In the time-honored end-of-December tradition of looking back over the year coming to a close, here are some of the most significant storylines that we saw throughout the year in the motion control industry. While they may not have first sprung up in 2012, they certainly came to our attention this year and folks in the industry were talking about them as well.
1) The Return of Manufacturing – While not solely a motion control story, the broader trend of reshoring (bringing manufacturing work back to the U.S. from overseas facilities) may be a significant boon to many U.S. industries, including the broad motion control industry. The requirements of high-tech manufacturing can include powerful multi-axis motion systems, so-called “smart” motors and controllers, and a host of other components that could mean a healthy boost in business for motion control suppliers. Design World’s editor Paul Heney has covered this trend and offers some insights here.
2) Integration – More and more companies are beginning to offer complete motion control packages to their customers. While some bigger players have offered this for years, more mid-size companies are moving in this direction as well. Companies like Bosch Rexroth, for instance, have introduced new efforts aimed at providing complete mechatronic solutions to their customers. Instead of being solely a motor manufacturer or an actuator company, now companies are offering completely integrated solutions including motors, controllers, drives, feedback devices, software and design support as well as mechanical components. From the customer’s end, this certainly can be an attractive option. One-stop shopping for a system can be less expensive an option than sourcing parts from multiple vendors.
3) Energy Efficiency – A noticeable trend this year has been the increased attention paid to energy consumption. Motion control suppliers have introduced more energy efficient components and systems, as well as software that helps designers assess energy usage and potential energy savings in their machines and systems. I wrote about this earlier this year, particularly the new software offerings from some major players in the motion control space.
4) Marriage of Motion and Vision – One technology trend that I noticed this year was an increasing integration of traditional vision systems with motion control. Instead of using other more traditional sensors on manufacturing lines and machines, cameras are now becoming a viable alternative. With industrial-strength cameras and more powerful image processors, it makes sense that designers are incorporating more vision into their motion control systems. Companies like Cognex and National Instruments are at the forefront of this development. Look for this trend to stay steady throughout next year as well.
5) Hybrid Vehicle Market – Lastly, the growth of the electric vehicle and hybrid vehicle market is providing some new opportunities for motion control companies. Motors, drives, and controllers are being used in this new breed of vehicles, such as this electric motorcycle from Virginia Tech University. As the world increasingly turns to alternatives to gas and diesel power, there’s a bright future in store for these classic motion control devices.
And with that we bring 2012 to a close and wish everyone a happy and prosperous 2013!