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Single sourcing
motion control
Following a few
rules when
selecting a
together a
system a
Karl Faulhaber
Applications Engineer
Micro Mo Electronics
Clearwater, Fla.
Coreless dc motors
are used in a prosthetic
hand. Gold-alloy brushes
esigning a motion-control system can be a trying

ensure fluidity of motion
affair. Time and budget constraints often lead to and low noise actuation.
only a quick review of several manufacturers. The rubber skin coating
Because there are literally hundreds of provides feedback to the
suppliers, choosing the right one can be motor preventing
crushed parts in sensitive
confusing and potentially jeopardize critical time to market.
Start by discussing the application with technical buyers.
They can offer a wealth of knowledge about the complexity of
sourcing components for large systems. It is not uncommon to
buy as many as 1,500 components for one application. Few,
other than the technical buyer, can realize the benefits of
bundling components into one supplier with one check, making
one supplier responsible. Buyers generally negotiate with
dozens of suppliers for hundreds of components and receive
billing from dozens of manufacturers, a time-consuming and


motion-control device delivered by the
single source, not deliveries of
individual components from dozens of
manufacturers. But having the single
source buy components is the least-
expensive part of the process; it’s the
manufacturing, quality control, and
labor-intensive nature of the assembly
process that dictate the larger costs like
welding, soldering, crimping, adhesives,
and machining of parts.
Besides providing a list of single-
source suppliers to pick from, technical
buyers can often shed light on their
reputation. They should have
information about material returns,
product lines, quality-assurance
methods, and partnership facilities.
Inquire about minimum order
The M-850 Hexapod from quantities and what percentage of the
Physik Instrumente, Germany, supplier’s business is standard and
is a precision micro-positioning
custom products. For a custom part, call
system with six degrees of
freedom. Each piston arm the potential manufacturer and ask
contains a motor/encoder com- them about projects that were heavily
bination using a coreless, customized and what they entailed.
brushed-dc motor from Micro However, be aware that based on
Mo. Submicron precision allows nondisclosure and noncompete issues,
mircomanipulation and fiber
alignment in precise surgical some questions will remain
applications. unanswered. Still, they’re worth asking.
If at all possible, visit the potential
difficult chore prone to mistakes. An manufacturer and take a look at devices
alternative is to select one supplier who that contain parts by them. Try and
will outsource to all the necessary speak to their customer. For example, a
component manufacturers. A reputable common component in a motion-control
single source deals with them on a daily automation system is the linear stage.
basis, knowing which ones can deliver The drive-system supplier may not
quality parts quickly and at a fair price. manufacture this end component, but
Having one company generate one one or more of his customers may.
invoice saves reviewing, processing, and If visiting the company or talking to
negotiating time. Overall, it improves their customer is either impractical or
personnel resources. They also realize prohibitive, ask if the supplier is ISO
an additional benefit: As a result of compliant. Ask questions about their
contracting with one supplier, incoming failure-analysis process. What type of
inspection costs are reduced. The analytical tools does the company have at
customer inspects only the complete its disposal? What type of statistical


analysis of production do they perform? with the technologies and have worked
Ask what a typical turnaround time for a with them often. Some typical
prototype would be and what tools the modifications include cabling
company has at its disposal to expedite connections, shaft modifications, the
the process. For example, do they use addition of pinion gears, pulleys, and
CAD and CNC tooling? Are sales and cams, which could involve special
manufacturing in the same building? The sealing, lubricants, and temperature or
more distance between sales and environmental protection.
production, the slower and less adept On the electronics side, this could
they will be at reacting to the customer’s mean anything from preprogrammed
inquiries. They’ll also be less able to motion sequences and power-stage
answer questions about production modifications to various types of
methods, failure analysis, and delivery feedback and control options. Various
times. modifications might be recommended
In times of tight deadlines and for the actuators such as mounting
holes, bolt circles, shaft diameters, and
facing. Even though projects begin with
New or prospective customers specifications and an idea of the finished
should have immediate access product, changes occur throughout the
development process. Having a lineup of
to an application engineer motors and gears that have different
especially on returned material size and power options, plus the
availability of a machine shop to make
or repairs, the true test of modifications and prototypes quickly
customer commitment. and efficiently, can facilitate making
needed changes down the road.
The most versatile single-source
budgetary constraints, the first product manufacturers can offer an option that
choice is always an off-the-shelf product. goes beyond the typical standard,
The second choice is a modified modified, or customized product. They
standard product, while the third, (if can offer a total turnkey system
time and budget permit, and application approach which includes motors,
requires) a customized product. Care is gearing, feedback, control electronics,
necessary when dealing with off-the- components, and software. Such a
shelf products. Although suppliers make system maximizes resources in more
valiant attempts to standardize productive areas while turning over
products to fit the general market, it is complete responsibility for the design,
rare that an off-the-shelf package will development, and manufacture of an
“slip fit” without modification into the application to a single source. In that
application. Modified standard products case, the supplier and OEM need to
are almost always the most versatile develop a good working partnership.
and the quickest way to assess if a An existing customer, familiar with
supplier is right for you. If the supplier the supplier’s staff, should be able to
can come close with a modified standard talk directly to the quality-control
product, it means that they are familiar manager or line manager. New or


