Adoption rates of new technologies in the motion control industry


Thread Starter

John Cihomsky

I'm with a marketing communications firm. My boss is participating in a forum on the motion control industry. He is to bring marketing advice to the panel, and one of the areas of discussion will be how to combat (through marketing) the slow rate of adoption of new technologies in the motion control industry.
I assume the adoption rate is slow because of the cost involved to implement a new technology. Am I right? Are there other factors? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!


James Ingraham

"The devil known is better than the devil unknown."

Cost isn't the big factor. It's expertise. I'm not sure that marketing can help overcome the difficulties of teaching your entire engineering and maintenance staff a brand new technology. It's possible that it could help overcome the fear that -- after investing in the training required -- the technology is obsoleted or just plain doesn't work.

Sage Automation, Inc.
In my opinion, that is only one reason. Another is the economic justification or payback time. For example, payback on a VFD modernization
of a large pump system. But there is another no one likes to talk about. A lot of the "new technology" in reality gives ONLY marginal/single digit percent improvement in the "target" performance attributes. Somewhere I read that
for a new technology to be a commercial success, it must make at least 10% improvement in something i.e. performance, price, size, ease-of-use, reliability etc. Engineers (I am one) are known for developing/designing to the Nth degree only to sometimes find a 2% improvement. Unless a few percent improvement in a product is a big deal to your application, how could you justify the cost of adopting [that] new technology?

I think it was List participant Jim Pinto that said one of the problems in the Motion Industry is too much technology chasing too few customers.
Whoever said it is right on in my opinion.

Aside: Through biz reading, courses I also understand that U.S. Industry views payback differently than European Industry (take a longer view). Probably one reason why European OEMs seem to adopt new motion technology sooner.

Just my thoughts.

Greg Schiller

The motion control industry is a very dificult industry to move in. I have since 93 sold, designed, and implimented these systems. It is the melting pot between mechanical/electrical/software engineering. I would argue that it is one of the most dificult areas to design in. The slow adaptation I think is largely due to the small amount of multi dicipline integrators.

In automation you have Mechanical engineering gods that can creat a machine that holds tolerances to the 10,000 of an inch over the life of a machine. Then you have software gods that can create the logic behind the machine but
then get stuck on the mechanical/electrical stuff. Finaly the electrial gods can make the whole thing run off 480 without blowing up.

Companies come out with new technologies and parade it to integration chanels let say like a 8 axis stand alone servo control, auto teaching, no
setup, TCPIP, free software offering. The mechanical engineer(in general) says can I get a dxf drawing of the box. The electrical engineer asks if its 4-20 or +/-10 Volt. And the software engineer says thats neat I'll remember this when the right mechanical situation comes arround. Unfortunately each of the diciplines think the other one is full of it so they don't talk.

Now not all folks are in only one of these camps. Most of us have to deal with at least two if not all three. What motion control companies should do
is make application construction easier. Get me 80% there with some kind of wizard. Don't keep coming out with even thicker poorly written manuals than before explaining the newly released features. I need to move machines.

Emerson had a great thing going with their FX series. Fill in the blanks and boom, flying shear. Most people are learning off the backs of their customers. They struggle with new technology. They find what works then they stay with it. It better be a pretty good reason to go away from what they have learned.

A secondary effect of reluctance could also be. The lack of knowledge installed in the sales force(no slam just fact. every body is busy making
something happen). Also try finding mind share from a salesperson who does $1 million in sales in photo eyes in a year for explaining a new TCPIP
motion control paradigm. Photo eyes are easy, motion is hard. Sell photo eyes. Also almost all the companies on the line card are coming out with new technologies.

hope this helps.

-Greg Schiller
Hi James:

This is precisely the reason that we need simple tools.

As Joel Orr states - "Engineering needs tools that don't require a second career,".

With simple, intuitive tools, people can do more without thinking about it, training is not required, therefore costs are lowered all around - and the job, for most, is more enjoyable.

Bob Pawley
I agree with a number of points that the preceeding posters have brought up.
Additionally, I might add another reason or two for "slow" - or perceived "slow" adoption of new technologies in motion control.

1) Motion control can be among the most difficult for customers/end users to understand. Because of this, suppliers don't like to "rock the boat" too frequently, since it generally takes customers some amount of time to catch up and accept new technology and trust it. Given how involved an effort it can be to work out the kinks in a complex machine design, many users won't take kindly to having new technology forced upon them to relearn every 1-1.5 years. This might also mean - fiscally speaking, that the vendors might have to accelerate the rate at which the obsolete product to make room for all the new - again an unwelcome situation for
typical industrial control customers.

2) Various new technologies are driven for
various reasons, but some of the consumer PC market driven technologies have half-lives of
only 12 months. Many suppliers cannot/do not want
to base industrial control systems, which they will have to support with parts, etc. for up
to 7 years or more, with chips or software that go from $45 a piece at first release to $2 a piece to nonexistent in less than 24 months (case in point: EDO DRAM a few years ago). I think that many vendors take the time to examine which are the more longer-lived/viable or expandable options that come to the party before making their decisions. IT does slow things down
somewhat, but these suppliers cannot afford to
make mistakes/strand customers with products that are based on technology that doesn't stick

My $.02,
-Mike F
Biggest issues are:
1. (Trust) Marketing people hype the equipment yet when you get it, the system is full of bugs and does not perform as was hyped. Now you're stuck with a delayed project and clueless tech. support.
2. If existing does what you want it to, why upgrade and have to set up an entire set of new parts in your stores system? The new system better be significantly cheaper to get me to change.
3. Half the "new technologies" that get introduced amount to little more than pretty software and high tech words that provide no real advantage over the old system.

