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For a better motion solution, talk sooner!

Many designers seeking motion solution systems for a new product approach potential suppliers at a relatively late stage in the design process. Unfortunately, this often means that they miss out on valuable benefits, says Lionel Munsch, Sales Director of Delta Line. He explains what to look for in a motion systems solutions provider and how best to handle dialogue with them, before discussing the benefits that getting these things right can bring.

There’s a simple, yet often neglected, piece of advice which applies to every project involving a motion system: start talking to your motion solutions system provider sooner rather than later. This applies even if your own design team includes experienced mechatronics engineers, because they are unlikely to have the expertise and wealth of specialised knowledge that the provider’s engineers, who work day in, day out with motion solutions, can bring to your project.

Before any dialogue can commence however, there’s a crucial step to be taken –choosing your provider. What should you look for? The ability to offer a wide range of standard and customised products is a good starting point but, on its own, it’s not enough. In many ways even more important is the internal setup of the provider and the way the provider works with its customers.

At Delta Line, for example, we are committed to adopting a team approach that involves our customers in the creation of solutions, rather than simply looking at the data they have supplied and offering them a pre-packaged solution that seems ‘about right’. To ensure success, we have a dedicated engineering task force which can be deployed on complex collaborative projects and lead the solution co-creation process. Other factors to consider when choosing a provider include proven extensive application and design expertise, cost-oriented creativity, flexibility, and the ability to respond quickly to changing customer needs. Delta Line is unmatched in meeting these requirements. Not only can our design team demonstrate innovation and success in virtually every application area, but we also have full control over our manufacturing processes, with all the benefits which that brings for our customers.

We have production capacity for several million motors per year but, unlike other high volume manufacturers, our processes have been developed from the outset to support a high mix of products and to cope efficiently with changes in customer requirements. This means we can supply our customers with motors that exactly match their needs without them becoming high cost items or requiring a large minimum order quantity.

Returning now to the desirability of starting dialogue with the provider sooner rather than later – when exactly is soon enough? It may be tempting to wait until the designers working on the project run into a motion system problem or challenge before consulting Delta Line, but this is often too late and may result in missed opportunities or costly inconvenient changes to design work that has already been completed.

Long experience has shown that the best time to open dialogue is as soon as technical and economic aspects of the project are known but before any detailed design work has commenced. Delta Line is unlikely to be able to offer a final optimised solution at this stage, but it will be able provide invaluable input into the product design process than can have a hugely beneficial effect on the performance/cost ratio. Of course, the more information that is available, the better will be the final solution, but it is important to remember that the information doesn’t all have to be supplied during the first conversation. In practice, working with Delta Line to crystalise the requirements for the motion system, rather than relying solely on your own in-house resources, can save a huge amount of time during the product definition phase and dramatically reduce the risks associated with making an incorrect or sub-optimum choice.

Typically, the Delta Line engineers will help you to identify key parameters associated with your motion solution, which are likely to include cycle times, environmental conditions, load and load variability, expected lifetime and power supply availability. They will also work with you in considering other issues such as safety and communications protocols, certification, maintainability, accessibility and cabling. Many of these points are often thought of as being of secondary importance and, as a result, are given scant attention. This is unfortunate because, in reality, they can play a major role in the success or otherwise of a project.

Overall, early collaboration between the customer and Delta Line is a win-win situation. With an efficient collaboration, free exchange of ideas and ready availability of key data, both parties can save time and effort. Innovative thinking will also be encouraged. For example, based on previous experience, the customer may have a pre-conceived idea of what the solution they require will look like, but Delta Line may be able to offer an advantageous novel alternative based on newer technologies and materials.

A good example of this is found in pumps and dosing systems, where older and noisier solutions that use a DC motor plus a gearbox can be replaced by a stepper motor which costs the same but operates more smoothly and efficiently. As this example shows, knowledge of the full range of available technologies, together with their current market price and availability, can dramatically affect the choices made for a motion system. It is not at all unusual for users to continue viewing certain products as specialised and expensive when, in reality, they have become standard, competitively priced off-the-shelf solutions.

There are clearly numerous potential benefits of early collaboration between users and Delta Line, but how does this work out in practice? Some recent examples provide the answer.

In the first of these, Delta Line worked with a manufacturer of agricultural equipment. Delta Line has a good relationship with this customer and, as a result, is involved from the earliest stages in new projects. In this particular instance, early consultation enabled Delta Line to meet tight space constraints by offering a compact solution based on right-angle gearing, and also to develop innovative environmental protection for the motor. Delta Line was also able to help the customer to move from its traditional policy of using standard DC motors to the use of brushless DC (BLDC) motors which offer higher efficiency and longer life. Being involved at the early design stages meant that Delta Line was not only able to deliver an innovative and advantageous solution, but also to ensure that this solution was cost-effective. This would have been much more difficult to achieve if consultation had been delayed until a later stage in the project when the machinery design had progressed and so placed more constraints on the motion system configuration.

A second example involved the replacement of a solenoid-operated hydraulic valve in an intrinsically safe application. Several factors made this replacement necessary. The first was a change to the intrinsic safety legislation which meant that the old solution was no longer compliant. The second was that the valve mechanism had proved unreliable, with failures leading to downtime and lost revenue, and the third was that the valve provided only on/off control with no intermediate settings possible. Early in its search for a better solution this customer approached Delta Line who offered a motorised actuator for the valve rather than a solenoid. This incorporated a DC motor with a custom precision spur gearbox and custom control electronics. Because the new actuator uses a low current, low impedance motor it complies fully with the latest intrinsic safety legislation. It also provides much smoother valve operation than the solenoid actuator, and the control electronics supports intermediate valve positions between open and closed. The customer also benefits from the greater reliability and longer life of the Delta Line solution, which have led to large reductions in machine downtime.

In a third example, the customer did not approach Delta Line in the initial stages of the project but instead developed its own design for a turntable-based rotation and levelling system. Unfortunately, because of the very tight machining tolerances required by this design, it proved difficult to manufacture which led to cost and lead-time problems. The customer asked Delta Line to help, and expressed a willingness to adopt a new design, provided that it could be shown to offer concrete benefits. Working closely with the customer, Delta Line developed a solution that uses a DC motor with a custom spur-and-worm wheel gearbox. This solution has been value engineered to give enhanced performance and improved controllability along with cost savings. In addition to the cost savings, the customer is also benefitting from lead time improvements, and the convenience of sourcing the complete solution from a single supplier.

As these examples have shown, there are many benefits in terms of cost, performance, product availability and more to be gained by consulting Delta Line in the earliest design stages for any new project. It is also worth bearing in mind that there’s nothing to be lost; early discussions cost no more than late discussions! The dialogue will form the basis for an ongoing relationship, which will enable both parties to become familiar with the other’s requirements, create a strong connection between their design teams to facilitate the flow of information and advice, and develop mutual trust which will provide an ongoing platform for optimising outcomes.

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