Q&A: Tim Dawson from Interact Analysis discusses global motion control trends
November 2, 2023
By Sukanya Ray Ghosh
In an exclusive Q&A with Manufacturing AUTOMATION, Tim Dawson, senior research director and principal analyst for Interact Analysis, shares his insights on global trends shaping the motion control market for the manufacturing industry.
Manufacturing AUTOMATION: What are the current global trends in motion control technology that you believe are most relevant for manufacturers to consider?
Tim Dawson: The increased use of automation and robotics – driven by rising labour costs and general shortages of labour around the world – underpins the overall growth in demand for motion controls. This, coupled with the desire from many manufacturers for enhanced speeds (throughput) and machine flexibility is leading to increased demand for motion controls. For example, adding flexibility to packaging machinery through additional servo axes offers automatic adjustment and the ability to handle multiple package sizes on a single production line without manual adjustment.
Increased safety is also an important factor that is influencing investment in motion control technology. This is particularly prevalent where collaborative and mobile robots are used with humans working close by. Higher-level safety features at the drive level and in the encoders are becoming a standard on the latest products sold in the European market, and their popularity is growing in North America.
Many vendors are also taking actions to become more sustainable in their manufacturing processes which is driving the growth of motion control technology. Servo drives and motors allow excess kinetic energy to be converted back into electricity and it can then be redistributed across multiple axes on a machine. They are some of the most energy-efficient devices and use as little power as possible. Furthermore, vendors are working to create products that can be recycled or disposed of in an eco-friendly way. Sustainability is a key trend that Interact Analysis observed at multiple tradeshows globally in 2023.
MA: Are there specific industries or sectors within manufacturing where you see motion control technology making a significant impact? Could you provide examples?
TD: Motion control products are used in all industries, wherever precise, controlled movements are required. Almost all motion control products are sold into machinery sectors, as it is unlikely that a manufacturing end-user would directly order a product such as a servo motor, unless as a replacement.
The metal-cutting machinery sector was the largest consumer of motion control products, accounting for revenues of $4.2Bn in 2022. The next largest consumer industries were semiconductors & electronics machinery, packaging machinery, industrial robots and metal forming machinery. Together, these five industries accounted for $10.7Bn in 2022, around 60 percent of the global market.
MA: In the context of Industry 4.0, how is the integration of motion control evolving, and what are the key benefits for manufacturers in this transition?
TD: On an overarching level, the implications of Industry 4.0 to machine builders, systems integrators and end-users are huge. Digital factories are inherently more productive, cost effective and energy efficient; and have shorter development cycles. We are currently still at an early stage of adoption, although there’s ample evidence of tremendous success stories and what the future of manufacturing and this trend will bring. Digital twin software is a rapidly growing area, with more and more suppliers introducing subscription-based packages alongside their hardware, building a real-time model to monitor current performance and predict potential future faults. This requires many sensors to be placed on the motors or encoders to monitor parameters such as temperature and vibration. Digital twin is already a big area in EMEA, and we are starting to see further deployments in the US. This software will help manufacturers and machine builders save money in the long run, and by making use of the latest data analytics and machine learning techniques, they will be able to identify ways of improving efficiency throughout the production process.
There is an increasing need for better accessibility when operating and monitoring systems governed by motion controls products. App-based automation platforms, which are easier to be trained on, are becoming a more desirable option compared to the more traditional methods, which rely on prior technical knowledge.
A general sense of increased openness is a common request of customers of major suppliers. Customers want all their automation devices to be able to communicate with each other, regardless of the manufacturer or industrial network type. The largest automation suppliers go to great lengths to develop ways of allowing different buses to talk to each other, however, this often results in delays, meaning that it won’t be good enough for the highest precision tasks.
MA: Can you discuss any recent innovations or breakthroughs in motion control that you believe will shape the future of manufacturing automation?
TD: Although not a particularly new technology, the emergence and use of linear smart conveyance technology (SCT) is at a critical juncture and in its nascent phase. The linear smart conveyance technology market is predicted to see a global CAGR of 26.3 percent, growing from $397 million in 2022 to more than $1.2 billion in 2027. The industry is observing increased adoption rates for SCT from new industries and applications that are looking to replace traditional conveyor systems. Some examples of this technology include Beckhoff (XTS), Rockwell Automation (iTRAK), Bosch Rexroth (FTS), B&R Automation (ACOPOStrak), Siemens/Festo (MCS), SuperTrak Conveyance (SuperTrak Gen3).
The first smart conveyance technology products were launched as far back as the early 2000s, but acceptance, understanding and appreciation of how to maximize the benefits of this technology by machine builders and end-users is finally coming to fruition now. Some of the benefits include superior speed and flexibility, leading to maximum throughput.
MA: From your research, what other related developments in automation will contribute to the increase in significance of motion control components for manufacturers and other industry stakeholders?
TD: The industry projected to see the strongest growth in demand for motion control products between 2023 and 2028 is mobile robots (CAGR of >40 percent to 2028). With over 150,000 mobile robots shipped globally in 2022, the sector is seeing huge growth due to the increasing demand for automated fulfillment/warehouse automation resulting from the continuing trend towards e-commerce. By 2027, it’s possible that as many as 1.3 million mobile robots may be required each year, which would in turn create a huge opportunity for suppliers of motion control products.
MA: Looking ahead, what predictions do you have for the future of motion control in manufacturing automation, and how can companies prepare for these changes to stay competitive in the global market?
TD: Interact Analysis anticipates that the material impact of digitalization on the motion control market and how products will technically develop will be low. Other than having some way to connect to the cloud, which could simply be via the pre-existing communications port on the drive, or integrating a web server, there are unlikely to be significant changes to the design of servo motor or drive products themselves. Added value could be made possible through (cloud) services associated with analyzing servo drive data for the purpose of condition monitoring or predictive maintenance, but the products themselves are not expected to change materially.
Tim Dawson is the senior research director and principal analyst for Interact Analysis. He uses his more than 20 years of experience to develop research for the manufacturing sector and is a frequent speaker on all things automation-related at conferences and industry trade shows worldwide.
With over 200 years of combined experience, Interact Analysis is a market intelligence firm for global supply chain automation. Its research covers the entire automation value chain – from the technology used to automate factory production, through inventory storage and distribution channels, to the transportation of the finished goods. To learn more, visit www.InteractAnalysis.com.
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