American Precision Industries Inc. is a multi-domestic manufacturer of high-performance precision motion control products and systems, heat transfer equipment, and electronic components. In 1997, the company acquired Portescap, the Swiss micromotor manufacturer.
Global Design News: Mass customization has been a term used to describe how motion control systems are marketed, meaning customizing standard products on the fly. How are servo systems becoming easier to "design in"?
Wiedenhaupt: "Mass customization" is an interesting term, which could be applied to many industries besides servo systems. API Motion does custom products, but we sell a lot of standards, too. The trick is to design standards with the widest appeal that can be easily modified to fit most custom niches. Our engineers are some of the best, I believe, in developing advanced servo products that are easily customized to fit a variety of applications. For example, our intelligent micro-stepping drives eliminate the need for an indexer in the system, while a new version resolver eliminates a type of error commonly found in their use. I should also mention the critical importance of microprocessors and software in this picture. The key to easy application of our motion control products now, and increasingly so in the future, is by making them ever-more intelligent.
Q: How will fieldbus technology, local area networks, and the Internet impact servo technology?
A: Fieldbus and Internet technologies will have a tremendous impact on motion control use. We already see the beginning of this with our network-enabled drive products, which have generated great interest in the market. We believe that in the not-too-distant future our customers will be able to access and communicate with their plant equipment anywhere they are in the world over the Internet, using a browser on their desktop computer or even a handheld-type device. Fieldbuses are just entering the motion control market, but their adoption will accelerate, especially once one or another of the protocols establishes dominance in the market.
Q: What is API's strategy with regard to commercial products such as Windows NT and CE?
A: With NT or CE as the operating system, an engineer opens up the possibility of using application software in his equipment from a virtually endless number of suppliers. No longer is he tied to one supplier for his software; he can even easily write his own programs and extensions to standard programs with tools such as Visual Basic. We feel that CE will play an important role in future control products.
Q: Is the industry, and API specifically, moving towards making motion devices that are Ethernet-compatible?
A: At API Motion, our engineers are very interested in Ethernet as a transport medium for communications between and among our motion products and other devices in a machine or system. After all, Ethernet is ubiquitous in the office as the basis for local area networks, and its cost has been driven to attractive levels by its use in PC products. So, the natural question is why not use this robust and proven network technology in industrial applications, including motion control? The answer is that there is no reason not to use it, so we, as many others, are looking at Ethernet as the future foundation for industrial networking. We believe the questions surrounding its use today, such as lack of determinism and an established motion protocol, will be answered soon.
Q: What other technologies are impacting the design and application of servo systems?
A: I already mentioned the importance of microprocessors and software to motion control and servos, and I include DSPs in the processor category. DSPs, especially, have transformed motion control and servo design over the last decade. The increases in the capability of today's servo drives and motion controllers over what was possible even a few years ago is astounding. This trend won't stop, either. With the increasing use of networking and with Moore's law at work, too, we envision intelligence embedded in nearly every motion control product in a system, including some products that are considered passive or only mechanical today.
'CE will play an important role in future control products.' Kurt Wiedenhaupt joined American Precision Industries (API) in 1992 as president and CEO. He was appointed chairman of the board in 1997. Before joining API, Wiedenhaupt spent 32 years at AEG, co-founding the company's first U.S. operations from 1967 to 1973. Based in the United Kingdom from 1973 to 1986, Wiedenhaupt was a member of the board responsible for the technical business, including sales, engineering, and production. He returned to the U.S. in 1986 as president and chief executive officer of AEG's North American operations. Wiedenhaupt studied electrical engineering in Berlin.