Editor’s Note: this story is part of an ongoing series of blog entries in which Motion Solutions partners discuss opportunities and challenges facing the automation industry.
Q: What are key emerging technologies likely to have the biggest impact on your customers and their customers?
Aaron Dietrich, Tolomatic : I believe a key emerging technology is what the industry is calling “machine learning” or artificial intelligence. Machines are becoming more and more intelligent and increasingly able to make decisions without human intervention. Examples of this are already in the market with the explosion of autonomous robots/vehicles for all sorts of tasks, from household chores to driverless vehicles to military applications, to name a few. As this trend continues, it will drive an even further explosion in automation growth for all different types of components and automation technologies.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges in motion control today, and what is your company doing to address them?
AD: The biggest challenge I see in the short term for motion control is the ability of the supply chain to ramp up to meet demand. Long lead times on all automation components have been a large issue over the last 12 to 18 months. Many people think this is temporary and that as the economy softens, the industry will catch up with capacity investments. But as global markets continue to have issues with productivity, labor shortages/costs, competitiveness, and other factors, companies will continue to look to automation as the solution. They will continue to invest at multiples of the GDP for their country or region. As a result, I only see continued fast growth for automation from a macro level over the long run, which means there will continue to be challenges with capacity/supply chain.
Q: What industry trends are you seeing that are likely to have the biggest impact on your business?
AD: The trend of displacing fluid power technology with motion control technology continues year over year to have the largest positive impact on our business. Large end user manufacturers are finally starting to understand the high total life time costs of air-driven (pneumatic) systems. These large manufacturers have green programs/strategic initiatives as well as government limitations on the amount of electricity that plants can consume. These factors drive manufacturers to ask their OEMs for machine solutions with electric motion control technology onboard.
A similar trend is underway with hydraulics. Hydraulic systems can be maintenance nightmares and create concerns about environmental contamination. Like their pneumatic brothers, they are also very inefficient. Motion control technology solves all the issues of fluid power systems. The only real limiting factor is cost of acquisition, but as manufacturers consider total cost of ownership in their purchasing decisions, the changing paradigm is driving explosive growth for electric motion control systems.
Q: What are the synergies between Tolomatic and Motion Solutions that can benefit customers and their projects?
AD: Tolomatic continues to invest in leading electric actuator technologies including integrated servo motors, integrated drives/controls, expanding force capabilities, and engineering tools to make it easy to do business with us. Motion Solutions, with a line card of complementary motion-control components (controllers, servo motors and drives, sensors, etc.), as well as a comprehensive engineering services offering, can provide customers with complete engineered solutions to solve the most demanding application problems.
Q: Regarding the industry/technology, what keeps you up at night?
AD: Thinking about ways for the US automation market to remain competitive and independent in the face of strong foreign markets and competitors. Many countries see automation as a matter of national security as well as very important to the economy. As a result, they have established initiatives like Industrie 4.0 to help foster technological and market advances. In the United States, automation is not typically seen as critical, whether by corporate management, legislators, or the citizens that elect them. As a result, automation technology does not receive the same level of support. In order to optimize the economic performance of the country and our individual enterprises, the US automation sector needs to work to educate at all levels.
Aaron Dietrich is director of marketing for Tolomatic.