Motor drives "hunt" for success

MalAsia strikes drive manufacturers, but motion control is stepping up, according to CONTROL Senior Technical Editor Rich Merritt's Product Roundup of motor drives and motion control devices.

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 By Rich Merritt, Senior Technical Editor


otor drives have the same problems as almost all the product categories we’ve written about lately: A declining market overall during the past several years, a move of major markets to Asia, and a dearth of new products and technology hitting the street. When a market is down, manufacturers tend to cut back on research, development and new products, and the same appears to be true with motor drives.

The North American AC and DC drives market declined 2.3% over the past two years, says IMS Research, mostly because of the Iraq war. It expects a slight pickup in the North American drives market in 2004, but expects it will fall off in 2005 and 2006.

The Asia-Pacific market for AC and DC drives is booming, however. ARC Advisory Group predicts sales of high-power AC drives will grow 11.1% in China over the next five years, while IMS says overall drive sales will grow in India by 13.3%. Of course, that is because those countries are building new plants and an infrastructure, while the replacement market will drive sales in North America.

Users in the process control industry learned long ago that one way to save energy calls for installing variable-speed drives. Local power utilities often have grants and subsidies available to cushion the cost of purchasing new drives. Unfortunately, most North American process plants can only afford to replace failed drives in maintenance programs and not as part of a plant-wide energy reduction program.

ARC says the motion control market in North America is stepping up, and predicts an annual growth rate of 6.2% over the next five years, with OEMs on the front lines of development. ARC says manufacturers are faced with the need to handle greater product variations, run at faster production speeds, and achieve higher quality. To achieve this, ARC says machine builders will put advanced motion control techniques into new production equipment.

Alas, the motion control industry is engaged in standardization battles involving networks, programming languages and architectures, says ARC.

Therefore, as OEMs, machine builders and end users seek new and advanced drives and motion control systems that conform to some– any!–sort of standard, they may be frustrated by the lack of new products available. Several of the products listed below in this year’s roundup are just warmed-over versions of older products, with a few “enhancements,” such as upgrades, extensions and new options. Some are last year’s products, submitted again for your consideration. Few drive manufacturers are taking the lead in setting standards.

There are, as always, a few new technical advances hidden away in this year’s roundup. For example, we got a glimpse at the list of parameters available for asset management purposes in a Siemens Micromaster drive. The list goes on for 24 pages, and includes energy consumption information, power factor, phase current, motor inertia, and temperature of the inverter, rectifier, motor, etc. The list contains literally hundreds of variables that are being monitored or calculated by the drive, and are available to any end user who knows how to extract them. Clearly, drive manufacturers understand the need for asset management information, and are making the data available to users.

Unfortunately, we’ve also noticed a decrease in the quality of marketing efforts when it comes to motor drives. For example, several of the motor drive product descriptions we received for the roundup were more than difficult to understand. Just when integrators, machine builders and end users need to fully understand the complex technology being built into drives and motion controls, some leading manufacturers appear to be having difficulty communicating with them.

On one manufacturer’s web site, a host of technical information is readily available, but it is garbled by poor translations from the original language.

It’s as if drive and motion control vendors are waiting for something wonderful to happen in the business world, so they can unleash all their pent-up new product designs and set professional marketing forces loose on us to hawk major advances in motor drive technology. We are with child in anticipation of that day.

Motor Drives and Motion Control Devices
For more information about any of these products, click on the description of the product below to view a longer description and all contact information, including phone numbers, e-mail addresses, websites, and a photo where available.

Motion Controller Simplifies Automation
The PacSystems DSM324i motion controller is integrated with the company’s RX3i Programmable Automation Controller, Series 90-30 Programmable Logic Controller, fiber optic network, servos, and machine control software. The controller can be deployed in a standalone or distributed architecture to control 1–4 axes. It has advanced diagnostics, and uses the company’s Proficy Machine Edition software for programming HMI and motion control functions with a common tag database. GE Fanuc Automation

Keypad Calls For Help on Drives
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