Making better motors and controls help move the world forward

Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD



Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD

Making tools that move has been a part of human development since the wheel and lathe, and the drive to make our tools and moving devices more precise, accurate, and easier to operate has been an almost continuous process since the first complex tool was created. Every one of those aspects are vital to the nature of a useful tool, and each is as important and the next.

Motors are a core technology, the core of and the building block for a range of tools and machines addressing a range of applications, and they and the systems that control them are critical parts of our modern infrastructure. My favorite yardstick for technology assessment is how precisely that technology can control and apply power, and motors and motion control is an elegant expression of that philosophy.

There were presentations and discussions on the subject of motors and motion at both the recent embedded world conference in Nuremberg, Germany and the following APEC event in Ft Worth, Texas. The answer to the question on everyone’s lips about some of the driving trends in the industry included (among other technologies like wireless power and wide-bandgap semiconductors) motors and motion control, and the application space was one of the high-interest areas of both events.

Think of a sharpshooter dialing in a new scope. How tight the shot group is displays the weapon & shooter’s precision; how close that shot group is to the desired target point shows the accuracy. The two together, combined with the ease of use of the system, define that system’s usefulness to the user. In this example, how tight the tolerances are in the mechanism, how precise and well-engineered the action is, and how easy the weapon is to operate defines how “good” a weapon it is. In some cases it depends on the application; one wouldn’t expect a heavy-caliber weapon to be light (relatively speaking).

In the realm of motors and motion control, this has been expressed in both the mechanical sophistication of the motors and mechanical aspects of modern systems, the sensors that given them the ability to perform to the extremes of their capabilities, and the software that takes the input of one to control the output of the other. Each facet of the system is critical, and each can benefit from a pursuit of quality in the areas of precision, accuracy, and ease of use.

The best functionality of an item cannot be realized by the user if it is too complex, cumbersome, or otherwise difficult to use. Conversely, a device that is too “dumbed down” to make user access easy may miss important functionalities that would be accessible with a small learning curve or with an advanced user. It is a fine tightrope (in most cases) to walk.