Machine tools, semiconductor and medical industries all use linear motion guides to a significant extent. The performance of their machines relies on high speeds and very accurate positioning. These industries require micron accuracy, and linear motion guides are responsible for it.
Design News: Linear motion has many applications across a wide variety of different industries. Have you seen any common trends among the various manufacturing industries?
Yamada: There is a common need to make machines faster and more accurate. This translates into greater efficiency and throughput. There is also a trend toward designing machines with a smaller footprint so the manufacturer can get more machines on the floor. Manufacturers' profits have been shrinking and greater efficiency can help the bottom line. Manufacturers also want greater flexibility from their processes and machines. Machines must now be able to change over from one product to another quickly. This is being driven by shorter product life cycles. Additionally, maintenance is becoming more of an issue, with companies demanding less downtime for their machines. Companies also want the amount of waste lubricant they need to dispose of to be reduced. Lastly, many manufacturers have a difficult time finding qualified labor. Because of all these factors, many industries are looking at smart, flexible automation to help.
Q: How does linear motion address these issues?
A: Linear motion, which is a key aspect of any automation process, can have a very positive effect on all these trends. The faster a machine can produce a part with the least amount of waste, the more efficient it is, and this improves the bottom line. Motor and control packages are getting more accurate and faster all the time. The mechanical components like our linear motion guides need to be compatible. By using a smart and flexible automation scheme in the automation process, product changeovers can be done in minutes with very little human intervention. All types of technology are making advances faster than ever before and this is leading to shorter product life cycles. Manufacturers recognize this and want to be able to adapt quickly. A good linear motion system can help them with this.
Q: What about the design engineer, how do you see his or her role changing in these industries?
A: The need for greater efficiency and flexibility isn't limited to machinery. Design engineers are being required to design more products in less time than ever before. Where product life cycles used to be measured in years, now many are measured in months. Often these engineers are asked to perform several functions, including the mechanical design, the electronic design, and product sourcing. They are looking for ways to speed up the design process and improve the quality and performance of the new machine. Because of the engineer's time constraints, he or she is making more demands on component suppliers for shorter lead times, higher quality and faster response.
Q: How can a linear motion company help the design engineer meet these challenges?
A: As an industry, linear motion component manufacturers need to improve our service to the OEM. The design engineer needs to design and build faster and they are expecting us to be able to support them. We are also seeing a growing number of OEM design engineers looking to us to design a complete positioning system or package.
Q: What changes and innovations will we see in the linear motion industry in the future?
A: On the product side, I think our new caged-ball technology will revolutionize the industry. With it, machines will be able to run faster, with more accuracy and less maintenance than even before. Linear motors will also have a dramatic effect on the industry. The speed, acceleration and accuracy of these motors are amazing. I also think over the next couple of years, we'll see more and more smart automation and positioning systems in industries that aren't using those systems now.