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Wider applications demand cost-effective motion control

Wider applications demand cost-effective motion control

John Stroup joined Danaher in March 2000 as Vice President, Business Development, Motion Control Group, and assumed the role of President, Kollmorgen I & C Division, in September. He became President, GPS North America, in January 2001 and in July 2001 Stroup took on his present position. Prior to joining Danaher, he held a variety of marketing and general management positions within the automation businesses of Parker Hannifin, Rockwell Automation, and Scientific Technologies Inc. Stroup holds a BSME degree from Northwestern University and an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley.

Motion control, the productivity boosting technology of today's factory floors, is finding its way into more applications. As a result, design engineers, are more critical of cost, performance, and how it fits within their designs.

Design News: What is the biggest trend in motion control today?

STROUP: Design engineers have a better understanding of motion control today, and are more discriminating about choosing the right technology for each axis of motion. Consequently, performance, form factor, and integration with other mechanical components become increasingly significant as customers demand solutions that are unique to each particular problem. With fewer cookie-cutter solutions, and engineers relying on vendors to a greater degree, motion component suppliers need to package technology into products and form factors that really meet the customer's needs.

Q: What's driving this trend toward more customization?

A: It depends on the application. There is no question that cost reduction is at the top of a machine builder's priorities in this economy. So instead of using servos on every axis of a machine, engineers may use less costly stepper technology where appropriate. In other applications, higher speed, greater accuracy, miniaturization, and efficiency are important. Higher speeds increase a machines' throughput and productivity, often at the sacrifice of accuracy. However, accuracy is top of mind in electronics assembly, for example, because everything is getting smaller. In battery-powered mobile applications such as Dean Kamen's Segway Human Transporter or lift trucks, torque density and energy efficiency are critical.

Q: How can design engineers improve their motion systems?

A: With so many choices and such fragmentation within the industry, it's difficult to select the technologies and products that best fit each axis of a machine. So engineers need to closely examine the architecture of their machine and make sure it's consistent with their design goals. For example, you don't want to use a servo when a stepper will do, or a linear motor if a ballscrew is sufficient. Maybe they need to replace a rotary servomotor with a direct linear drive. It's important to investigate and compare all the available technologies.

Q: How can machine builders improve business during an economic decline?

A: To get the best return on their design investment, it's important for engineers to develop systems that are flexible and modular so they can take advantage of demand no matter how volatile it may be. Machine builders with scalable designs that are flexible from a connectivity standpoint will be more competitive. This strategy lets them more easily adapt their machines to new markets and expand applications, instead of being at the mercy of a few key customers.

Q: What motion control developments lay ahead?

A: Motion control is in the fairly early stages. For example, there are still a lot of opportunities to improve motor designs in terms of minimizing losses and maximizing efficiency. Motor manufacturers are continually finding new ways to increase copper fill in the slots, as with, for example, cut-core technology. The ability to continue driving performance improvements that will improve machines, and ultimately people's lives, is almost boundless. However, cost and ease of use will remain the two most significant barriers to precision motion control being prevalent in more areas of life.

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