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  • Motion control industry: Looking to better times

Photonics Spectra
Jun 2009
Caren B. Les,

AUSTIN, Texas – The total worldwide revenues for the motion control equipment industry were estimated at $9.9 billion in 2007, representing an 11.9 percent increase over the 2006 levels, according to IMS Research, a market analysis firm based in Wellingborough, UK. The company’s research showed rapid growth in the market in the first two quarters of 2008 – and then a significant slowdown in many segments in the second half of 2008 and in early 2009. The statistics cover computer numeric control and general motion control markets from a servo-system and position-control-hardware perspective.

In April, Alex Chausovsky, senior market research analyst at IMS Research’s Austin, Texas, office, interviewed representatives from many companies in the motion control industry at Hannover Messe 2009, an industrial technology trade show in Germany that attracted more than 200,000 participants. As a result, he learned that the economic downturn in the motion control industry is worse than had been expected based on earlier research.

The demand for motion control products fell by 30 percent to as much as 75 percent in the economically hard-hit high-tech semiconductor, robotics and electronic industries, he said, adding that demand for motion control equipment from traditional machinery manufacturers in the paper, printing, textile and woodworking industries fell by a not quite so dramatic 25 percent.

Orders for motion control products are likely to decline by about 15 to 20 percent in industries with links to consumer spending, including packaging, materials handling, and rubber and plastics, and to remain steady or to rise slightly in the military, food, medical and scientific, renewable energy, and beverage and tobacco sectors, Chausovsky said.

Companies are in a “wait and see” mode, he said, and are not ordering the next generation of equipment. Instead, what they are looking for is increased automation in equipment to reduce costs associated with human labor and error.

Chausovsky predicts that growing populations worldwide and increasing urbanization, particularly in China, are likely to drive the processed food and beverage industry, which will drive demand for motion control equipment in the sector. He said that aging populations in the US, Japan, China, western Europe and other regions are likely to support growth for motion-control product suppliers in the medical and scientific equipment sectors, and that continued global political instability and conflicts are expected to lead to the proliferation of military equipment, such as guidance systems, which incorporate motion-control equipment.

Stefan Vorndran, director of corporate product marketing and communications at PI (Physik Instrumente) LP in Auburn, Mass., said that motion applications will require faster throughput and tight synchronization – time is money, he said, and nanometer precision in milliseconds, or nanoautomation, will be in demand in 2009 and beyond.

This plano piezo scanning stage for superresolution microscopy has a piezo controller.

There will be a call for motion controllers/actuators based on new technologies such as solid-state materials and ultrasonic traveling wave motors with real-time interfaces to synchronize commanded motion with execution, he added.

The industry is starting to see advances in software capabilities to support this synchronization as well as to help customers get to productivity sooner, he said. Software support is becoming increasingly important. There is a need for flexibility in the vendor’s software to enable the user to switch hardware without rewriting the code and to switch between various interfaces – USB, Internet and transmission control protocols, even analog – without starting from scratch, Vorndran said.

Vorndran said that nontraditional motors and controllers that can automatically adapt to changing conditions, without tuning, are in development and are likely to have an impact on the market in upcoming years.

PI specializes in piezoelectric nanopositioning equipment and piezo ceramic linear and rotary motors for high-speed precision applications in biomedical design, astronomy, active optics, superresolution microscopy and the semiconductor industry. Life sciences and biomedical applications are expected to be growth markets for motion control equipment, Vorndran said.

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