Advances in Motion Control Technology
Published on : Tuesday 31-10-2023
The early innovations of the first Industrial Revolution such as mechanised spinning and weaving, or the invention of the steam engine that powered the locomotive and ships, were all basically a result of mechanising motion to substitute the work done by human hands. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history. Ever since, it is the process of generating motion and then controlling it effectively that has contributed to all the progress the world has seen. Motion control today is a vital sub-field of automation that encompasses systems involved in moving parts of machines in a controlled manner. It is an integral part of manufacturing processes across diverse industries. Motion control enables precise control of complex movements, such as those required in robotics, CNC machining and assembly lines. It helps achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency, accuracy, and productivity. So what is motion control technology, and how does it play a crucial role in various industries and applications?
“Motion control technology is a specialised field that involves the precise control and manipulation of the movement of objects or systems, typically using automated or computerised systems. It plays a crucial role in various industries and applications due to its ability to enhance efficiency, accuracy, and safety,” says Anuj Bihani, Managing Director, Alstrut India Private Limited. In manufacturing, motion control technology is used in robotics and automated machinery to control the precise movement of components, ensuring consistent and high-quality production. In the aerospace and automotive industries, it's essential for tasks like aircraft navigation and car manufacturing, improving both safety and performance.
The medical field relies on motion control for applications such as robotic surgeries and imaging equipment, where precision is paramount. “But motion control technology is also used in consumer electronics, enabling touchscreens, gaming consoles, and virtual reality systems to provide immersive and interactive experiences. In summary, it enables industries to automate processes, reduce human error, and achieve levels of precision and speed that would be impossible with manual control,” says Anuj.
Dick Slansky, Senior Analyst, PLM & Engineering Design Tools, ARC Advisory Group, concurs that motion control systems are used throughout many industries and manufacturing and literally enable the wheels of industry to turn. This would also include precision engineering, biotechnology, and nanotechnology. The actual industries span a broad span of discrete manufacturers from automotive, aerospace & defense, heavy equipment, and machinery, packaging, and printing to hybrid industries like consumer goods, food & beverage, pulp & paper, and high precision micro-manufacturing like semiconductors and medical equipment. “At a basic level, motion control may be open-loop or closed loop.
In open loop systems, the controller sends a command through the amplifier to the prime mover or actuator and does not receive information to know if the desired motion was actually achieved. Typical motion control systems would include some type of motor control. To achieve tighter control with more precision, a measuring device would be added to the system, typically near the end motion. This measurement is converted to a signal that is sent back to the controller that can compensate for any errors. This then becomes a closed loop motion control system,” he explains.
According to Upendra Vanarase, Managing Director, Trio Motion Technology India, motion control technology enables precise and automated movement of machinery, robots and equipment in various industries and applications. Trio Motion Technology is a manufacturer of motion controllers, has branded its range as Motion Coordinators, which can control up to 128 axes of servo, stepper and piezo motors as well as hydraulic systems. Motion control in machines and lines enhances efficiency, safety, and product quality.
In manufacturing setups, precise motion control systems ensure consistent and accurate production processes, reducing defects and waste. Motion control is vital for packaging, food and beverage, plastics, machine tools, metal cutting, textile industries. Without motion control it would be impossible to fully automate processes. They are crucial in robotics, where precise motion is essential for various positioning, cutting, and movement activities. “Motion control contributes to the automation of logistics, warehouses and material handling systems, optimising supply chain processes. Motion control technology is the backbone of modern industry and applications, enhancing productivity, reducing human error, and opening the door to advanced automation and innovation,” he explains.
“Motion control technology refers to a broad range of techniques and systems used to control the movement of machines, devices, or components in various industries and applications. It is a crucial component of automation and robotics and plays a vital role in improving efficiency, precision, and safety in many sectors,” says Yash Sultania, Director, Durga Mechatronics, a company specialising in distribution and sales of a wide range of motion control products and solutions.
What are the key components and principles behind motion control systems, and how do they contribute to precise motion management?
