Buying an overall motion solution can reduce time and risk in the design effort. But design engineers are going to need new and varied skills to succeed.
Design News: Tol-O-Matic now offers complete motion solutions to its customers. What is a "complete solution" and what are the specific benefits to the design engineer?
Toles: When a design engineer wanted motion control in the past, he or she would have to go out and invest months of time researching and selecting all of the individual components, including the drives, motors, controls, and actuators; do the programming; and then hope he or she got it right. With a complete motion solution, we integrate all of these individual components, taking total responsibility for the complete system.
The benefit for the design engineer is that we take the risk and cost out of the design. Here at Tol-O-Matic, we have a group of motion-control engineers that understand the technology and have the experience and ability to identify the best solution for the customer. Our engineers go out and see motion control in a variety of industries and they are able to bring optimal solutions to every new application. And since we guarantee the performance of the entire system, the design engineer knows that the system will work as expected.
Q: How does this change the role of the design engineer?
A: Regardless of whether or not someone buys a motion system, he or she still needs to have the basic engineering skills. However, one fundamental difference is that the design engineer who buys a motion system is not going to be dealing with the nitty gritty of mechanical actuation. He or she will now have more time to spend on identifying the requirements of the application and on the process itself. For example, instead of worrying about how to get linear actuators to move a product from point A to point B, that engineer may be thinking about ways to shorten the overall cycle time.
Another fundamental change with a complete motion system is that the design engineer will be more involved in project management. He or she is going to need the people skills to work with suppliers, form relationships, and integrate various subsystems into the design.
Q: How can engineers be sure they have the ideal motion-control solution for a particular application?
A: To apply motion technology appropriately, the design engineer needs to know as much as possible about the specific application and choices available. And they need to bring the supplier in early--something that is often overlooked in many design efforts.
Q: Do you think this trend toward design engineers buying complete systems as opposed to individual components will continue?
A: Absolutely. In my lifetime, I think that the day will come when the majority of engineers will buy systems. The financial argument is just so compelling, I think once people understand the benefits, they will never go back to the old way of designing motion-control systems.
Q: When you talk about time savings, you also talk about reducing the total time-to-market for the customer. How are you able to offer a custom solution to your customers within a matter of days?
A: Tol-O-Matic is over 50 years old, and since the beginning our philosophy has always been to deliver products to our customers in 10 days or less. Today, it's closer to five days, and we're proud of the fact that we don't build anything to inventory. All of our products are built to order. One reason that we have been so successful is that we have the equipment and processes in place to achieve a very quick turnaround-time on customer orders. But, even more importantly, I think that we have instilled the passion and motivation within our workforce to get the job done.
Q: Can you give us a sneak preview of some upcoming technology developments?
A: Servo technology has some compelling advantages, but has clearly suffered in the past when it did not meet some of the performance expectations. But I think within the whole area of servopneumatics we are going to be seeing some very significant performance improvements in the near future. The biggest challenge, however, is not going to be in overcoming the technological hurdles, but rather in re-educating the design engineer about the true benefits.
Bill Toles is president and CEO of Tol-O-Matic. A native Minnesotan, he attended the University of Minnesota. He was sole proprietor of a material handling distributorship for 13 years prior to purchasing Tol-O-Matic in 1982. Through his leadership, the company has become a major innovator in linear fluid power and motion control products. Toles is a longstanding member of several private corporation boards and is an active participant in many civic and charitable organizations.