Thursday, April 25, 2013

Stepping Motors versus Servo Motors

In my view, stepping motors lead the revolution of the use of motion control for machine automation. Microstepping, which allowed stepping motors to be run smoothly and precisely, was developed by Hewlett Packard for use in computer printers. A start-up company in the early 1980’s named Compumotor brought this technology into the industrial market. Combined with simple to use controllers and “plug and play” connections, Compumotor’s stepping motors were used in thousands of applications that previously were either not possible, or required elaborate mechanisms for adjustment and coordination.

As microprocessors and power electronics progressed, the control of brushless servo motors also became commonplace. Today, brushless servo motors have over-taken stepping motors in a wide variety machine automation applications.

So, are stepping motors still a viable choice for automated machines? In short, the answer is, ‘Yes!’

Stepping motors provide very reliable operation, long life, and are inherently stable and precise. They are usually operated open loop (without position feedback) which works well in most applications since they do not require feedback for precise control and positioning. They are relatively simple devices.

If a selected stepping motor is rated for the speed and torque that an application requires and, if the inertia of the motor’s rotor is a good match to the reflected inertia of the mechanism it will drive (called the “inertia ratio”), then a stepping motor may be a very good and economical choice.

The Compumotor stepping motor products are still alive and well as a part of ParkerHannifin’s Automation Group, which also includes brushless servos and precision positioning systems.

Greg Selke
CEO ONExia Inc

Thursday, April 18, 2013

So, do robots – like ‘Baxter’ – take jobs away from people?

 It is a question that we are seeing more often in articles and on TV. A recent 60 Minutes (watch the story) segment gave the impression that robots might displace workers in almost any job requiring manual tasks, and then in increasingly more difficult tasks.

So, do robots take jobs away from people?
Rethink Robotics Baxter

The answer is both ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.

In the case of the robot ‘Baxter’ from Rethink Robotics the ‘Yes’ is primarily aimed at jobs overseas. With its low operating cost per hour, Baxter can compete favorably with overseas manufacturing labor rates. Rethink Robotics is very intentional in their desire to ‘reshore’ manufacturing back to the US, and to help keep existing manufacturing here.

The intent with Baxter is to offload the repetitive, menial, simple tasks to a robot, leaving humans to do jobs and tasks that require higher levels of thinking and skills. If we can lower the cost to perform the simple, routine tasks, the theory is that we will be able to afford to manufacture in the US, hiring more qualified workers, thereby increasing employment.

Greg Selke
CEO ONExia Inc

Thursday, April 11, 2013

What Makes An Automation Project Successful?

In a word: Collaboration

Our automation projects that go best are those where our customer considers us to be an extension of their engineering department. We have a great deal of expertise and experience in applying automation to a wide variety of applications. Our customers have expertise and experience with their particular products and processes. Bringing these different expertise and experiences together through effective collaboration brings the best results.

Greg Selke
CEO ONExia Inc

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Year Ahead

Taxes, recession, health insurance, disaster recovery…. 

What will 2013 look like?

This year promises to be a challenging one. While the general economic news seems to indicate some stability and slow growth in the economy, higher taxes and health care costs are likely to dampen progress.

Baxter on the packaging line 
With higher health care costs and increased regulations, employers are looking for ways to increase productivity without having to increase head count. Automating certain tasks can be an answer.

The new robot, ‘Baxter’, from ReThink Robotics is one way to automate mundane tasks such as carton filling and parts transfer. ReThink Robotics created Baxter with the goal of being able to compete favorably with overseas labor rates. In fact, Baxter can be applied for around $5.00 per hour, making it very competitive. Baxter is a ‘collaborative robot’ designed to work with and next to humans. It does not require a cage or guarding and can be shown what to do by a co-worker.

ONExia has many solutions and many years of experience applying automation methods to a wide variety of tasks.

ONExia belongs to three industry organizations; the Association of High Technology Distributors (AHTD) and the Control Systems Integrators Association (CSIA) and the Motion Control Association (MCA). Each of these organizations have annual or twice-annual conferences, presenting a variety of good speakers and workshops. All three organizations also utilize the services of an economics firm called ITR Economics. ITR has an incredible track record for predicting changes in the economy. They claim an accuracy of 94.7% over the past 60 years and, more recently, correctly forecast the financial crisis of 2007-2009.

Alan Beaulieu, President and Principal of ITR, is often the presenter at AHTD, CSIA and MCA events. For the past couple of years Alan has been predicting slow growth and recovery from the recession through the end of 2013, followed by a slowing economy. He further predicts that we will be in a mild recession during 2014, recovering during 2015.

We are planning, accordingly.

Greg Selke
CEO ONExia Inc