True to its name, the motion control industry didn’t stand still in 2011. There was quite a bit of activity on a wide variety of fronts. Here is a very brief and subjective take on a few of the top trends in motion control technology we saw in 2011.
1. Network trends in motion control
Perhaps the most significant and ongoing trend is the rise of Ethernet-based control networks. You see this with Rockwell’s Integrated Motion over Ethernet/IP as well as network standards based on Ethernet protocols such as Beckhoff’s EtherCAT standard.
A major reason for this trend is that using an Ethernet-based standard allows the manufacturing floor to more readily coordinate with other areas of an organization …
… most significantly with the larger enterprise resource planning, or ERP, functions within a company. But it also lets you integrate motion control with process and discrete machine control and even safety control.
2. Software trends in motion control
Specifically, simulation and modeling software. The relative ease of simulation and modeling is growing, with the benefits including the ability to slash design time and effort by doing increasingly sophisticated real-world modeling simulation of complex control systems and getting useful results from which to tweak the model before investing substantial time and material in building a prototype.
Another trend with software is the increased integration of what were once separate software packages. So for instance, many companies are offering software packages that integrate modeling and simulation functions with the motion controller, allowing an entire design to be done within one common software environment.
3. Controller trends in motion control
Last but certainly not least is the area of motion controllers, the hardware itself. The general trend here is for manufacturers to add features, such as support for Ethernet-based network protocols and other more sophisticated features such as diagnostics and programming capabilities. And this trend of more features is common across the full spectrum of controllers, from stand-alone controllers for simple single-axis applications to powerful multi-axis controllers.
Motion control trends: Summary
Of course, the motion control industry isn’t an island but is integrated with the larger world of global politics and economics. As just one example, this is why the supply of neodymium in China, used in the manufacture of rare-earth permanent magnets, is watched so closely, as China is the main exporter of neodymium at this time. So the price and availability of the material can easily affect the supply chain for motor manufacturers around the world. In addition, as the direction of the world economy remains uncertain and the world now more interconnected than ever before, recessions or upheavals in one part of the world can have a significant impact elsewhere.
It’s these global factors as well as technological ones that will make for an intriguing and anything-but-dull 2012.
Added February 2016:
New updates in motion control — 2015 and 2016
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