Fort Smith, AR--A giant in the rotary motor industry, Baldor Electric Co. recently announced plans to acquire NORMAG (Northern Magnetics), a maker of linear motors with $10 million in annual sales. Baldor, which designs and manufactures a broad line of energy-efficient motors and adjustable-speed drives, had sales of more than $500 million in 1997.
A major factor in Baldor's decision to acquire NORMAG was the growing number of applications. Industry analysts expect the market for linear motors to grow to $250 million by the year 2000.
That growth roughly parallels the drop in price of linear motors--by about 30% to 40% in some cases, as well as the corresponding availability of supporting technologies that can operate at the requisite high speeds.
"Linear motors are becoming more important to many of our customers," says Roland S. Boreham, Jr., chairman of Baldor. "NORMAG is a leader in linear motors and has an excellent reputation and a very broad product line."
Both companies view the acquisition as a perfect fit--technologically speaking. "It strengthens our ability to offer customers a wide range of motors and drives," says Boreham, while NORMAG's chairman, Walter Hinds, adds, "The industrial drives and motion control products that Baldor offers match up well with our linear motors. We can now offer customers a motor and drive combination."
As the name implies, a linear motor has a flat coil that passes over permanent magnets. The resulting high speeds and high precision are just two of the strengths that have convinced the machine tool industry, for one, to make the move to linear motors. In fact, warp-speed metal cutting equipment is often cited as perhaps the ideal application for linear motors. Other applications include packaging equipment, materials handling systems, and semiconductor manufacturing equipment.
Despite the benefits, however, a certain inertia in some markets is an obstacle that Baldor and other players must overcome in order for linear motors to gain wider acceptance. Most engineers today are comfortable designing with rotary motors, creating a strong incentive to maintain the status quo.
Through ongoing efforts to educate the market and design linear motors that are easier to use, suppliers hope to avoid sales of these motors from flattening out anytime soon.