Opening Up Motion Control
Traditional motion control engineers may consider some of Sergey Lototsky's observations either flawed or downright blasphemous. But the director of product research and development for AC Technology , a member of the Lenze Group, believes the motion control industry can and should make use of global open standards.
Q: You've been quoted as saying "We [the motion control industry as a whole] would be better served to embrace open standards just as the PC industry has…" Please explain.
A: Agreeing to global standards creates a win-win situation for all parties. The consumer wins, because standards breed competition, which applies downward pressure on price. Manufacturers win because the lower prices create demand, which in turn generates economy of scale through dramatically increased production volume and fewer "specials."
This "loop" feeds on itself: Competition drives creativity and innovation, while innovation drives consumer demand. As the number of users increases, the standards become more popular, so more brains are working on leveraging and improving the standard and the resulting products. This, in turn, breeds products which become more robust sooner, which is also good for the consumer.
The PC industry exhibits this every day with almost anything connected to it. Displays, communication (such as broadband and WiFi,), music and video technology all benefit from global standards and the subsequent production volume due to consumer demand.
Q: So what does that have to do with motion control?
A: I'll tie it together in two ways. First, standards in general: If motion control establishes and accepts industry-wide standards, it will breed competition, which will in turn lower prices, which will drive up demand. Machines that were too inexpensive to include motion control in their bill-of-material can now, so their utilization increases.
Second: By leveraging standards that are already established and embraced by an industry whose scale and scope is one or more orders of magnitude greater than ours, we immediately benefit—as consumers of these components in our own OEM equipment—from the competition and low price of those components. Such standards can come from nearly any consumer industry, including mobile phones, appliances, automobiles, toys, PCs, etc.
Q: What are some examples of how the motion control industry can leverage standards from the PC industry?
A: Switch-mode power supplies (SMPS) are used multiple times throughout a PC. We can leverage their low cost to reduce our hardware cost. Ethernet is another example: Processors that have Ethernet on board, as well as [separate] and the isolation circuitry to interface to the real world cost 1/100th of what they did 10 years ago.
SMPS is purely a hardware example of competition and low price, but leveraging Ethernet creates secondary and tertiary benefits as well: Existing low-cost hardware (such as PCs, routers, data-acquisition devices, etc.) can be interfaced to motion control components. We can also capitalize upon the collective knowledge associated with industry-standard protocols, so implementation, training and maintenance costs now begin to disappear.
Q: Of all standards established by the PC industry, what is the single most important?
A: Ethernet and its protocols are governed through a request for comment (RFC) process. RFC is truly open. Anyone can download the resulting standards for free today from the Internet Engineering Task Force web site and begin implementing them tomorrow.
Q: If leveraging these ubiquitous standards is so important and so valuable to do, why isn't anyone in motion control doing it?
A: Some are. Rockwell Automation/Allen-Bradley, for instance, has embraced TCP/IP and IEEE1588 in its EtherNet/IP platform, even though Level 7 (the application level) protocol is proprietary to the same degree that DeviceNet is proprietary.
Others fight it because they want to lock you into using their hardware and software. They know that once you expend considerable blood, sweat and tears on specifying, learning, mounting, wiring, commissioning, programming, tuning, and interfacing one of their products, you are locked in if you have to expend the same energy to change.
Q: It seems as if determinism is the reason cited by motion control manufacturers who do not embrace global standards for Ethernet. What is determinism? When must users be concerned with determinism?
A: Let me ask you a question: What makes Control Area Network (CAN) deterministic? Would it be deterministic if we used it for office traffic communication? I would doubt it. Same for Ethernet. It is software-dependent. If the control segment is isolated from the office segment, then determinism is easily accomplished. There are standard protocols for clock synchronization, as well.
One way to provide determinism and synchronization is to use the IEEE 1588 standard derived from RFC 958 (network time protocol). There are many other standard arrangements possible and available.
Q: What is Lenze doing to leverage global standards and how will consumers benefit?
A: Years ago, we embraced Control Area Network (CAN) because it was being adopted by the automobile industry. The unit production volume, combined with necessary robustness for an automobile, led us to this conclusion. Today, millions upon millions of CAN nodes are running worldwide.
We see Ethernet following a similar steep growth curve beyond the PC industry. Ethernet is really the crux of our near-term and long-term communication strategy. We have already implemented electronic components such as SMPS, DSP, RAM, flash, etc. found in mobile phones and PCs to reduce hardware cost.
Q: Traditional motion control engineers will consider some of your observations as flawed or even downright blasphemous. How would you respond to them?
A: My answer would be that that is clearly a narrow-minded view. Sure, motion control offers unique challenges that certain other industries may not have. But why would one try to solve any problem solely from a motion perspective?
Our R&D team purposely consists not only of top-notch motion experts, but also of individuals from the medical, IT, and defense industries. We closely observe what other industries are doing with the intention of learning something we can apply to our industry.
Consider someone who is an expert in developing databases: Suppose her last job was developing a database for the airline industry. Her current job is developing a database for the banking industry. From what industry would she be? The answer is neither the airline industry nor the banking industry. She is a programmer. She brought unique insight to the airline industry, and she now possesses unique ideas from multiple industries.
We at AC Technology and the Lenze Group are humble enough to understand that our industry is dwarfed by many other industries. Why not use their collective knowledge? They have a million more "brains" working to solve problems than our industry ever will.
AC Tech is in the forefront of the design and manufacture of motion control solutions including variable speed AC drives, gearmotors, servomotors and servo systems. To learn more about its products, including its unique MotionView application programming language, download a continuation of this interview with Sergey Lototsky from actech.com/open_motion .