Cameron Anderson

A big problem is when a company comes out with some "Super New Technology" they have no marketing department. The company is comprised of all engineers and no sales and marketing people. Those companies end up with products very capable
of solving everyting but don't know how to tell people that. Their manuals suck, their software has no help files, no pretty/cool sales tools to make it easy for a sales person to go promote it.

The companies with the good sale and marketing department seem to have excellent manuals, great literature, sales tools to that tell sales reps where they can sell it, but lack the products.

I fight this battle every day managing my 12 motion control product lines. Like someone else mentioned, motion control is not easy compared to selling AC/DC drives/motors, PLC's, or sensors. The only people who have it worse than motion
control are the software people.

Lets look at API; they have a servo drive, Very powerful, low low cost and great margins. Manulas suck, literature sucks, Software changes alot, needs better features, it has no SAVE or SAVE AS function. Can't do Cut,Copy, Paste. They charge for their software. A hardware company trying to sell software. Their connectors suck, their cable sets suck, their factory support sucks, and
there was only one guy who knows how the thing really works but is an Ass to work with. Poor product quality, lots of failures. End result to a sales person is "I Lost money on every system I sold."

Lets compare them to the Mentioned Emerson. Emerson FX drives and PCM modules made them one of the first real motion control companies. They had easy to use CAN'd modules for just about every application. Excelent quality, systems never
failed. As other companies started motion control, they were developing just as capable systems but for less money. Eventually Emerson started loosing ground because they didn't take the risk to work on "New Technology." They went from a Major player to a "Older, Over priced Company." Now they are getting back in the game playing catch up, but doing it quickly.

Emerson is a A+ motion control company taking the right steps, slow, but right; where API rushed and got the F.

Look at linear servo technology. It still seems to be a "New Technology." Why have linear servo systems done better. Technology? COST? Lack of Applications? Systems are still expensive, but when I can buy a ballscrew to do the same app
for 1/3 the cost, I'm going to go that route. Developed for their place, but still can't replace ballscrews and belt systems.

Most motion control companies have to many other problems to worry about rather than developing some new technology. They need to improve what they have first: Better deliveries, better quality, easier software that doesn't crash, better manuals, sales tools.

Most wait for someone else to take the risk. Some try to develope a technology into something it is not. Stepper systems for example. Companies trying to make stepper drives into servos. Pseudo servo where the stepper closes the loop. Stepper algorithms for low speed smoothness, anti-resonance circuits for more usable toruqe. They end up making the stepper drives more expensive then a servo drive by investing all this technology into a slowly dying field.

When I ask my vendor's how come they haven't worked on building a servo drive with Ethernet capablity casue that seems to be the New Technology right now, they say...we are doing Profibus and DeviceNet first...then maybe Ehternet. Why? The answer is cause there is currently more of a market for immediate need, guaranted money. Developing a new technology means taking a risk. Make the right gamble and get the reward, make the wrong one, its all over.

Some reasons are Old School customers. I have severaly customers where the head Engineer is a 70 yr old mechanical guy that can make killer machines but don't have the knowledge to change or don't want to change. I worked on an account 2
years, doing seminars, trainings, application proofs before I actually got them to do a system. Plus more and more of their customers were requesting servos on a machine.

I am finding is some cases where people are applying motion control to the machines to market "New Technology." I had a customer call and ask me to size a servo for a conveyor. He explined what they were doing and I said, "Why are you using a servo, this is a AC motor VFD application." His response was that the company wanted to be able to marekt the word "SERVO TECHNOLOGY" on their marketing literature. Servo being perceived as the Best!

The other problem is the word new. When something new comes out, I wait a while before I buy it. I wait for someone else to test it. Some one else can be the test rat or in the motion control world, Beta Site.

So yes your right when you say "I assume the adoption rate is slow because of the cost involved to implement a new technology." The cost is the gamble and the fact that it might take 3 years to get the reward, but you will be the
leader while everyone else catches up. No one whats to be a Paradigm Pioneer any more. They don't want to take the risk!

-the comment about getting sales reps should be a topic on its own. I could rant for a day about that. That is also another major factor in the market place. Most companies go through distribution. What do we work for? To make more money! What will make you more money? Hard to sell, hard to support, long sales cycle motion control products or easy to sell, easy to support, and high margin dollar sensors and pannel components?

-Cameron Anderson
Motion Control Specialist
St. Paul, MN

Jeremy Pollard

I invite you all to visit "": to view the spec on Motion Control Function Blocks. Applications are aready done and have abstracted most of the operations so that you buils a system, and not create it. Check it out

Cheers from::

Jeremy Pollard, CET
[email protected]
On The Web -
PLCopen North America - [email protected]
the Training Factory, Inc.
Programmable Controller Support Systems
The Software User Newsletter ONLINE
The Crazy Canuckian!
8 Vine Crescent, Barrie, Ontario L4N 2B3
705.739.7155 Fax 705.739.7157
Cost to implement? Could be. I also think the decision makers in large companies (bean counters) don't see value in replacing a DC motor
with an AC motor unless you show them the ROI.

Also I have seen maintenance departments not having the control they need to make final decisions on advance technology. When distrubutors introduce their products and their manufacturers they represent, maybe they should set up the demos in the accounting office. Cost always stands out rather the ROI.