Motor Design Drives Robotic Success Across Applications
June 05, 2018      

A major challenge for robotics makers is providing optimal motion with minimum weight and space. Startups can benefit from established component providers such as Kollmorgen, whose motor design and product library can support specific robotics requirements.

“Kollmorgen has years of experience in optimizing embedded motors in robotic systems,” said Gene Matthews, product manager at Kollmorgen. “We’ve been in frameless motor design for decades, and because of that, we have a large portfolio of designs we can leverage.”

The company’s customers typically have strict requirements for torque, temperature, and smooth motion in a given size.

Robotics applications are now in nearly every vertical market. Companies are using robots to perform tasks that humans can’t or shouldn’t because of unsafe conditions.

For instance, robots have been used to dispose of bombs and improvised explosive devices. Kollmorgen’s motors can be found in systems deep under the oceans and in space.

Kollmorgen's Tom Wood

Cobots have specific requirements for motors, notes Kollmorgen’s Tom Wood.

Cobot requirements

In addition to robots for specialized environments, Kollmorgen is a leading supplier to the collaborative robot market.

“The cobot space has specific needs that are different from other robots in industry,” said Tom Wood, a senior applications engineer at Kollmorgen. “They’re probably the most novel.”

One challenge is that collaborative robot makers want only a limited amount of energy loss in the form of waste heat, he said. Too much can lead to inefficiency and wear over time.

Both leading industrial and collaborative robot manufacturers work with Kollmorgen.

Motor design with intent

Some aspects of motor design are the same for standard industrial automation as for frameless motors.

“The ambient temperature effects are the same, and it’s more of a difference between a part set versus a fully packaged motor,” Matthews said. “We have more control when supplying a whole motor with bearings.”

“We must work more closely with customers [for cobot design] than with standard servos,” he said. “They have to be able to communicate how the motor should be housed and what cooling is needed for performance as specified.”

There are tradeoffs in robot design, according to the Kollmorgen team.

When collaborating with a customer on a robotic joint design, there are many factors to consider. Packing a gearhead, bearings, feedback devices, brakes, and a servo drive in a small space provides quite a challenge with respect to motor design.

Kollmorgen is able to leverage its decades of experience in motor design to provide the best solution for the customer’s specific application.

Time to develop custom solutions

The ability to bring existing expertise and high-quality parts to bear is just as important as customized design, explained Kollmorgen’s experts.

Although relatively few applications demand custom designs, Kollmorgen can create custom designs as needed. It is able to make small changes in its broad product families to get the right fit for an application. This can make building, controlling, and commercializing a robot easier.

Kollmorgen can provide quotes in two to five days after analyzing a client’s specifications.

For most prototyping needs, a customer can quickly get an off-the-shelf solution from Kollmorgen. The company can refine the solution with the customer as a product develops and help bring it to market.

Kollmorgen's Gene Matthews talks about motor design.

The ability to customize motor design and rely on long-term support is critical to users, says Kollmorgen’s Gene Matthews.

Quality and control

Kollmorgen has a long history in mission-critical applications where failure is not an option.

“Quality is very important to our customers and Kollmorgen,” Matthews said. “We have long-tested manufacturing processes for high-performance parts. They won’t fail in mission-critical applications in space or in the ocean or protecting soldiers.”

Long lifecycles aid robotics startups

Kollmorgen’s frameless motors are so well-made that they often outlast the mechanical assemblies around them and rarely require service. This has direct implications for collaborative robots, whose flexibility could lead to years of service in multiple production roles.

“We’ve been involved in a lot of long-term military and aerospace applications, as well as commercial ones,” Wood said. “Motor providers would obsolete product lines in 10 years, but in the military, a program could live 25 to 30 years, so we still provide motors that were optimized in the ’60s. We’re proud to be a long-term source.”

“Frameless motors have parts that don’t really go out of style,” Matthews added. “We’re able to reproduce a motor for a long period of time. Kollmorgen has been around for 100 years and building motors for 70 years. You can rely on us being around as long as you are.”

“For risk mitigation, it’s important to partner with a supplier that’s stable,” he said. “There are a lot of innovative startups with young talent, and we’re able to help them with our performance-based motion experience so that they can focus on software and other things.”

Kollmorgen's innovative motor design helps it work with robotics innovators.

Kollmorgen works well with robotics innovators.

Enabling innovators

Another recent high-profile challenge was the site of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Matthews recalled. Hundreds of robots were sent in to investigate the situation and conduct cleanup. This led to a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) rescue robot challenge.

Kollmorgen worked closely with several of the teams involved with the DARPA project, including the National Robotics Engineering Center in Pittsburgh. The company custom-developed four different motors.

Among the teams that benefitted and advanced in the competition was one from Carnegie Robotics, a spinoff from Carnegie Mellon University.

“Our experience, high-performance motors, and partnerships differentiate us from newer companies,” Matthews said.