close working partnership between the
applications engineer and the OEM’s
design engineer can overcome obstacles.
It’s important to select a single source
that has a good mix of capabilities,
products, and experience. When that
versatility is missing, especially in the
international marketplace, the
interoperability of parts and systems
plus cultural differences can become
critical, affecting an application’s
performance and success.
A single-source supplier for the
international market should have an
international presence. The single
source should also be familiar with the
issues concerning their products and the
various types of worldwide certification
that the OEM will be confronted with.
For example, U.S. companies must
comply with UL certification, while in
A modified, brushed-dc motor from Micro Mo Europe CE is the standard. A supplier’s
is used in this high-speed PCB wiring experience with both can speed up the
automation machine from Siemens. Each part-
feeding device contains three motors. certification process and help speed the
product to market.
Also, if issues like differing bus
prospective customers should have systems and program languages are not
immediate access to an application adequately investigated and dealt with
engineer especially on returned early in the design phase, they can
material or repairs, the true test of cause havoc in production. Frequently,
customer commitment. No more than there are several bus languages in use.
two weeks should go by without A supplier should be versatile in all the
receiving at least a preliminary report. bus systems and programming
Quality issues should be addressed languages involved, or at least able to
immediately, especially if full recommend a standard to strive for in
production is underway. An OEM the factory.
should be able to visit the Each bus system requires the
manufacturer’s facility, do an audit of purchase of the source code and then
their quality and manufacturing programming it to function with the
systems, as well as have the supplier’s specific device. There are at least 20 bus
application engineer visit the OEM. A or networking systems that speak
full service, single-source manufacturer different languages. Common European
should encourage its engineers to do standards are Profibus, CANOpen, and
fieldwork whenever necessary for the CAL. DeviceNet, SDS (Smart
complete satisfaction of its customers. A Distributed Systems), ControlNet, USB,


and FireWire are common in North empirically test important issues like
America. Obviously, a supplier with the load point and duty cycle of the
facilities in the U.S. and Europe would customer’s machine, including the
be an ideal candidate for single electronics and motion profiles. As a
sourcing, because they would be well single-source supplier, you are going to
versed in the most popular U.S. and be expected to use the drive electronics
European bus systems. with its accompanying motor, so you
Besides bus systems, there are three need to know exactly how those two
other important aspects of motion- things will perform together. However,
control automation that your single empirical testing is not always
source must be well versed in. The first necessary. Theoretical values alone
is the versatility of their driver systems. can sometimes point the way to a
This is the ability of the drive to be standard product that can be modified
switched from machine to machine or to fit the application.
communicate with different machines in Motor or gearhead shaft sizes can be a
frustrating issue when
trying to size a gearmotor
Theoretical values for a quick fit into a
alone can sometimes machine. The single
source company should be
point the way to a able to deal with this
standard product that problem in a variety of
ways. It could provide
can be modified to fit the shaft adapters, make
application. shaft modifications, either
in prototype or in
production quantities, or
the actual operating environment. recommend sources for peripheral
Secondly, network cabling. This is the metric parts to fit the rest of the
hard wiring necessary to connect the mechanism.
various devices on the network. In a Ultimately, selecting single sourcing
large automated factory setting, the for motion-control applications is not an
supplier should be able to provide option for every OEM. It may be difficult
electronics that can work at a long for some, especially those that are used
distance from the controller to the drive, to having tight control over the entire
shielded cables for ambient noise effects process. This, plus their search for the
on the drive system, and the right right single-source supplier versus
connectors. Lastly, they should be bidding out the entire process to different
familiar with gateways or bridges used suppliers, may cause them to feel that
to convert from one network standard or their position of control in selection and
protocol to another. negotiation is weakened. However, for
Because a big part of the prototype those OEMs wanting to get their product
and design process involves empirical to market faster and beat the
testing, a well-stocked lab is competition, single sourcing a turnkey
important. Suppliers should be able to solution may be the best way to go. ■