18, 1998 Design News
GUEST COMMENTARY Exclusive interviews with technology leaders
Linear motors come into their own
by Anwar Chitayat CEO and Director of Development
The linear motor, which drives machines at breathtaking
speeds and with excruciating precision, is a technology
that was invented before its time. But as we approach
the next century, the linear motor has finally come
into its own, if market projections are any indication.
Anwar Chitayat, president of Anorad Corp., estimates
that the market for linear motors will grow to $250
million by the year 2000.
Design News: Linear motors have been around for
decades. Why did it take so long for the market to recognize
Chitayat: If you look back through history,
most new technologies have an incubation period. Take
robots--it's only been in the past 20 years or so that
practical applications for them were identified. Same
with linear motors. Early on, the technology was overkill
for most applications. If you were a machine-tool designer,
what good was it to have a linear motor when there were
no cutters available to work at that speed? Today, however,
the enabling technologies are now in place. We have
cutters and rails and bushings and other components
that can go at the necessary high speeds, and at the
same time we have affordable electronics to sense those
speeds and in effect close the loop.
Q: What are the biggest obstacles to overcome in
terms of growing the market for linear motors?
A: It's getting people over the fear of something
new, which is basically human nature. Historically,
most engineers have been accustomed to rotary motors
and all of a sudden they are confronted with a completely
different kind of technology. Getting people to overcome
the fear of learning about something new is our industry's
biggest challenge. On the other hand, the more people
that have success with linear motors, the more new users
will be motivated to look at the technology. Early on,
I remember an engineer with one of the automotive companies
telling me that linear motors would never work, they'd
never be made practical. But once the company saw the
Ingersoll Rands of the world having success with the
technology, they were back to talk to us. We're seeing
a kind of domino effect today in that regard.
Q: Obviously, high-performance metal-cutting machines
are an ideal application for linear motors. What are
some of the other applications?
A: I think one of the more interesting applications
for linear motors is in parts movers, such as in a conveyor
sorting system where you may be moving parts in a racetrack
fashion around a circle or even up and down through
multi-levels. With linear motors, you have a moving
magnet and an encoder that tell you exactly where you
are--there's no cables or expensive mechanisms to deal
with. I think the real power of linear motors is that
they are allowing engineers to design systems in ways
they never envisioned before.
Q: What is happening with the pricing of linear
motors, which have historically been more costly than
A: Traditionally, any new technology is more
expensive than the status quo. And it is true that historically
the price of linear motors has been more expensive than
a rotary motor with equivalent horsepower. But just
as with computers, the price of linear motors has been
dropping--by about 30% to 40%. In fact, in some applications,
such as when you're using a high- precision ball screw,
the price of a linear motor is equivalent to a rotary
motor--and you eliminate the backlash! One reason we
have been able to drop the price, of course, is greater
volumes. Anorad alone has sold more than 30,000 linear
motors. But even more significantly, we're learning
to be better at what we do. With each product introduction,
we're learning how to design the product better and
manufacture it more efficiently. One of the latest developments
our company has come up with is the moving magnet technology,
which resulted in yet another cost reduction.
Q: What new developments in linear motors can we
expect over the next few years?
A: We anticipate that linear motors are going
to get much more user friendly, to the point that just
about anybody can use them. They will be plug-and-play.
For any technology to gain widespread acceptance, people
have to be able to use it without a great deal of training.
You don't want them worrying about things like how to
marry the encoder to the system.
Anwar Chitayat CEO and Director of
Development Anorad Corp.
'The real power of linear motors is that they allow
engineers to design systems in ways that they never
envisioned before.' Mr. Anwar Chitayat founded Anorad
Corp. by borrowing $2,000, setting up shop in his basement,
and putting his ideas to practice. He now holds more
than 20 U.S. patents in linear motors, XY stages, robotic
manipulators, and computerized controls--all of which
form the basis for most of Anorad's products. Mr. Chitayat
holds degrees in both Mechanical and Electrical Engineering
and was formerly vice president of engineering at Optomechanisms,
Inc. He has been instrumental in the development and
manufacture of more than 30,000 automation equipment
systems in use today assembling, inspecting, and testing
electronic and communication equipment. He has contributed
in chairing and working on ANSI subcommittees for standardization,
promoted university-industry partnerships, and was recognized
as the 1997 Entrepreneur of the Year Award winner in
the category of Technology.