Customization is not always a factor when designers select motion control vendors. Instead, they hope to find exactly what they need in a catalog and avoid what they believe to be the higher costs, delays and risks associated with custom parts and assemblies. But with over 25% of linear motion projects requiring some degree of customization, it would probably be beneficial to prepare for this eventuality from the start.
Including customization expertise in the decision on which vendors to use could help avoid higher costs and delays if a linear motion project requires a few modifications down the road. And digging into the different capabilities of different vendors could convince designers that customization can be faster, cheaper, and less risky than they might have thought.
Here are some things to check before choosing motion control suppliers who will provide custom parts:
Commitment. For some vendors, personalization is part of their business model; for others it is something to be avoided at all costs. If a vendor’s website has dedicated customization pages with detailed lists of features that can be customized, you’re probably in good hands. If, on the other hand, there is little to no personalization, you should know why. This could be due to deficiencies in any of the other areas mentioned below on this list.
Live. How many times have they had to modify a product? Can they give examples? How did the need for customization affect cost and delivery?
Capacity and scale. Does the seller have special equipment for customization? What does it do? What is the minimum number of products they would consider customizing? Are they configured to handle smaller batch runs or will they be customized only for large product runs?
Supply chain flexibility. Is the supplier vertically integrated so that they manufacture most sub-components from raw materials, or will they wait for the parts to arrive on the next container ship?
Treat. Can the supplier provide budget quotes immediately? How long does it usually take to get a quote for non-standard products? Will there be a dedicated engineer? Can he build prototypes online? Can he build the part or assembly from a CAD model?
Solving engineering problems. Perhaps the most important factor to consider is the creativity of the supplier’s engineering team to help customers get the best possible parts and assemblies. Will they take the time to understand the customer’s needs?
While it’s common for designers and engineers to view customization as an all-or-nothing situation, many needs can be met with relatively simple modifications to standard products. These, depending on the supplier’s experience, can often be delivered within days rather than weeks or months.
Sometimes all that is needed are specially machined shafts, connectors or mounting ends. Here are some examples of linear motion customizations that have helped designers fit their parts into irregular spaces, improve ergonomics, or reduce costs. Adapt to irregular spaces. The need for customization often arises after the start of the project. For example, a company specializing in custom semi-trailers required several modifications to adapt the actuators to ramps, stairs and moving floors. Installing ramp actuators in the trailer wall required rotating the motor 90 degrees. Then mounting the actuators in custom ramp frames while connecting to standard mounting points meant the company had to lengthen the actuator tube by four inches. Finally, to simplify maintenance, the company has modernized the wiring connections with an easily detachable harness.
Lower the price. In some cases, the need for customization can be met inexpensively by mixing and matching standard components. For example, a supplier of CNC tube and pipe bending devices requested assistance in designing a new machine to meet market demand for a scaled-down version. Their high-end offering used two linear slides bolted together in a criss-cross configuration to control movement on X and Z axes. A stepper motor drove a two-foot ball screw on each axis. The length of the screw required support bearings at both ends and a special coupling to the stepper.
The linear motion component supplier first cut costs by shortening the shaft to 11 inches. mother screw with a 6-in. conduct. This eliminated the need for supports at each end. Using a stepper motor with an integrated motorized lead screw (MLS) further reduced the need for external support because the motor bearings of the MLS could support the load themselves. And because the lead screw and MLS rotor are combined in one piece, there was no longer a need to externally couple the screw and rotor.
These are just a few examples of customization. The range of options is wide. Companies could also customize stroke and mined length down to the millimeter scale; improve control by adding encoders; comply with industry regulations by adding certification; choose a more aesthetic finish; implement a custom adapter case; or improve the tensions or the management of the clutch. Even these are just examples of what can be customized on electric actuators. This same degree of customization applies to shafts, screws, ball bearings, linear guides, and a host of other linear motion components.
Today, when designers need to do more, faster and with fewer people, the more uncertainty they can drive out of the design process, the greater their chance of success. Acknowledging that customization of certain aspects of a project is likely and taking a few minutes to ensure you’ve partnered with a vendor with deep customization capability can save money and avoid pain. head later.
Kyle Thompson is the Product Innovation Manager at Thomson Industries, Inc.