Motion control systems consist of several key components and principles that work together to achieve precise motion management. These include sensors, actuators and controllers; a range of precision mechanical components such as gears, belts, and linear guides; and software for programming and configuring the controllers. “The principles behind motion control systems involve closed-loop control, where feedback from sensors is used to constantly adjust and maintain the desired motion parameters. The control system calculates the error (the difference between the desired and actual position and speed) and issues commands to the actuators to correct it. This iterative process ensures that the motion remains precise and accurate,” explains Anuj Bihani.
“The term ‘motion control’ doesn’t describe a particular component or piece of equipment. Rather it describes a group of individual components that make up a system that functions together to create controlled movement in a machine,” says Dick Slansky, who lists the primary components as: a motion controller, a motor drive or amplifier and a primary mover (motor) or actuator. Motors and actuators come in various types like stepper motors, servo motors, linear or rotary actuators, etc. “These main components, along with subsidiary components such as various sensors and cabling represent the bulk of modern motion control systems,” says Slansky.
How has motion control technology evolved over the years, and what are the latest advancements or trends in the field?
“Motion control has evolved considerably over the past years from analog setups to digital systems,” says Upendra Vanarase, who believes with technology advancements today, we see artificial intelligence, machine learning algorithms increasingly being implemented for various motion control tasks. Similarly, predictive maintenance, energy efficiency and adaptive control are also being implemented in motion control technologies. “Today, with the IT and OT converging, it is possible to access and configure motion control elements from cloud and IT systems. IIoT has enabled seamless data exchange from motion control to IT/ERP and cloud platforms. These advancements have made motion control technology more versatile and efficient, with applications ranging from manufacturing to autonomous vehicles and wearable devices,” he emphasises.
Yash Sultania lists a series of developments that has actually led to the evolution of motion control into the sophisticated systems seen today performing complex roles. These include:
1. Advanced Control Algorithms: Motion control systems now incorporate advanced algorithms, such as predictive control and adaptive control, to optimise motion trajectories, reduce vibrations, and improve energy efficiency.
2. Machine Learning and AI: Artificial intelligence and machine learning are being used to enhance motion control by enabling systems to learn from data and adapt to changing conditions, improving overall performance and efficiency.
3. Industry 4.0 and IoT Integration: Motion control systems are increasingly connected to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), enabling remote monitoring, predictive maintenance, and real-time data analysis for better decision-making.
Today, motion control is a critical component of robotics and collaborative robots (cobots), which are becoming more prevalent in manufacturing and other industries. There is a growing emphasis on energy-efficient motion control systems to reduce power consumption and environmental impact. Moreover, motion control systems are becoming more customisable and adaptable to various applications, with enhanced safety features, including collision detection and avoidance. “Advancements in multi-axis and parallel kinematic systems enable complex and highly dynamic motion control in various applications, such as 3D printing and advanced machining,” says Yash.
Speaking of energy efficiency, how does motion control technology contribute in this area also promoting the cause of sustainability in industrial operations?
According to Anuj Bihani, motion control technology significantly contributes to energy efficiency and sustainability in industrial operations in several ways:
i. Motion control systems ensure precise control of machines and processes, reducing wasteful movements and errors.
ii. Variable frequency drives and servo motors allow industrial equipment to operate at variable speeds, adjusting power consumption to match the required output.
iii. Precise control also reduces material waste, such as in cutting processes. This contributes to sustainability by conserving resources.
iv. Some motion control systems incorporate regenerative braking, which converts kinetic energy into electrical energy during deceleration.
v. Motion control systems equipped with sensors and data analytics can predict maintenance needs, preventing breakdowns and reducing downtime.
vi. Motion control technology is used in conveyor systems and material handling equipment, optimising logistics and reducing energy use in transportation.
“Almost 70 percent of electricity consumed by industry is used by electric motor systems. The next generation of intelligent motion control solutions are delivering significant reductions in energy consumption by moving more motion control applications from fixed speed motors to high efficiency motors and variable speed drives. Motors and motion control have evolved over time: from basic on/off fixed speed motors to complex multi-axis servo drives used in robotics and other precision motion applications,” says Dick Slansky. One significant example of gaining energy efficiency in motion control systems is in closing the loop in actual position versus command position in one of the most used components in motion control: the common stepper motor. Expending unnecessary energy during operation makes open-loop step motors inefficient. Closing the loop simply makes a more efficient step motor system. “By employing a common feedback device such as an encoder to monitor actual shaft position versus commanded position, a closed-loop system step motor system automatically reduces current to the motor when torque is no longer demanded by the load requirements. “This relatively simple conversion multiplied over the hundreds of thousands of stepper motors in use by industry will save a very large amount of energy overall,” says Slansky.
