North American linear motors market: Update and challenges

Price pressures and intense competition characterize the North American linear motors market, according to a recent analysis by global consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.

By Control Engineering Staff October 28, 2004

Price pressures and intense competition characterize the North American linear motors market, according to a recent analysis by global consulting firm Frost & Sullivan . The analysis, ‘North American Linear Motors Markets,’ indicates revenues of $71.4 million in 2004 for this industry sector, projected to reach $86.4 million in 2010. The F&S report covers ‘direct-drive’ linear motor systems, which are unlike traditional linear-motion systems based on rotary motors and use some type of rotary-to-linear conversion between motor and load—such as leadscrew and nut, chain and sprocket, or rack and pinion.

Semiconductor manufacturing and electronic assembly accounted for 76.3% of revenues in North American end-user markets for linear motors in 2003. (Chart courtesy of Frost & Sullivan.)

Types of direct-drive linear (DDL) motors included in the report are induction, permanent magnet (PM) brush, PM brushless (synchronous), and U-channel motors. Analysis highlights and challenges are summarized below.

Manufacturer ingenuity
New linear motors typically enter the market every four years, leading to replacements faster than expected for products with an average life of 20 years, according to Frost & Sullivan. ‘Customers are replacing their drives much sooner to improve productivity and remain competitive.’

This trend is forcing manufacturers to produce less costly, more efficient products, along with offering quality customer service. Manufacturers must continue product improvement and develop new value-added solutions. Newer designs plus physically smaller linear motor systems are expected to increase demand for new applications. Frost & Sullivan’s analysis projects the impact of this challenge to be ‘high’ during the first two segments of the 2004-2010 period and ‘medium’ during the last period of the forecast.

Slow adoption
DDL motors provide higher efficiency, precision, and speed than linear motion derived from rotary motors. While DDL technology has been around for over 30 years, linear motors are still considered a relatively new addition to the motion control market, says F&S. Manufacturers have a great challenge on hand to educate their customers (and distribution representatives) about the availability and advantages of the DDL alternative.

Users are comfortable with motor technologies they have applied in the past, and also base their replacements needs accordingly. Many users are not aware that linear motors ‘can speed up the transition to full automation and new applications,’ according to the report.

‘High costs associated with linear motors and design changes that may be necessary for installation have discouraged potential users,’ continues the F&S analysis. ‘To increase market penetration manufacturers must overcome these barriers.’ Impact of this challenge has high importance early in the forecast period, going to a medium rating by 2010.

Competition, holding costs
How to boost profit margins while competing in this price-sensitive arena is a further challenge. Continuous increase in R&D costs, rising raw material prices, and ‘marginal decline in price due to foreign and domestic competition’ are among pressures facing DDL motor manufacturers. Volume of linear motors shipped remains ‘relatively low in contrast to other motor markets,’ says F&S.

High growth has occurred in the past and is expected during the forecast period, but the number of shipments is not expected to be substantial, according to the study. Manufacturers must remain competitive, not only to gain present orders, but also to build confidence and interest in the technology to ensure its future success, Frost & Sullivan’s analysis concludes. This challenge is anticipated to have medium impact effect on the market over the entire forecast period.

—Frank J. Bartos, executive editor, Control Engineering,