In a recent interview with Scott Evans, Director of Product Strategy at Kollmorgen (for our Motion Trends coverage of electric motors) we got particularly good insight on the changes of today’s motion design. Following is some of Scott’s perceptive commentary. Enjoy!
Motion design changes in electronic hardware
One obvious change in motion is the miniaturization of products by virtue of efficiency gains and miniaturization in electronic components. The main driver behind this is consumer electronics, because that is where the real volume is.
However, industries such as medical, aerospace and defense (A&D), and automotive (OEMs … not the manufacturing) — which have long favored embedded motion — are now driving the adoption of the consumer electronics in industrial and military products … and demanding their motion suppliers do the same.
Consumer electronics also continues to drive down component cost, which lets all industries afford more sophisticated products that were previously unaffordable.
Many motion companies will say there is movement towards de-centralization or towards centralization. Or they might say there is movement towards integration or de integration. We see ebb and flow between these, even at the same OEM …
… but it is our opinion that this is driven more by the specific application than a broad preference.
Motion design changes in software and communication
Although it feels like there are more Ethernet-based protocols than ever before, we are starting to see obvious winners and losers in this space. We see indications of de-facto consolidation and expect that to continue.
We also expect the open and consumer-driven protocols such as TSN will start to take root. This will help the smaller players, if they jump on board … or hurry their extinction.
Motion design changes in power transmission and mechanical components
Precise-and-automated machining continues to drive quieter, more precise and more efficient mechanicals. These gains let OEMs specify smaller transmissions, and make the motors and amplifiers that drive them smaller, too. Gearing technologies that were previously too expensive for most applications — for example, planetary, cycloidal, and even harmonic — are becoming more affordable, so are gaining wider adoption.
Also, there are more Savvy OEMs …
Often, conversations are focused exclusively on technologies … but what is often overlooked is the increased sophistication even of small OEMs. For instance, these OEMs now appreciate the cost of ownership and the value of precision much more … versus just the acquisition cost, as in the past.
As service contracts and leasing arrangements (not unlike the jet-engine industry) start to become more popular, so will selection of components that increase the precision and life of a machine.
On cloud-enabling technologies and IIoT capabilities for motors
Inside our motors, we can supply embedded sensing technology, in addition to the velocity/position feedback, that provides data around torque/torsion/stress, humidity, pressure, etc. We find this of demand in high-value machines one might find in large HVAC and mills and mining; But the technology is young enough that widespread adoption in the typical factory is a few years off yet. More after the jump.
We do see the ability of sensors to scavenge power off of inefficiencies in machinery (vibration, heat, light, etc.) to be self-powered to be a huge driver. But until they can scavenge enough power to drive a radio— and can store energy long enough to transmit what is in the buffer after the machine stops — this will not be adopted widely. Also, until we have industry standards that stratify, normalize, and harmonize data standards (scaling and units, for instance) and a safe-and-universally-standard way to communicate the data, even a self-powered sensor will not find wide adoption except in specific-duty (and closed) systems.
Drives and control systems have long had the ability to handle much more data, stratify it and even normalize it, then send to upstream systems. The process industries have been leveraging this capability for years and continue to drive.
Again, more-open systems such as OPC-UA will aid and abet wider use of these capabilities …
… and will someday be widely used even in discrete manufacturing.
Recent applications using motion components to improve design
Moore’s Law has afforded many applications that were unaffordable or inconceivable 10 years ago.
Motion has so improved that the error (actual motion vs. commanded motion) is controlled in the 1µs range, by the electronics mounted on—or a few meters from—the motion; so concerns like jitter and lag that were huge issues a few years ago, are no longer such large issues.
A popular discussion around drive-by-wire can be used as an example:
We can fly drones over targets of interest from a control center thousands of miles away, using cable-TV satellites, and COTS consumer electronics at both ends of the communiqué. The lag is less than a second. None of that was possible 10 years ago. The same technologies are being used in multi-plant processing such as refining; also being used in driverless vehicles such as for mining and exploration.
Even ultra-simple applications, such as slow labeling machines, are able to simplify their mechanicals dramatically because the higher-performance motion is more affordable. If an OEM can buy a stepper system, for example, for the same price he once paid for a mechanical clutch system, why wouldn’t he do that? Especially when customers expect accurate label placement and zero scrap, and longer machine life by virtue of fewer wear-components, but are not willing to pay a higher price for the machine?
Changes in motion and power-transmission design over the last decade
For specialty designs (in this context, designs made through partnering with suppliers for custom solutions) there have been some exciting trends as well. As reshoring picks up steam, we are seeing a spiral effect happening around mass-customization and artisanship.
First, I’ll describe what I mean by spiral. You’ve heard the terms referring to when something comes back around or comes full-circle. But if things come back around in a slightly different form, the situation is more like a spiral than a circle … as the circumstances exist on a slightly different plane.
Well, in the olden days before the Industrial Revolution, businesses thrived from the work of artisans (such as bakers, stained-glass-window manufacturers, cobblers, and blacksmiths). This mode of production gave way to mass-produced have-any-color-you-want-as-long-as-it’s-black production. But even mass-produced products were labor-intensive to make … manufacturers just got better organized and adept at outputting product with mass-parallel production with industrial-automation speeds. Once developing countries started catching up with the ability to mass-produce, but with cheaper labor, manufacturing jobs began to disappear from mature countries.
Today, affordable automation and CAD/CAM now lets companies reduce labor and bring manufacturing back home to places such as the U.S., but it’s not just mass-produced cookie-cutter production this time around. Instead, mass-customized products are now possible with minimal changeover time. This allows smaller batches and lower overhead costs.
Included in affordable automation are motion and PT. Not only are the automation components more affordable, they are more-precise, longer-living, and easier-to-use.
In summary, even motion suppliers are figuring out how to customize quickly and efficiently, and at minimal cost. So OEMs who have an idea, but find that commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) motion products are insufficient can now leverage co-engineering and customization in concert with the right supplier.
Other innovations on the horizon for motor-driven design
We believe a megatrend is coming …
End users will begin to steer clear of “specifying specific vendors” on the components and systems inside capital equipment they purchase. Why?
I. Baby boomers are retiring. With them, antiquated notions are retiring. Here they are in no particular order …
a. Buying equipment and maintaining it with expensive in-house staff
1. Specifying sub-optimized COTS components/systems in the name of reduced spares-and-repairs inventory
2. Relying (almost exclusively)upon particular vendors with closed systems
b. Programming with relay logic
c. The notion that “everything we do is secret sauce”
II. The above will be replaced with other approaches. Here they are in no particular order …
a. The notion of “robotics” will mean so much more, and be much-more-widely accepted than any time in our history
1. Mechanical designers will have real-world robotics- and machine-design experience right out of school
b. There will be more 21st-century coders and electronics experts
c. There will be a shift towards leasing equipment … and pushing responsibility for OEE and “perfect production” onto the machinery suppliers
1. This will spur best-in-class components and subsystems
2. The design objectives of quieter and smoother operation, more precise setups, and longer-life will drive designs
3. There will be more service contracts … so suppliers will begin to be paid based on uptime, OEE, production
• OEMs will own the maintenance, and spares-and-repairs
• Remote monitoring and predictive maintenance will be de rigueur
• Winners will produce machines that self-diagnose, self-prognose, even self-heal
4. OEMs will be much more willing to try new ideas and hacks than in the past
d. Anonymizing, normalizing, and harmonizing data — all in the spirit of sharing these data in a BIG way — will become critical to continuous improvement.
1. Mutual learning without collusion will become necessary. (This is arguably already necessary.)