New power modules, electronic breakthroughs for autos, the spread of "soft motion"--these were just a few of the topics that leading engineers tackled in a full day of webcasts recently presented by Design News and industry partners.
The sessions, which engineers can view in archived form on the Design News website (www.designnews.com/e2e), are the first in a new E2E (Engineer to Engineer(TM)) series that will feature prominent engineers addressing important technical issues.
With keynote remarks by well-known engineering entrepreneur Dick Morley, the October 18 E2E event showcased technologies that are transforming engineering design.
With the steady march of more software and electronics into the mechanical arena, speakers described a world of more compact, customized designs and faster development and production cycles.
"We're moving from mass production to point-of-sale manufacturing," said Morley, inventor of the PLC. Among his predictions for "Engineering in 2020": final assembly of autos at the dealership level and "living cars" with so much built-in intelligence that they can adapt to the environment without human controls.
Glimpse of tomorrow
Morley's vision demands enhanced power systems in cars, and engineering consultant John Miller gave his view on how to accelerate the move to 42V technology in a webcast devoted to "Hot Trends in Advanced Electronic Motor Drives." Miller, who has done extensive work with hybrid vehicles, described a method to introduce 42V functionality without the need to retrofit existing 14V power systems. At the heart of his dual-voltage scheme: high-current MOSFETs, digitally-controlled motion modules, and two 14V ultracapacitors.
In the same session, David Torrey of Advanced Energy Conversion presented his idea for a belt-driven starter/alternator system, based on switched reluctance technology, to save fuel in cars. Professor Tom Jahns of the University of Wisconsin also provided a glimpse of his futuristic projects: giant magnetoresistive field detectors that integrate sensors into power modules, as well as planar interconnect power modules that do away with wire bonds.
"Integration is the overriding theme in developing new power modules that will boost performance, lower cost, and improve reliability," said Jahns, who envisions smart motors that will combine all power electronics and controls within the motor frame.
Key enabling technologies
Other webcasts assessed the essential building blocks for motion control advances, particularly microelectronics and software. In the session on "The Latest Buzz on Digital-Based Motion Control," Kedar Godbole of Texas Instruments discussed the rapid increase in digital signal processors (DSPs) for motion control. That trend, he believes, allows engineers to better differentiate their products and build in more features.
With the price of DSPs dropping from a range of $2 to $15 per unit, Muhammed Mubeen of Motion Tech Trends agrees that this technology is not just for high-end applications. His engineering services company has included DSPs in designs as diverse as sump pumps, microwave ovens, and commercial paint sprayers. "It's getting to be that your application is obsolete if it doesn't have a DSP," said Mubeen.
Beyond digital-based motion control, Rahul Kulkarni of National Instruments sees a progression toward using software to create custom motion controllers, with the engineer choosing the processor and I/O based on price and performance requirements. For example, using the NI SoftMotion module for LabVIEW, engineers can build a reconfigurable motion controller on a PC or other platform, using a data acquisition device or Compact FieldPoint with servo updates up to 200 kHz per axis.
Among the new applications discussed in the "Understanding Soft Motion Control" webcast are projects that Professor Wayne Book is supervising at the Intelligent Machine Dynamics Laboratory at Georgia Tech. These include systems that provide "haptic" or tactile feedback sensations to simulate the control of heavy equipment .
Making the right choice
Other E2E webcasts tackled the tradeoffs involved when engineers choose control systems and motors for their projects. In the session on "Selection Guidelines for Central and Distributed Motion Control," Galil senior application engineer Todd Shearer gave examples of how flexible distributed control can provide the tight motion coordination of a central-control scheme-while saving money on wiring costs.
Similarly, in the "Basics of Motor Selection" webcast, Larry Roberts of Besie Die Handling explained how his company doubled throughput on a pick-and-place machine for semiconductor assembly by shifting from a stepper motor to a direct-drive servo motor.
Noting the increasing options that engineers have for motors, Todd Clark, founder of the Axis New England engineering firm, gave advice that may well apply to the entire fast-moving field of motion control: "There is a lot of innovation out there, so keep an open mind."