The MCS2 is SmarAct’s most versatile and modular control system.

Its stringent modular design makes it the perfect choice for all fields of application. To meet the specific requirements of each setup, product variants for three positioning stages up to variants with an EtherCAT® module for real-time control of the most complex multi-axis systems are available. MCS2 control systems are also available as OEM versions, such as separate boards.


Key Features

User Friendly

  • Pre-configured modular system
  • Service Tool for easy setup and quick testing
  • Programming examples for LabVIEW™, C++, and Python


  • In the field firmware update system
  • Sophisticated firmware modules
    • Low-vibration mode to reduce vibrations caused by stick-slip motion
    • Advanced sensor calibration for increased accuracy

Intuitive Hand Control Module

  • Precise, manual control
  • Graphical display for easy view
  • Tactile control via 2D joysticks, buttons, and knobs


  • Compatible with all SmarAct stages with stick-slip piezo drives, hybrid drives, and electromagnetic direct drives
  • Supports S and L position sensors with nanometer resolution
  • Is able to utilize SmarAct’s PICOSCALE Interferometer as a high-resolution position sensor with picometer resolution
  • Fast control loop with up to 50 kHz


  • Well documented property-based Application Programming Interface (API)
  • SCPI based ASCII command protocol for Ethernet interface
  • Synchronous motion of multiple axes
  • Complex customizable trajectories with up to 1 kHz trajectory point frequency
  • Sensor power save mode for thermal management in vacuum applications
  • Closed-loop positioning with velocity and acceleration control and high-resolution positioning accuracy
  • Open-loop scan mode for sub-nm slip-free piezo motion
  • Quiet mode for noise-sensitive applications, especially in life science


  • Optional I/O Modules
    • Trigger inputs for external synchronization
    • Configurable trigger outputs for each channel
    • 16-bit analog inputs e.g. as control-loop input
    • 16-bit analog outputs e.g. to control external components
    • High speed data reader (HSDR) module for synchronous recording of position and external signals
    • EtherCAT® module for real-time performance of a virtually unlimited number of sensors and actuators.
  • USB and Ethernet interface available

Modular Concept

The MCS2 series is based on a highly modular system concept which allows SmarAct to provide you with a perfectly adapted and pre-configured control system. The following modules of the MCS2 modular system are available.

Main Controller Module with Driver Module and Communication Interface

This module is the core component of every MCS2 configuration. The driver module reads the sensor data from the sensor module to perform closed-loop position control of the attached positioning stages. It also includes the communication interface module which can offer either a USB or an Ethernet interface. The main controller comes in variants for a multiple of three driver channels.

Sensor Module

This module converts the analog sensor data into digitized data which is processed by the main controller module.

Hand Control Module

The hand control module offers a touchscreen, physical buttons and two analog joysticks to manually interact with the positioning system. Physical axes of the positioning system can be easily mapped to joystick axes for easy manual positioning. If the stages are equipped with position sensors, the actual position of the stage can be read on the module’s touchscreen.

I/O Modules

SmarAct offers a wide variety of I/O modules. From simple modules with digital outputs up to multipurpose modules with both digital and analog input and output functionality.

Fast digital outputs can be used to trigger external devices on specific internal events of the main controller (e.g. Position Reached Events).

Digital device inputs allow to trigger the MCS2 by an external device, for example, to perform an emergency stop or to synchronize the trajectory streaming.

General purpose digital inputs and outputs provide control signals to control light sources, relays, dispensers, etc., or to read the state of safety switches, light barriers, etc.

Analog inputs can be used to read analog voltage signals from external devices. The controller supports to feed these signals into the control loop and thus allows closed-loop operation depending on external sensor signals.

If the application and the data post processing require high data rates the MCS2 controller can be equipped with an optional High Speed Data Reader (HSDR) extension board. The HSDR extension board allows to stream position and other channel data with a maximum frame rate of up to 50 kHz via a dedicated USB port using the
SmarAct API.

The latest advantage at I/O module level is the optional EtherCAT® I/O module which enables, for example, synchronous real-time control of multiple nodes of a complex and versatile installation on the fly. The EtherCAT® I/O module is available as rack module.

Please find a detailed description of the I/O Modules in the MCS2 Download section.

MCS2 Housing Variants

Depending on the specific configuration of the MCS2, the modules can be integrated in one of the following housings:

Integrated Handheld: The integrated handheld is equipped with the main controller module including a communication interface and a human-machine interface module. All together combined in a small and light tabletop housing.


Rack Housing: The modular rack housing with 6 slots is equipped with the main controller module including a communication interface and a backplane. It is compatible with 3-channel main control modules encapsulated into module carriers that require one slot each. Consequently, up to six main controller modules can be mounted into the three height unit rack housing making it possible to control up to 18 positioning stages.


Tabletop Housing: Tabletop housings are equipped with the main controller module including a communication interface in the most basic configuration. Variants for controlling up to 12 positioing stages or integrated I/O modules are available within one compact desktop device.


Hand Control Module: Manual control of MCS2 controllers in rack and tabletop housing can be optionally controlled via an external hand control module which resembles the same user interface as the integrated handheld version.


Firmware Modules and Features

To increase the functionality of MCS2 control system even further and to adapt driving parameters of the connected piezo stages to the application, SmarAct has developed several firmware modules and features. Some of them are enabled by default in every MCS2 controller, others are available as options.

Sensor Power Save Mode

This firmware feature is particularly interesting for stages that are going to be used in vacuum experiments. The mode changes the duty cycle of the position sensors LED when the stage is an idle state and not moving. This reduces the heat dissipation of the position sensor and the overall heat load on the stage and the positioning system significantly.

Scan Mode

Enabling this firmware feature affects the control loop in a way that it exclusively uses the scan feature of the piezo drive omitting large distance steps occurring during a stick-slip motion. This feature is useful whenever the controlled stage is being used for scanning probe applications where a stick-slip motion could harm or damage samples and tools.

Quiet Mode

The quiet mode firmware feature was especially developed for life science applications. This mode shifts the driving frequency of the piezo drive out of the human hearing range.

Zero-Voltage Mode

This firmware feature affects the control loop to ensure that the drive voltage is controlled to zero volts after each stick-slip movement while the target position is held. This feature is of particular interest for stages used in scanning electron microscopy systems or experiments with low energy electrons or ions.

Low-Vibration Mode (Optional)

The low-vibration mode firmware module was especially developed for ultra-high precision applications like scanning probe microscopy and life science experiments. This algorithm reduces the vibrations which inevitably occur by the stick-slip driving principle. The result is a smooth motion which enables the usage of our stick-slip piezo stages even for most demanding applications.

Advanced Sensor Calibration (Optional)

SmarAct stages and systems can be equipped with integrated optical position sensors. These are based on optical incremental encoders, which interpolate between stripes on a sensor scale. This sometimes leads to a small periodic interpolation error, with a periodicity matching the grating pattern of the sensor scale, i. e. the spacing between the stripes. This error affects the absolute accuracy of the stages but not the repeatability. The advanced sensor calibration firmware module reduces these periodic errors significantly. This patented feature is especially interesting for applications where absolute accuracy is crucial. These include for example high-precision scanning and stitching of microscopy images.


  • MCS2 Modular Concept
    May 04, 2022


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