A Little Drive Can Mean Big Productivity

If you’re like most material handlers, you need to find ways to make your conveyors, AS/RS systems, carousels and other material handling equipment move product faster, reduce the time it takes to start and stop, hit the mark precisely, and do all of these motion control tasks repeatedly. In today’s world, shaving even a millisecond off the time it takes to move product can result in substantial operation savings.

The wish list doesn’t stop here. In addition to these capabilities, material handling equipment should also have a low total cost of ownership — part of which means simple diagnostics. This equipment must also meet the above motion demands with smooth movement.

Sometimes technology comes just when you need it. Altering your equipment to achieve these capabilities is not as difficult as you might think, even for older equipment.

You can gain these capabilities by installing the newest servo motors and drives onto your equipment. Yes, servo drive systems.

Servo drives and motors have always delivered precise speed, excellent placement control, and full stall torque, but have usually been considered only for a limited range of applications. Well, the newest designs from manufacturers offer wider power ranges, the capability to communicate to other equipment and controls, and the ability to check themselves out, diagnose a problem and tell you what to do about it. They do all of this at a price point that just about anyone can afford.

A recent report from ARC Advisory Group, the Servo Drive Market Outlook, says that the market for servo drives is recovering and it forecasts that the worldwide market for these devices should grow at a compounded annual rate of 7.2 percent over the next five years. Sal Spada, the principal author of the report, noted that the unbundling of motion control systems is leading to greater integration with entire automation systems.

Part of the growth will be due to the wider range of speed and power control available now - from the sub kilowatt range to the more than 10-kilowatt range. This range allows these motors and drives to be installed on more types of equipment, including material handling, in applications requiring precise speed and position control, such as conveyors. In addition, these devices control fast and slow speeds smoothly. You won’t need to worry about disturbing the contents of items or product that move.

Plus, a wider power and speed range makes these devices good alternatives to other types of power transmission devices, such as hydraulic and pneumatic, in some applications. Not only is the power and speed there, but the servo drive systems may be easier to maintain than other power transmission solutions, lowering the cost of ownership.

The ability to communicate to other equipment, devices and controls is becoming a standard feature in both the high and low ends of servo drives. One of the benefits of such networking is that it helps end users and machine builders reduce commissioning time, noted the AMC report. Not only can you install these devices quickly, you can reap the rewards of improved operation that much more quickly.

Increased intelligence and networking also helps with diagnostics. These devices come with programs that perform continuous checking of their operation and performance and will alert you to any problems. Networking connects you to the manufacturer, who can guide you through problems should they occur, thus reducing your downtime.

On top of that, the newest servo devices use energy efficiently, reducing your electric bill. And they can temporarily work through some electrical sags and surges, an important feature for anyone who remembers the big blackout of 2003.

Best of all, there’s no shortage of manufacturers who would like your business. The biggest problem you may have is choosing the right servo drive for your equipment. But the manufacturers will be more than willing to help you out. Thus, if you’re looking for a way to quickly and easily improve your material handling processes, check out the new servo drives and motors. Sometimes, it’s the little changes that make the biggest impact on equipment productivity and performance.

Leslie Langnau, contributing editor

[email protected]

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