Gear up for life after the recession

Dec. 1, 2009
Read the expert blogs or listen to the cable pundits, and you will notice a single motif echoing throughout their communications: The post-recessionary

Read the expert blogs or listen to the cable pundits, and you will notice a single motif echoing throughout their communications: The post-recessionary business landscape will be different. Competition stands ready to pounce. Over these last few recessionary months, new technologies and new products have continued their forward march. However, economic forces cramp their introduction. A pent-up crest of new things stands ready to be implemented in designs both new and old.

Conversations with both users and sellers of motion system solutions indicate that workforce reductions have slowed the hands of progress. As a result, we find ourselves with designs that could benefit from a “fresh look” or perhaps a partial redesign. Experts refer to this process as value engineering. We need to review our legacy designs for opportunities to improve performance, value, and duty factor.

Performance priorities

Let's first delve into performance. Energy consumption sits at the top of everyone's list. Prognosticators believe that economic recovery will march hand-in-hand with an escalation in energy costs. However, a number of new technologies provide enhanced energy usage. For example, high-efficiency motors and drives ride on top of newly designed bearings to provide a downright stingy energy draw. Major breakthroughs in things like power supplies preserve energy inside the control panel. Furthermore, many of these technologies began their careers with a hefty price premium, but have since dropped into the “affordable” category.

Throughput drives performance as well. Machines capable of producing 10 parts per minute will need to deliver 12 or 14 in the new world economy. Design flows must be improved, bottlenecks minimized, and human interface reduced for a product or process to be of value in the post-recession world.

Adding value

Value must not be overlooked in review sessions. New automation products tend to offer greater functionality and lower prices to boot. Nearly every application has one or two products that can be functionally replaced with new versions that cost less to purchase and even less to install. But looking for lower-cost components isn't the only value-engineering aim.

Streamlining your design to exactly what's needed is another aspect. Experience tells me that we engineers often create designs on the fly: Someone in management passes along a hasty set of specifications and we build a machine to match. We pour in a 15% “fudge factor” here and drizzle a 10% “safety factor” there. Before we realize it, we have a machine with a whole lot of extra capability. But more is not necessarily better. In the case of electric motors and drives, overcapacity is an energy drain. Reviewing our designs for real world applications adds value.

Motion control distributors provide an excellent resource in the value engineering process. To elaborate, we called on Power Transmission Distributors Association member Jeff Bahnsen of Foremost Industrial Technologies, Peoria, Ill. Jeff suggests an approach where distributor and designer sit down to review specifications of the machine at hand. While there is no clear-cut formula for how often this should take place, Jeff feels designs should be reviewed at least annually. For one thing, distributors see different approaches to the critical issues.

“A knowledge-based distributor sees a wide range of problems. They bring what they learn in a packaging machine application to a milling machine customer. Their experience in dozens of diverse applications gives them a unique point of view,” explains Jeff.

He adds that a meaningful discussion with the distributor should cover more than the technical nuts and bolts of motion. The whole environment must be evaluated, including the commercial situation. Do your customers want a bare-bones machine or one with bells and whistles? The work environment is another factor. Are you plugging this machine into a facility full of highly trained technicians or will it end up in a “back woods” industrial park? As motion control design professionals, we must strive to be competitive in the world market. It's our job to closely match our solutions to customer needs.

Frank Hurtte consults at River Heights Consulting, Davenport, Iowa, specialists in knowledge-based distribution. He can be reached at [email protected].

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