In the Loop: More of the same — change

Jan. 1, 2003
Keeping up with technology is a never-ending process, requiring constant adaptation and change

Keeping up with technology is a never-ending process, requiring constant adaptation and change. As technology moves, we all must move with it. That’s why, as we head into the new year, Motion System Design is unveiling several new departments and reader services.

Now I could rattle off all the new stuff you’re going to enjoy in 2003, including “Newton’s Garage,” “MSD Classroom,” and “Design by Objective Solutions.” And, I could make claim after claim about how we’re going to take our product coverage in “Design Store” to the next level, how we’re going to conduct (and report on) an exclusive industry forum at the National Design and Engineering Show, and how we’re queuing up several targeted e-newsletters on topics ranging from motors, bearings, sensors, and brakes to ballscrews, controllers, and locking devices.

Instead, I’m going to do a little prognosticating, and paint a picture based on where we see motion technology heading and how we plan (from an editorial perspective) to lead the way.

In times past, motion was treated as a separate machine element. For the most part, it was transparent, playing little more than a support role, secondary at best. What’s more, the people who worked on motion — piecing together motors, gears, drive shafts, couplings, and the like — were largely isolated from those focusing on the “more important” machine attributes like configuration and footprint, setup and delivery, operator requirements, and the overall function of the machine itself.

The future, of course, will be much different. Motion won’t merely be part of the machine; it will be the machine. In other words, the precision, speed, and efficiency at which a machine does business, i.e. cut, roll, grind, spray, transport, shape, and drill, will become more obvious, even quantifiable, and these features will ultimately determine whether buyer and seller survive.

For motion system engineers, the future is bright. For one thing, the industrial battlefield is advancing to the realm of physics — material science, optics, fields and waves, thermodynamics, and mechanical dynamics — where motion is the high ground, especially in manufacturing. In addition, as the electronic revolution continues to unfold, the nature of machine intelligence is shifting from intricate mechanisms and parts to software-based electromechanical components and subsystems. By facilitating their own application, such “smart” components take much of the low-level design burden off engineers, letting them instead focus on the process (and machine) they are trying to control.

Smart components are also making a favorable impact on control topology. While yesterday’s machines were characterized by large central controllers (usually PLCs) loosely tied to isolated pockets of motion, the intelligence on tomorrow’s machines will be more uniformly distributed, where integrated logic and motion control are dispersed throughout the machine, particularly among the motion axes. What this means is that machines, and eventually plants, will become motion centric, rather than PLC or logic centric.

All these trends, by the way, will be discussed at the upcoming Design Show in Chicago, both at our booth and at the Motion System Solution Providers Summit, which will be held offsite. If you’re going to the show, please drop by (booth 6134) so we can talk. If you won’t be there, don’t fret. We’ll videotape all discussions for posting on our Web site, and we’ll cover the meetings in a later issue. Who knows, maybe next year we’ll come out to your plant and bring the show with us.

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