We talk about the upcoming trends in servo drives every year and I have to say, 2020 really didn't turn out the way we expected. It wasn't all bad though. We were able to eke out a few milestones and continue moving forward with new designs, but with 2020 out of the way we think we're set up for great things in 2021!
What is driving innovation in servo drives?
Mobile robotics such as Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV), Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) and Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) have been driving factors for new innovations in servo drives for the past few years and this is certainly continuing into 2021. These mobile robots can be found in warehouses with automated order fulfillment like Amazon and Walmart as well as other large companies and municipalities that need to store and retrieve large quantities of parts, components and products.
What is automated order fulfillment?
When you buy a product from your favorite online retailer it starts a process that begins with taking your order and ends with the delivery of the product to your door. This process of fulfilling your order is called "order fulfillment".
"Automated order fulfillment" uses automation like mobile robots to retrieve the products that you ordered from the warehouse shelves, place them in a box, seal and label the box, and then put the order on the truck. Human interaction still plays a role in some steps but as the technology develops, humans play more of a supervisory role rather than doing the physical labor.
Mobile robotics are also appearing in big box retailers where they keep the shelves stocked with merchandise. In the past, adoption here was hampered due to safety concerns since many companies weren't ready to have machines interacting with customers. Therefore, automated re-stocking often takes place after closing or during off-hours.
Floor cleaning robots are popular at big-box stores, shopping malls and airports. Automatic floor cleaning robots can spray, scrub and dry large areas without needing human assistance.
Mobile robotics aren't the only driving force for innovation. Automated machines with tightly integrated electronics have similar servo drive requirements of small size and increasing power and performance requirements which also makes them a driver for new innovations.
Where is servo drive technology improving?
Ever since the first servo drive was invented, designers have been trying to make them smaller and more powerful. This is even more important today because of the growth in mobile applications.
Smaller servo drives in mobile applications:
- Are easier to fit within the available space
- Increase payload capacity because they take up less room
- Weigh less which means there's less wasted energy pushing around dead weight, an important consideration for battery powered applications
In addition to getting smaller, they're also getting more powerful. Higher power servo drives can push bigger robots, make them go faster and allow them to carry heavier loads. In 2021 we're keeping on this trend by expanding the operating voltage and increasing current. We're also adding new functionality to increase performance and usability.
What's in store at ADVANCED Motion Controls in 2021?
Micro-sized FlexPro models
Our micro-sized FlexPro models measure 38mm x 25mm x 16mm, meaning that you can fit four of these within the footprint of a business card. In continuing our efforts to increase the power capabilities of the micro-sized servo drives we plan to add models in the 200VDC class as well as models capable of 45A continuous in 2021.
Note: these ratings are for separate models, there aren't any plans to try to do 200VDC AND 45A continuous in the same model in the micro-sized (38mm x 25mm) package.
New "Mini-sized" FlexPro models
FlexPro started with the 38mm x 25mm "micro-size" footprint. This year we will introduce the "mini" footprint which will slightly increase the physical size while roughly doubling the power. At the time of this writing it's too early to release the exact specifications but expect the current to roughly double at each voltage level.
New form factors and more power
In 2021 we will be adding the "panel mount" and "M/V mount" form factors to the FlexPro offering. To date FlexPro servo drives have been limited to the open style "PCB Mount" and "Machine Mount" form factors. Open designs are popular for embedded or tightly integrated applications but they don't offer any protection since they don't have a cover or housing. Both new form factors will have protective covers and incorporate larger connectors and plugs to make installation easier. Options to mount "flat" or on the "spine" will be available on the panel mount version.
Extended environment products play an important role in our product line as they increase toughness and give machine designers more options to operate in harsh environments. Throughout 2021 we will be releasing extended environment versions of our standard products, usually a few months after the initial standard releases.
Multi-axis servo drives have always been an option for our custom servo offering, but they aren't normally offered as standard products. In 2021 we're going to start packaging our FlexPro drives as multi-axis products and make them available as standards. They will essentially be several individual FlexPro drives mounted to a single PCB with a common power and interface. Even if we don't end up with the combination of axes and power levels that you need, just reach out and we can talk about a custom solution!
More feedback support
Position and velocity control can only be as good as your feedback and we already have quite a few to choose from including Incremental Encoder, BiSS-C, EnDat, Hiperface, 1Vpp, Resolver and more. The best feedback for your application is not only dependent on the performance and features, but also what is expected in your industry or region.
In 2021 look for us to add Tamagawa, Panasonic/Nikon and SSI feedback support.
Support for more networks
New network busses are always being developed that are faster, safer and have lower latency. We're already well established with networks such as EtherCAT, Ethernet, CANopen, POWERLINK, RS232/RS485 and others. In 2021 keep an eye out for Ethernet/IP capabilities to be added to our standard product offering. Reach out and let us know if you need other networks!
Our digital servo drives are controlled with three nested loops: the current loop, the velocity loop and the position loop. Depending on the application anywhere from one, two or all three loops need to be tuned. We have plenty of resources and documentation that shows you how, but we're often asked if we could provide a way to automate the tuning process of the various control loops. Well in 2021, we plan to make autotuning a reality!
We maintain an extensive product offering that covers a wide range of applications, however we understand that sometimes the standard products don’t quite fit. This is why we offer modifications to standard products as well as fully custom solutions. In fact, when we consider all the servo drives that we sell, the numbers can be roughly divided into 1/3 standards, 1/3 modified, and 1/3 customs.
Whether you need a different size or shape, different connectors, more power, better scaling, more resolution, or any other change, always let us know so we can talk about the possibilities! Also any of the new products that you see in 2021 are available to be customized!