Spotlight on Motion Control Devices

Machine Builders Look to Simplify Their Products With New Hardware, Software and Standalone Devices

By Rich Merritt

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Although motion control markets took a beating in 2001 and 2002, the ARC Advisory Group says sales picked up in 2003, passed the $4 billion mark, and are expected to grow at an annual rate of 6.3% over the next five years. The tide has turned, says ARC.

Several factors are driving this market growth. The semiconductor and electronics industries, which were the impetus behind the very fast market growth up to 2000, have been in a slump lately, but finally appear to be reawakening. The food & beverage industry, which was one of the stars of motion control during these bleak years, is expected to continue its formidable strides as investment in consumer goods manufacturing continues.

Machine builders are expected to begin using more advanced motion controls, says ARC. "Mechatronic solutions with drives and motors will encourage machine builders to replace maintenance-ridden and inflexible mechanical linkages," says ARC senior analyst Himanshu Shah, author of the latest study, "General Motion Control Outlook." "As a result, an increasing number of machines will have more servo or stepper controlled motion axes."

Although we looked everywhere for other opinions on the future of motion control, ARC seems to be the only market research firm that has paid attention to the industry since 9/11. We don't refer to any market studies published prior to 9/11, because the world changed so significantly at that time, all those old studies are useless. 

We can find some clues into the future by looking at the products in this round-up. Like most product categories, some motion control vendors have stagnated over the past several years, choosing to make only minor changes in their products, such as adding an Ethernet interface or making improvements that don't require much R&D funding.

Prices, which dropped like a stone for several years in a row, appear to have stabilized under $1,000 per axis. We found one controller that sells for $200 per axis.

Motion controllers are slowly but surely emerging as standalone devices, which barely need the services of a supervisory or host computer or even a PLC. Today's motion controllers are sometimes complete systems that embody everything you need, including a motor, drive amplifier, encoder, controller, logic control, networking and a Windows-based software development system that runs on a PC.

Motion control software also is getting very sophisticated and easy to use. If machine builders want to turn to motion control to simplify their products, as predicted by ARC above, then the hardware and software is making it possible.

Servo Drive Fits in Small Space
Acopos mini servo drive measures 2.3x8.1x8.7 in., and includes a braking resistor, line filter, restart inhibit and motor-holding brake control. The device is compatible with existing models in the series and applications include CNC, point-to-point positioning and coordinated movements. Single-axis and complex multi-axis applications can be created using Ethernet Powerlink. 

Fast Screw Travels at 3 mph
The RGS Rapid Guide Screw travels at speeds of more than 60 in./sec. (3 mph) over distances to eight ft. It has an aluminum guide and carriage, stainless steel lead screw and a wear-compensating, anti-backlash driven carriage. Applications include high-speed printing, scanning and engraving, actuation and positioning in transportation -applications, pick-and-place mechanisms and most automated equipment. 

Smart Motor Packs It All in
ServoStep integrated motion control system includes a high-torque, 50-pole NEMA 34 frame step motor, motion controller, drive amplifier and encoder. Torque is 650 oz-in at a nominal speed of 2,200 rpm. It has an RS-485 port, 14 I/O, 4 kHz PID filter, software current limit, limit-switch inputs and thermal protection. The system can operate in position, velocity, torque, and step and direction modes. 

Controllers Priced to Sell
RMC70 Series motion controllers for one and two-axis applications are priced under $1,000 per axis, depending on quantity. The RMC75S-MA1 is for linear motion control and includes RS232/485 Serial communications and interfaces to magnetostrictive displacement and synchronous serial interface absolute position transducers. The RMC70 Series is for hydraulic, pneumatic and electric servo motion control applications with position, velocity and position/pressure control capabilities. 

All the World's a Stage
The Pico Series ball screw-driven miniature linear stage for high-precision pick-and-place positioning applications is available in 60 mm and 80mm sizes in five standard stroke lengths, has travel speeds to 500 mm/sec., and provides the same load-carrying capacity as drive screws. It has an extruded aluminum base, stainless steel cover, and limit switche with plug attachment. Options include stepper motor package, linear measurement system and variable multi-axis assembly. 

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