When it comes to linear motion products, focusing on the upfront purchase price rather than total applied cost may be penny wise, says Pauwels, but is pound foolish in the long run.
Design News: What is the international outlook for the linear motion industry?
Pauwels: The global marketplace has opened up opportunities for U.S.-based suppliers of linear motion products. We expect this trend to continue, particularly as developing countries begin to apply increasing levels of automation in their factories and manufacturing processes. We also see more off-shore competition coming into the marketplace. A few of these companies offer imitation products of questionable quality and simply "tailgate" on the previous efforts of others. They make no effort to develop the end-use market or to provide new technology; they hope to compete simply by offering imitation products at lower prices.
Q: How important is price as a selection criteria for linear motion products?
A: In the past, engineers put considerably more emphasis on product innovation and performance. The trend in recent years is to focus on the upfront purchase price rather than the total applied cost. What is frustrating is that a component such as a linear actuator accounts for only a small percentage of the total cost of manufactured equipment. By trying to shave a few cents from what is a small cost to begin with, possibly by buying a lower quality component, engineers put themselves at great risk. Just think of the serious consequences if that part fails prematurely.
Q: Can you explain the concept of total applied cost as it relates to linear motion products?
A: Total applied cost involves looking at the entire life cycle of a component and in particular the associated costs of manufacturing. For example, a high performance bearing with twice the load-carrying capacity and a longer predicted service life may have a slightly higher price tag than other bearings. But it will also permit the machine designer to downsize not only the bearing system, but also the overall equipment design. If a smaller bearing can be used to carry the same load, the shafting and the entire machine assembly can be made smaller--at a substantial cost reduction. And by using a bearing with a longer service life, designers can build machines that require less downtime and maintenance and stay in service much longer. Over time, this added reliability leads to greater customer satisfaction.
Q: What technological advancements are on the horizon?
A: In recent years, development efforts in the linear products industry have focused on greater rigidity, better positioning accuracy, higher speeds, and the overall downsizing of components. While all of these trends will continue, in particular we're seeing more and more applications for smaller bearings and actuators. Also, we anticipate greater integration of linear motion components--including the motor, gear box, and ball screw--directly into a complete system delivered ready to install. In short, linear motion products keep getting better and better.
Q: What are some of the challenges the industry is facing today?
A: Miniaturization is probably one of the biggest challenges, because as size decreases the need for precision in the manufacturing of all the related components increases. An imperfection of a few ten-thousandths of an inch in a large bearing is probably negligible. However, even a tiny imperfection in a small bearing can impact performance. While it is technologically possible to grind raceways to such tight tolerances, the real challenge is finding cost-effective ways to achieve that precision. Another challenge is educating our customers about the difference between price and total applied cost. We need to shift the emphasis back to where it belongs: innovation, performance, value, and total applied cost.