What are the key trends in integrated motion control products?
The trend to more integrated motion solutions is exciting because we are seeing so much pressure from the Pacific Rim on motor technologies and motors moving toward becoming a commodity. We see a way of adding value by offering motion platforms that include the motor, controller, gearhead, cabling and feedback device, so the system is plug-and-play and everything fits together better.
The key is combining diverse technologies into integrated systems, so the control engineer or machine builder doesn't necessarily have to be a systems' integrator. Standards are helping to make this easier with the emergence of technologies such as IEC-61131-3, PLC Open and a move to application-specific function blocks that simplify system development and start-up. Ethernet and other fieldbus options provide networking and provide glue that holds systems together.
Why does the move to integrated motion solutions seem to be gaining momentum?
Healthy competition is forcing suppliers to get leaner and provide better solutions. Global competition and the drive to lower cost and smaller products is encouraging innovation. The engineers of today are using more sophisticated design tools, such as MathCad and ProE and are familiar with soft design capabilities.
More engineers are cross-trained in multiple disciplines and knowledgeable in both mechanical and electrical engineering. There is a comfort level now with software products and how to integrate more sophisticated solutions.
What key technologies should engineers be aware of?
Software solutions and standardization are the drivers for integrated motion solutions. The IEC 61131-3 standard has been very important for embedded systems, along with the programming utility of PLC Open motion function blocks and Windows dynamic link libraries. Software solutions and tools are critical to easily solving specific motion control applications.
Suppliers are working to provide viable platforms that allow engineers to integrate motion solutions with the human-machine interface and performance scalability that allows the machine design to add functions to machines more effectively.
How can we expect this trend to impact future motor development?
Brushless motors are becoming the de facto standard in fractional horsepower motors. New designs offer excellent power density, small footprints and powerful DSP-based control algorithms for embedded control. Motors continue to be refined with feedback devices that offer high resolution in smaller sizes and continuing focus on robust designs. Commercial grade, high energy NdFeB magnet materials, Halbach Array technology and ferrofluids are important technologies for optimizing motor performance and value. A Halbach array is a technique for optimizing and orienting magnets and producing higher quality sinusoidal output. Ferrofluids is one more way to improve power density. The processing of Neodymium continues to offer improvements and better magnet materials are providing more latitude in terms of tolerance in designing high performance, smaller motors.
What are the implications for motion control applications?
Integrated systems and the miniaturization of products is allowing design engineers to be more creative. Motor and system miniaturization offer possibilities for medical industry applications and high-speed motor systems are being used for robotics, prosthetics and other biomedical applications. Expert systems are an application area benefitting from tighter connections between the motor and controller, along with better higher resolution feedback, more robust operation and smaller overall product footprints.