OEMs, Including Robotics Manufacturers, Expect Complete Motor Drive and Control Solutions

Kevin Parmenter, Director, Applications Engineering. TSC, America



Robotics isn’t just about replacing humans in manufacturing anymore. It covers everything from robot vacuums and surgical robots to self-guided ROVs to AI-driven production equipment, Cobots and more. According to market research sources, the global robotics market is projected to reach $189.56 billion by 2027 with a 13.5% CAGR.

From a motor drives and controls perspective, “Robotics” is just one of a wide array of application categories that rely on this technology. The market is very fragmented and includes the controls driving the motors in vehicles and drones as well as those driving home appliances and large multi-horsepower water pumps at municipalities. The diverse motor drives and controls market that includes robotics applications is projecting to grow to $24.3 billion by 2026 at a 4.6% CAGR, which isn’t slow growth by any means. 

Electric motors consume more than 50 percent of all electrical energy in the United States and more than 85 percent of industrial production electrical energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). They account for roughly $85 out of every $100 of a manufacturing/processing plant's electricity bill.

Thus, variable frequency drives (VFDs) that reduce energy consumption and increase efficiency are of growing interest to individuals and organizations. It’s easy to justify the payback period of using more efficient motors and motor drives. And it’s not just driving AC motors; the DC motor control market is also large and growing since they also need intelligent motor control. Of course, it varies by application and depends on the type of DC motor used. 

To be successful in these markets, I am reminded of visiting a large Fortune 100 electronics company not all that long ago. In the meeting, one of the engineering managers told me: “You semiconductor guys have to learn that we want complete meals ready to eat – we don’t want a grocery shopping list.” He’s right. Especially when it comes to motor controls and motor drives, OEMs don’t want a confusing list of parts anymore. To extend the metaphor, the meal they expect is a complete reference design with, at minimum, a starter software “recipe” that they can adjust to their liking. 

Consider, these days, designing a microcontroller-based product that needs to drive motors in the system. You can simply use an Arduino board and select among various “shield boards” that plug into the Arduino. The design is done for you: hook up the motor to the board after plugging it in and write the software (or borrow free online software and modify it to your needs) and you have a design ready to go.  It’s all open-source and free. So copy the design(s) and put it in production – after, of course, you do environmental and system-level tests for compliance and so forth. Why start from scratch?

Power electronics companies who ignore this trend in motor control design, just because this idea of borrowing a ready-made, open-source software is new to them, do so at the peril of market share loss. These are huge markets for power electronics companies – better get cooking!