What challenges or limitations are associated with motion control technology, and how are they being addressed or mitigated?
While motion control solutions have helped numerous industries with precision and accuracy, there are some inherent challenges and limitations, opines Upendra Vanarase. Usually moving from pneumatic and hydraulic control solutions to motion control the first major challenge is the cost of transition. This comes from the comparison of capital costs. If the comparison is made on the product quality, precision, accuracy, productivity then the costs and the values offered are incomparable. Another challenge is the complexity of software and programming needed for motion controls. Compatibility and interoperability are also challenges for machine builders and factory operators when it comes to motion control solutions. “Trio Motion Technology helps users overcome all these challenges with simple intuitive programming software, their programming template that enables users to configure rather than program,” says Upendra.
According to Yash Sultania there are a few issues that can be briefly stated as:
Complexity and Cost: High-performance motion control systems can be complex and costly to design, install, and maintain.
Integration Issues: Integrating motion control systems into existing automation setups or industrial processes can be challenging.
Maintenance and Reliability: Motion control systems require regular maintenance to ensure they operate reliably.
Complex Kinematics: In applications involving complex kinematics, such as multi-axis robotics or parallel kinematic systems, achieving precise control can be challenging.
Environmental Considerations: Industrial environments can be harsh, with exposure to dust, moisture, and temperature extremes.
Safety: Ensuring the safety of operators and equipment in motion control systems is crucial.
Latency and Responsiveness: In applications where real-time control is critical, such as robotics and gaming, latency can be a limitation.
Finally, how does motion control technology integrate with other technologies such as robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence, and what synergies are created as a result?
“Motion control synergises with various other technologies, including robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence, to enhance functionality and efficiency in numerous applications,” says Anuj Bihani. Talking about the field he is closely involved with, Anuj believes motion control is the backbone of robotics. It enables robots to move precisely and interact with their environment. Advanced robotic systems integrate vision systems, sensors, and motion control to perform complex tasks with accuracy. This synergy results in highly capable and versatile robots used in manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, and more.
Dick Slansky believes motion control technology is totally integrated into complex automation systems such as robotic work cells, automated assembly systems, and throughout just about any manufacturing production line. “Today’s advanced robotic systems are being enabled with AI and machine learning (ML) that are enabling a next generation of intelligent robots (cobots) that can work alongside their human counterparts. Not only will AI algorithms drive the advanced kinematic motion required for these robots, but it will enable a set of cyber capabilities that will make these robot helpers more human-like. By 2025, it is expected that human-centric Cognitive AI systems with higher machine intelligence will emerge. These intelligent machines will be able to understand language, integrate commonsense knowledge and reasoning, and adapt to new circumstances,” says Slansky.
“Motion control is an integral part of automation, robotics solutions. Thus, it does not need to integrate with these solutions. Without motion control it is very difficult to envision a precise, scalable, accurate automation and robotic solution,” says Upendra Vanarase. According to him, technology advancements such as artificial intelligence, machines learning have provided motion control with a fillip. Motion control is no longer just controlling precise movements. It is also about providing detailed data on wear and tear enabling predictive maintenance possibilities on the machine that help in reducing machine downtimes. “Motion control is able to exchange information seamlessly with the IT and cloud platforms enabling users with business intelligence and end to end connectivity,” he explains.
Summing up, Yash Sultania there says motion control technology often integrates with other technologies such as robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI) to create synergies that enhance the capabilities and performance of systems and processes. For example, in multi-robot or collaborative robot (cobot) environments, motion control technology enables coordinated movements and synchronised actions among robots, enhancing efficiency and teamwork. Similarly, cognitive robotics, which combines AI and motion control, allows robots to make decisions based on sensory input and adapt their movements in complex and dynamic environments. This is essential for applications like autonomous vehicles and drones. “In summary, the integration of motion control technology with robotics, automation, and AI creates synergies that result in more capable, efficient, and adaptable systems,” he concludes.