A decade ago the main focus of step motor manufacturers was to build a complete line of steppers that would satisfy a wide variety of motion control applications. Customers and the market as a whole looked at us as just the designers and manufacturers of various types of step motors. At the end of the day that was our primary function.
The electronics aspect of the motion control industry, i.e. drivers, controllers, modules and integrated circuits, was more of an after thought. At that point in time, step motor manufacturers didn't need to concern themselves with such products. For customers, it was still common practice to purchase a step motor from one company and then look somewhere else for the necessary electronics. This was often times the case because most motor manufacturers didn't have the capability to provide an all-in-one solution. Through time, however, both the motion control industry and step motor manufacturers have evolved.
The demands of today's market, combined with increased pricing pressure from overseas manufacturers, are forcing U.S. motor manufacturers to better differentiate themselves. After all, differentiation is key to the existence of every business. With the vast emergence of overseas competitors, being a manufacturer of an increasingly commoditized product will no longer cut it. Although most overseas manufacturers tend to produce lower quality knock-offs, U.S. manufacturers constantly need to find ways to make their products better. Whether a motor manufacturer chooses to specialize in making motors with superior performance, superior capabilities or superior modifications, the advancement toward differentiation is crucial.
For many U.S.-based motor manufacturers, this necessity for differentiation is driving the newfound notion of the integration of step motors with electronics in one complete package. In many cases, integration is now the way to go. For some users, the common misconception of all step motors performing the same has always existed. The same misconception applies for drivers and controllers, as well. The common underlying theme here is that one size doesn't fit all. Step motors come in various shapes and sizes so drivers and controllers must be chosen accordingly. For those who choose not to go through the trial and error process of finding these compatible electronics for their motors, integration might be the way to go.
Customers are now looking for a "one-stop-shop" where they are able to purchase not only a step motor, but often times a compatible driver and controller, and even accessories such as power supplies, gear heads and encoders, as well. Being a one-dimensional company will no longer lead to success. Constantly adapting to new competitive forces is crucial for continued existence. It is now necessary to expand all product lines, product expertise and manufacturing capabilities to encompass motor-related products, as well. While the age-old demands of better performance at a better price in a smaller package have always existed, integration has gained a lot of steam and will continue to be a dominant force for years to come.
Now that we've begun to move toward achieving today's requirements for a successful U.S.-based motor manufacturer, we must continue to innovate and differentiate within the motion control industry in order to keep our edge over overseas competitors and maintain a dominant presence within our market.