Engineers who design motion control devices face fierce pressure to get products to market faster, and at the same time to incorporate cost-efficient quality into their designs. Increasingly, they are relying on their suppliers for application and other support in order to meet their goals.
Design News: What are the biggest issues suppliers face with customers?
More: Industry-wide, users rely on suppliers to be subsystem experts, supplying subassemblies rather than parts. So we and others have to supply fans, standoffs, cabling, connectors, and other parts of the subassembly, while the customer integrates it all as a module. In general, users define their motion control problem and suppliers fill in the details. There is also a trend toward smaller, lighter packages that still provide the same power as larger packages. And, another major issue suppliers face is that users want longer life from their motion control systems. One year of life is standard in the industry, but we have several customers who want five years. Users are also expecting lower-cost solutions.
Q: What are the major issues facing users of motion control technology?
A: There are at least two issues that are important. One is time to market, and the other is cost-effective quality. Time to market is more important than it has ever been because of the intense competition companies face. Every user is under time pressure, and often it's the motion control vendor who can get the parts in the fastest who will be the winner. Regarding quality, we use statistical process control throughout our plant to ensure a consistent quality focus. We do a great deal of in-process inspection by operators, and the technicians within our work cells are trained to be their own inspectors. We continually measure our quality statistics against world-class standards.
Q: How are vendors addressing these very critical time-to-market and quality issues?
A: We are doing concurrent engineering, which saves a great deal of time in processing orders. We have also re-configured the physical location of design engineering and manufacturing engineering. They now both have access to the same software and other tools. E-commerce is becoming a factor. We communicate with suppliers and customers electronically, and we have a special team focused on finding out people's needs and ways to answer those needs quickly. We e-mail photos of prototypes and products to customers. We insist that our employees in different departments consider themselves each others' customers and develop continuous improvements so the end user is better served.
Q: How important is application support in the industry?
A: Very important. Customers aren't motor experts. They depend on their suppliers' expertise to help them meet their own needs. You might say that this business is about application support. Certainly, we believe that application support is our business.
Q: Do you think the motion control industry experienced rapid growth in the last few years?
A: No, I don't think it's been rapid growth at all. I think it has had only moderate growth in general, though the motor sector has grown quite a bit.
Q: What industries will see the biggest growth in use of motion control as we begin a new century?
A: The medical industry will grow in its use of motion control. That's partly due to an increase in home care and laboratory-diagnostic equipment. Additionally, more doctors are purchasing analytical devices for their offices. The semiconductor industry will also grow. When that industry makes the move to 300-mm wafers, that will cause a big increase in motion control activity. There is also a resurgence in use of ac induction motors because of their low cost. They are coming down to fractional horsepower size, and are cost effective in comparison to servos.
'Customers aren't motor experts.' Dominick More has worked in virtually every department at EAD Motors/Eastern Air Devices, holding positions from controller to vice president of manufacturing to chief operations officer, and now president. He is also on the board of directors of Elinco Motors. Previously, More was a management consultant with Peat Marwick International, a controller with KLH Research and Development Corp., and program administrator at Sanders Associates (Lockheed) for the design engineering of microwave devices for the military. He is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, with a masters degree from Babson College. He also served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps.