Analysts who track the market for direct drive linear motors say the economic doldrums of the past two years have pushed back the timetable for implementation of the new technology.
That's especially true in the semiconductor industry, where excess production capacity has curbed manufacturers' desire for improvement in materials handling precision.
"Prior to the downturn, machine tool designers were looking at linear motors as the next step in performance," notes Sal Spada, director of discrete manufacturing research at Dedham, Massachusetts-based ARC Advisory Group (www.arcweb.com).
"The market for linear motors is linked to capital expenditures, which have to start picking up," adds Spada, who is seeing renewed interest in R&D. "This year should be a big one for design-in, especially for the machine tool sector. There'll be little demand for high-end machines until the semiconductor market comes back, but when it does, the fab plants will be looking to retool for high-performance solutions, and they'll use linear motors."
Motion Tech Trends (www.mttusa.com) is currently updating its report on the linear motor market (MTT Report Direct Drive Linear Motors). "In 1997, when the market amounted to $45.5 million, we anticipated that by 2002, it would be worth $107 million," said MTT senior research associate Chuck Schultz. "As a result of the downturn in the semiconductor industry, those numbers were never realized."
Schultz sees a more imminent upturn in the semiconductor market. "It's starting to come back, and the use of linear motors is expanding," he says. "Companies are looking for higher performance - more throughput - and higher accuracy and reliability." Opportunities for direct drive linear motors in the packaging and medical device manufacturing industries also look promising for the same reasons, he adds.
ARC's Spada also sees linear motor activity in the packaging market. "In form, fill and seal applications, manufacturers want to keep their product moving continuously," he says. "These applications don't require extremely high accuracy, as in the semiconductor industry. Their benefits line in the elimination of traditional mechanics, linkages and couplings. Also, linear motors fit the form factors that the packaging industry wants, in order to utilize space more efficiently.
"It's no longer enough to offer a motor based solely on its function," Spada adds. "The way the motor fits into a machine arrangement is also important."