Motion control seminar has Quebecois flavor

Topics ranging from direct-drive linear motors and fine-tuning of microstepping performance to what's new in motion feedback devices and where electric servo technology might be heading were among media update presentations held here on July 31, sponsored by AutomationSolutions International llc (ASI, Petaluma, Calif.


Topics ranging from direct-drive linear motors and fine-tuning of microstepping performance to what's new in motion feedback devices and where electric servo technology might be heading were among media update presentations held here on July 31, sponsored by AutomationSolutions International llc (ASI, Petaluma, Calif.).

Several themes and trends emerged from ASI's in-depth technology seminar entitled "Industrial Automation Update: Electronic Motion Control in the Year 2000:"

  • Software functions continue to replace hardware functions in motion control;

  • Torque output per unit size of stepper motors has increased dramatically in recent years;

  • No single communication bus is emerging for motion control, but Ethernet is attracting many followers;

  • PC-based motion control is on the rise due to its programming flexibility; and

  • Positioning capability is coming to ac induction motors.

Seminar sponsor, AutomationSolutions International is an unusual organization, currently consisting of 10 participating companies—nine high-tech distributors and one motion control equipment manufacturer, IDC (see below). Members of this "merged entity" are limited liability companies (llcs) currently located across the U.S. and in Montreal. More expansion is coming by end of next quarter [4Q98], bringing the group to 13 'founding companies,' " says ASI ceo, Scott Johnson (formerly president and ceo of IDC).

ASI calls itself a "distribution" company, but it's not a 'distributor" in the true sense. It is closer to a hybrid of consulting engineer, system integrator, and marketing organization. It focuses on floor space for customer training facilities rather than stock rooms; and the field force is said to be nearly all engineers "calling primarily on engineers." Today, ASI has 100 field engineers in 35 states and two Canadian provinces. Sales are expected to top $100 million in 1998, with $350 million within three years. ASI will likely go public next year, according to Mr. Johnson.

Goals of ASI are wide ranging. They include the ability to access the best product and suppliers available—that is, operate without dependency on a single supplier—survive ongoing industry consolidation; achieve economy and efficiency of scale; promote new technical talent; and create value for its customers.

Wide technology

The seminar's eight presentations included Industrial Devices Corp. (IDC, Novato, Calif.), with Jack Nordquist, principal electronics engineer, waxing poetic about nuances of microstepping methods to obtain "Smooth Operation of the Permanent-Magnet, Hybrid Step Motor." IDC is an ASI division. In "Networking Motion Control," API Motion (Amherst, N.Y.) compared DeviceNet, Interbus, Profibus DP, and SERCOS as possible motion control (MC) networks. Brian Capitan, API principal engineer, noted that a promising solution to the speed limits of DeviceNet and Profibus for motion control applications is to transport the physical layers of these networks to Ethernet.

Software's prominent role in MC's future—making possible custom solutions with off-the-shelf product—was the theme of "Making Servo Systems Intuitive" from Emerson Motion Control (Chanhassen, Minn.). The main point here is intuitive set up and diagnostics of a servo system using "minimum time" software that speaks the user's language. Reinforcing the software theme was Object Automation's (Santa Ana, Calif.) topic of "Motion within the Enterprise." The company's approach is object-oriented software that leads to value-add products atop Microsoft products. This allows creation of PC-based manufacturing automation environments including motion control systems.

Linear motor technologies are drawing attention in wider applications lately. Two presentations centered on this sector. IDC provided a "comparison of linear motor technologies" in a presentation with that exact title. IDC product marketing engineer Rick Knox extolled the high accuracy and repeatability (up to 0.5 micron) of direct-drive linear motors. Feedback resolution is the limiting factor, he says. IDC has recently acquired linear motor technology via an agreement with Linear Drives Ltd. (Basildon, Essex, U.K.). SMAC (Carlsbad, Calif.) presented an overview on "Moving Coil Actuators"—another type of linear motor.

"Paradigm Shift for Motor Feedback Systems" by Stegmann Inc. (Dayton, O.) addressed the need to simplify installation, variety of signal interfaces, and use of these devices. A new product development, offering smart functions and stator coupling for mounting ease, was featured. Danfoss Electronic Drives' (Rockford, Ill.) topic, "Adding Motion Control Capability to an ac Motor," pointed to added capabilities for ac induction motors coming from a positioning and synchronizing controller option for variable-frequency drives (VFDs). One example is Danfoss' SynchPos Card that fits any VFD, says Scott Cline, application engineer at Danfoss. For more information on Automation SolutionsInternational, visit

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