Among the many growing problems design engineers have in the world of factory automation is the need to maintain remotely located equipment, says Presher. But, he adds, with downsizing and mergers, they have fewer human resources to do that. Ethernet connectivity is one answer to the problem, he asserts.
Design News: What are the major emerging issues engineers face in motion control?
Presher: Many of our customers are large end users of automation like Kodak, Unilever, and PPG. They are feeling the pressure of the need for maintenance of equipment. With all the mergers and downsizing, which left engineering-automation groups shorthanded, engineers have more responsibility than ever for keeping equipment running smoothly. If you are in a big company when a merger occurs, the resulting company may be 1.5 times the original size, and there are usually fewer automation engineers in relation to the equipment base. The automation engineers are then often in the position of trying to tread water, instead of making productivity improvements. Manufacturers building machines for resale are feeling some of the same pressures, plus they are feeling pricing pressure. Since we have been in business, I have seen a constant drive downward in prices. Servos are much less expensive now than they were in the 80s.
Q: What's the answer to these pressures?
A: We feel networking is the answer. Ethernet TCP/IP delivers connectivity at a reasonable price. Previous solutions were OK, but a lot of the capabilities were restricted to PLCs themselves. The technology was proprietary, and the costs were high. With Ethernet, you can attach your factory automation to the corporate network. Many large multi-national companies already have wide area networks. Engineers can upgrade and troubleshoot automation controls around the world from their desks, and that takes some of the heat off them to travel so much. We see a future with two primary networks--the second one involves putting servos on Firewire. That enables you to extend the global corporate connectivity all the way down to the servo drive. The more knowledge that is available, the better people can deal with automation problems. Ease of use and low cost of operations are important benefits of all this. Firewire also extends connectivity to the drive, allowing one spare servodrive to service many motors, with all the appropriate set-up parameters downloaded automatically by the application.
Q: What is Firewire?
A: It's Apple Computer's name for the IEEE-1394 standard. Our version of Firewire layers an application for servos over it. We call it ServoWire. It's a competitor to SERCOS, and someday we hope it will become an open standard.
Q: Are the pressures you talked about--maintenance and the demand to lower costs--industry specific?
A: We feel these problems are the same in every industry. Another problem/opportunity is that the world is becoming smaller in terms of business. Many manufacturers have had problems complying with the requirements of Europe's CE mark, and they really notice the cost of that compliance. Nevertheless, we feel compliance with standards pushes quality higher, and there is value there. For example, it helps end users by improving the reliability of equipment.
Q: Is ease of use much of an issue with servo-based motion control?
A: Yes, it's very important. Because servo technology is inherently reliable, when technology problems do arise they can be hard to deal with even after the best of training. Although ease of implementing the application is important, we feel it's even more important to make sure our equipment is easy to deal with in the manufacturing environment.
Q: Within the last year, you bought Westamp. What will be the fruit of that acquisition?
A: Higher-quality drives spanning a broader power range. The Westamp acquisition, now called ORMEC UltraDrive, provides ORMEC with great power capabilities. The Servo-Wire drives currently have a power range from a few hundred watts to four or five kilowatts. We'll extend that range to 10 to 20 kW within the relatively near future.
'Engineers are trying to tread water amid maintenance problems.' Gordon Presher is one of the founders of ORMEC, which supplies servo-based motion control. He has nearly 30 years experience in automation and servo control technology. Inc. Magazine selected Presher as its 1994 Upstate New York Entrepreneur of the Year. Holding a B.S. degree in electrical engineering from the University of Rochester, he developed extensive knowledge and experience in servo-based automation systems while working for Eastman Kodak.