched on. Staff then simply need to wear long gloves to extend their hands into the cleanroom area and carry out the assembly work. The ventilation technology creates an overpressure within the system. This means air flows against the openings where personnel reach through to carry out their work and ensures that no external impurities can get into the system. 

Even now that the linear accelerator has been taken into service, the mobile cleanrooms are still in great demand. Thanks to our lifting feet, they can adapt flexibly to uneven surfaces in the tunnel and are vitally important for servicing and maintenance work on the module connections. The necessary tools and connecting elements are first inserted at the lower level of the system and cleaned. Once the member of staff has taken up his position, he can lift the parts to the correct working height via a linear axis. 

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