A robot that can’t move correctly or precisely is pretty useless these days, as robotics companies and their customers are demanding robots that can perform better than ever before. For companies creating those motion control systems, innovating has become a continuous endeavor.
For more than 30 years, RBR50 2019 honoree ADVANCED Motion Controls has been at the forefront of developing high performance servo drives and motion controllers. The company has built and shipped more than 3 million servo axes worldwide, serving companies across multiple industries.
Robotics Business Review spoke with the company’s Vice President of Sales & Marketing, David Gelfuso, about the growing need for precision motion control across robotics design, innovations that help lower cost and improve performance, and why roboticists shouldn’t try to build their own servo drives.
Mobile and warehouse robot demand
Q: What markets show the greatest potential for using motion control and servo drive technologies?
Gelfuso: The warehouse automation market is expanding quickly. Worldwide competition, along with increasing online ordering, will keep the demand and growth steady for some time.
Solutions for this market include autonomous guided vehicles, autonomous mobile robots, articulating robots, intelligent shuttle systems; all of which crave higher-level servo drive technology.
Q: Companies in this space often mention precision as key – how precise are these technologies these days? Can the technology get even more precise, and what technologies drive that precision?
Gelfuso: Precision is a relative term, and can differ greatly between different customers and applications. The precision from our highest performance products is adequate for most, if not all, applications in our space.
At ADVANCED Motion Controls, we have a wide range of standard products plus the capability to optimize our solutions to meet the needs of the application. We have more than 200 standard products that we can modify and we also provide full custom solutions. These options ensure the optimum value for our customers.
Ultimately, servo drives can only be as precise as the feedback device to which they are connected. With all the applications we have done, the feedback is usually the first bottleneck for precision.
Q: What other advances are creating innovation in the motion control space – smaller forms, different materials, etc.? What advantages do these innovations give customers?
Gelfuso: We are constantly innovating when it comes to value, size, performance, and features. For OEMs with large production quantities where value is primary, we can provide custom solutions in as little as 6 to 8 weeks. That means a customer can benefit from a bespoke solution with the experience as if it were a standard product.
Size and weight are important for many mobile applications where battery life is paramount. Our most compact, lightest digital product is only 1-inch by 1.5-inches by 0.61-inches, and can deliver 1.2kW continuous with no additional heat sinking at 25 degrees Celsius. This product will open up great possibilities to customers making mobile vehicles/robots, articulating robots, and the like.
We aim to increase performance so our product is not a limiting factor or bottleneck of the complete motion control system. We offer 100% analog current loops for incredibly high bandwidth needs, and our digital drives have 50 μs update rates for the current loop. The digital drives position and velocity loops run at 100 μs update rates, which is faster than most motion controllers. The higher the performance our servo drive can deliver, the better machine our customer can build.
Features of the drive allow customers to offload or decentralize control from the main controller or host. This can amount to great system improvements, because while our servo drives handle events and tasks relative to the motor control, the host or main controller can focus on machine and system control. This results in either better systems overall, or a reduction in the host/main control. We know our investment in value creation, size/weight reduction, performance enhancement, and feature additions are vital for our customers’ success.
Q: In the robotics space, do robot engineers or roboticists understand a lot about motion control technology? In other words, what kind of things do they not know about or understand that a company like ADVANCED Motion Controls can assist them with?
Gelfuso: In general, the engineers we work with have a good understanding of motion control technology. However, there’s a big difference between knowledge and expertise.
ADVANCED Motion Controls has been designing, manufacturing, selling, and supporting servo drives for 31 years, with more than 3 million axes shipped in a diverse set of markets and applications. Our unique experience from within ADVANCED Motion Controls allows us to share knowledge, ideas, and solutions from other markets, and apply that information to the robotic market. We work as an extension of our customers’ engineering teams, and collaboratively solve robotic problems with our servo drive solutions.
Q: How does your company provide a unique value for roboticists when they are considering a motion technology for their robot or application?
Gelfuso: We have more than 200 standard products that someone can get their hands on and start testing within days. Sometimes, that availability of product is key for our customers.
Our unique value comes from our ability to not just provide standard product. Henry Ford was once quoted as saying, “You can have any color; as long as it is black.” We feel very differently. Our customers and their applications are so varied, and so are the items in the value proposition. Our standard products only account for one-third of our business, with the other two-thirds being modified and custom/bespoke solutions. This is how ADVANCED Motion Controls provides unique value to the robotics world.
Q: Is there a particular technology that many people might not realize that has a lot of servo drive technology or motion control involved in it?
Gelfuso: There’s a good chance that right behind the counter at your local pharmacy, there’s a prescription-filling robot that uses our servo drives. The robot retrieves the medication, counts the pills, then prints and places the label on the bottle. By taking out the most time-consuming and error-prone steps in prescription fulfillment, pharmacists can increase their throughput, and devote more time with customer interaction. With this system, human error is all but eliminated.
Q: For companies interested in developing a robot solution, what should they realize about issues related to motion?
Gelfuso: Robotics companies often decide to make their own servo drives. They do this because they can’t find an off-the-shelf drive that exactly fits their specifications for fit, form or function.
However, for a company without our experience and level of expertise, this can take a tremendous amount of time, energy, and resources that could be better spent elsewhere. We believe robotics companies should focus on making robots, and let us make the servo drives. Once we work out the specifications, we can deliver custom drives that are more reliable, have better performance and cost less to develop than those that develop in-house – and we do it in a shorter time.
Q: What does being in the RBR50 mean for your company?
Gelfuso: It is very important to ADVANCED Motion Controls, because robotics is where it all began for us. Thirty-one years ago, our two founders were making embedded PCB-mount style servo drives on the kitchen table. The first OEM customer that gave them an order was a company making robots for bomb squads and the like.
Today, all these years later, they are still a customer today. ADVANCED Motion Controls has been servicing the robotic market with high performance and high value solutions for 31 years, and it feels right to be part of the RBR50.