How to manage multi-vendor motion control architectures

Manufacturers and machine builders may be required to match motors and drives from different brands; careful design considerations can yield successful applications.

By Matt Prellwitz November 12, 2018

While it is possible to pair a motor and a drive made by different manufacturers, it is not without risks. Mismatched motors and drives can complicate machine startup and potentially lead to failures. They can also make troubleshooting inefficient and cause users to rely heavily on vendor support.

Naturally, matching equipment from different sources is rarely the first choice when designing motion control systems. Designs can be complicated because brands differ in terms of motion control software, power ratings, encoder feedback types, and more. This makes it difficult to incorporate new equipment into existing system architectures.

To avoid these issues, manufacturers and machine builders logically select motors and drives made by the same brand that are designed to work together a majority of the time. However, special application considerations or certain unique features can lead engineers to select a drive from one vendor and a motor from another.

When deciding whether it is necessary to use motors and drives that are different brands, it is imperative to carefully consider the equipment’s specifications and ability to work on an open platform in terms of cabling, networking, and software. Cross-vendor compatibility takes a front seat in these situations. It also is important to consider whether dedicated or distributed drives can remedy some of these potential problems.

Reasons why engineers mix and match motors and drives

Why do engineers mix and match motor and drive manufacturers?

Too commonly, machine builders and manufacturers mix different brands of motors and drives to cut costs. In situations where the bottom line drives everything, it is common that those involved will not consider all of the technical aspects required to successfully pair a motor and drive. This leads to potential issues that are often preventable.

It also is important to consider every aspect when matching motors and drives for more fundamental reasons. One common scenario is manufacturers may require drives that operate on higher than normal voltage or offer variable frequency drive (VFD) functionality. VFDs can adjust the motor speed to meet demands, which also helps reduce energy usage, improves process control in production, and minimizes maintenance and premature machine failures. However, the motor must be compatible with the VFD.

In another example, a voice coil actuator may require higher accuracy movement than the same manufacturer’s drives are able to supply. This can lead plant engineers to look for a more precise drive from another brand. In addition, there are external factors unrelated to whether the motor and drive are compatible. These include whether the motors will be used in hazardous, washdown, or high heat environments.

Motor-drive communications

When attempting to properly pair motors and drives from different brands, there are a number of considerations. At the most obvious level, any drive system must specifically support the type of motor it will be paired with whether it’s linear, rotary, synchronous, or asynchronous. Other information, such as amperage and torque, can be compared between two motion control devices.

Also consider whether the drive and motor are compatible with additional features, such as integrated actuators in ball screws, one cable connections, or advanced feedback measurement. This last feature monitors how effectively a drive is pushing the motor and adjusts to improve the motor’s service life. It is key that drives support many standard encoder feedback types such as BiSS C, EnDAT 2.2, Hiperface and TTL, among others.

To make operation easier, EtherCAT industrial Ethernet communication and PC-based motion control software based on open standards allow users to more easily communicate with new and legacy systems, even if applications are saddled by multiple buses. PC-based motion control software can detect a new motor or drive’s configuration file (or “electronic nameplate”) through EtherCAT and add it to the file library so users can operate multiple brands of equipment connected in the same motion architecture.

Dedicated versus distributed drives

Another consideration is whether or not a motor requires a dedicated drive. Often the answer is no. While distributed drive concepts have been around for years, this is still a unique approach in the field. Because few industrial vendors support this kind of drive architecture, there are relatively few situations in which it is currently applied. A motor with a drive integrated in the same housing is one example, but in this circumstance, pairing the two parts is a non-issue.

There are many benefits to a distributed servo drive system that integrates the drive into the motor. Some newer distribution models need just one coupling unit to run multiple drives and provide power and control through one cable via EtherCAT P across an entire machine or line. This can reduce the machine’s footprint and provide a range of motion capabilities without any concerns about the proper pairing of a motor and drive since they are the same.

However, every motion control application is different; there is no one-size-fits-all answer for which motor will work with which drive. The best solution is to start with the very basic requirements and then account for the production environment and ensure all components in hardware, software and networking fully support open communication. By carefully considering all of these technical design aspects, it is possible to pair motors and drives from multiple brand names to keep a factory’s production line moving.

Matt Prellwitz, drive technology application specialist, Beckhoff Automation. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

KEYWORDS: Motor-drive selection, compatibility

Pairing: It is possible to pair motors with drives from multiple brand names.

Hardware, software and networking should support open communication.

Are the drive and motor compatible with additional features?


Do you have special application considerations or certain unique features that would warrant selecting a drive from one vendor and a motor from another?

Author Bio: Matt Prellwitz is drive technology product manager at Beckhoff Automation LLC.