Electronic motion control comes of age

DN Staff

February 6, 1995

4 Min Read
Electronic motion control comes of age

Electronic motion control really grew up in the machine-tool business well over ten years ago. What we are seeing today are quite a few other areas that the technology is migrating into, says Argov.

Design News: Could you cite an example of where such migration is taking place?

Argov: Let's look at aerospace. Most of the inroads have come in the area of primary fight-control surfaces in military aircraft. Since hydraulic systems have operated so well for so many years, it takes a mental leap to abandon that technology and go to electronic motion control. Airbus and Saab have been pioneers in this area. Still, it's amazing to me the number of industries where it has yet to occur.

Q: What can you do to make integration of motion packages simpler for increasingly busy engineers and other users?

A: We have found that there is no substitute for having your own strong applications or engineering staff in the field to deal directly with customers. This is a technology that is complicated and it will remain that way, even though a lot of things about it are becoming simpler to use. The key comes down to making the product easier to install and user friendly. We have, for example, a Windows-based package called Motion Link that helps install, tune, and measure the performance of drives. Any technician can use it with minimal training.

Q: Is industry moving to open systems and away from proprietary software?

A: The motion-control industry is going through the same changes that the computer business did five or ten years ago. Companies that rely on hardwire or closed systems will have to do some hard thinking about how they move forward in a time when customers want more flexible controls that can run on any number of communications standards. We are basically a components supplier, not a factory automation house. We don't have a huge base of proprietary, closed systems out there. That's why we're excited about the future.

Q: Will global competition demand "computer-integrated manufacturing" or "lights-out" factories ten years from now?

A: To some degree, that's already here. At one of our businesses we design products in 3-D on a workstation, then software transmits the design electronically to where a prototype is produced by x-ray lithography. This basically enables us to take two to three months off the prototyping stage. Adjustments can be made using e-mail, with the files again sent electronically to machine tools to produce components.

Q: Where is the need for greater precision taking motion-control design?

A: A huge amount of all energy produced in the country goes to power electric motors. Therefore, the bywords in servo- and stepper-motor design are smaller, more efficient, and easier to manufacture. A lot of efforts in our business are geared to accomplishing those goals using current and some very exciting new technology. You are going to see a fair amount of news in that area in the next few years.

Q: Have electronic controls and microprocessors opened up possibilities for previously impossible jobs?

A: The performance of electric motors is going to be based on such things as rare-earth magnets and other new materials. There are also basic motor-design issues that continue to be the subject of a lot of development efforts. But probably the most important element driving electric-motor design involves microprocessor technology. It's unbelievable what can now be done with standard microprocessors that require little customization to do an excellent job of controlling motors. This is very exciting. Microprocessors, unlike a lot of products, are becoming less expensive over time.

Q: Are any nontraditional electronic motion control uses on the horizon?

A: I'll give you one example that's out in left field. We are working with a major hospital that's developing a vest for use by paramedics for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CRP). The vest essentially provides CRP normally administered by direct manual pressure to stimulate the heart muscles and pump blood. It performs this task through an actuator using our motors, freeing the paramedics to do other critical things. And that's only a small sample of how this technology is progressing.

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