Motion control gets both big and small

DN Staff

March 6, 2000

4 Min Read
Motion control gets both big and small

Coutu is the founding President and CEO of Intelligent Motion Systems (IMS), incorporated in 1986. Previously, Coutu worked for General Electric as an Electrical Engineer involved in research and development of power distribution controls. With an emphasis on research and development, IMS is a customer-driven company building products to fit the needs of the motion control industry. Coutu's key roll in new product development allows him to realize the corporate philosophy of "Small. Powerful. Inexpensive." Coutu is a graduate of the University of Connecticut where he holds degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.

While motion control technology gets smaller, the number of applications and interest in integrated controls is getting bigger, says Intelligent Motion Systems' David Coutu. Design News: What are the advantages of an integrated amplifier controller versus standalone technology? Coutu: A standalone controller or amplifier mounts away from the card itself and has to be wired. What we're offering is an integrated amplifier controller, which is designed to be soldered or socketed directly into a PC board, eliminating the need for wiring and mounting. More than ten years ago, when we started this company, we saw that OEM manufacturers had a real need for this technology. They were getting pressure to become more efficient and downsize their engineering departments, and they simply no longer had the manpower to design these systems themselves from standalone components. Q: Earlier this year, IMS introduced the ultra-mini micro- stepping driver, along with a number of other small-format products. How important is this whole trend toward miniaturization in the motion control world? A: Miniaturization is important because space is at a premium everywhere, whether it be a clean room for building semiconductor devices or a doctor's office. Nobody really wants 150,000-sq-ft factories that cost a lot of money. For us, this whole trend is not just about the control function, it's a power function. Advances in both electronics and manufacturing have helped us to downsize our products and ultimately offer what we think are some remarkable technologies to the market today. There are many design challenges associated with miniaturization of electronics. One issue that we've had to address is the fact that as you decrease the distance between components, they begin to behave differently. We've also had to learn how to work with ceramic, as opposed to standard printed circuit boards. In the process, we've had to become materials experts as well as electronics experts. Q: How important is time-to-market? A: Most of our customers have fast track programs in place. For example, we're working on a program for a new medical device that in the past would have taken five or six years to get to market. Now, they want it yesterday. Pressures to reduce product development cycle times is one reason that we see more engineers today going out and buying an integrated system versus developing the technology in-house. It simply makes more economic sense in a lot of cases. The key here, however, it that engineers need to write good specifications to ensure that the system performs as expected. Q: How has the move toward a truly global market affected the industry? A: One of the most profound changes for us is that we no longer compete in North America, we compete worldwide. Globalization has had a positive effect on us in the sense that the market has opened up and the whole world is more accessible. We have the ability to sell worldwide, much more than we ever did in the past. We can go into areas and countries and places that would have been very difficult for us to penetrate in the past. What's also happened is that there is a real sense of urgency in competition among our customers-for example you no longer have medical companies that have a stronghold in a particular regional market. They are now competing with medical equipment companies all over the world. That has put tremendous pressures on them to improve both their cost and quality. Q: Can you give us a preview of some technology developments on the horizon? A: Although miniaturization has been a major trend over the past decade, I'm not sure how much smaller we can make things without a major development in semiconductor technology. We're hearing more about smart power components, for example, and the more we see of that technology, the more we are going to be able to shrink our systems. Meanwhile, I think that we're going to see products getting more highly integrated, more reliable, and less costly-which is exactly what our customers are asking for.
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