Meeting customer needs in a straight line

Tom Shelley further report on the linear technology debate as regards meeting customer needs, especially when they may not quite know what these are

Tom Shelley further reports on the linear technology debate as regards meeting customer needs, especially when they may not quite know what these are

The customer may always be right, but it is vital for vendors of linear technology solutions to ensure that these meet customer needs.

Matthew Aldridge of Igus mentioned the need to include the effects of cable carrying chains, which Ian Oliver of Renishaw agreed with, citing their ability to affect metrology. He then went on to complain that customers often do not truly understand the difference between accuracy and resolution, which Dr Cliff Joliffe of Aerotech agreed with. Robert Love of THK remarked that, "There is a need to assess the real application for a customer who is vague about their speed and accuracy requirements." Cliff Joliffe agreed and added that customers were also often vague about required accelerations, which are crucial in selecting the right linear motor because, "Every time you have to added a magnet to give more force to achieve more acceleration, it costs you money." On the subject of accuracy, he remarked that it might be necessary to have two encoders, one at the driving end and one, "At the point of interest", which also adds to cost.

Ian Oliver emphasized the importance of cost, "People with a clean sheet of paper design do look at the costs of the different alternatives."

On the same subject of cost, Matthew Aldridge remarked that, "People are coming to us for higher speeds. We always go in with a big cost advantage but we have to make sure that we can do the job." He then went on to say that his company was now selling linear bearings to makers of aircraft seats, gymnasium equipment and machines providing waste jet massage treatments.

Cliff Joliffe complained that his potential customers tended to see Aerotech's products as high cost, "Although we are nowadays going for medium cost." Design issues included considering what would happen in the event of loss of power in vertical applications. Counterbalancing, one solution, affects performance by adding inertia. In a long travel application, having more magnets in long motor adds to cost. He described the Copley Motion Systems products as a, "Very, very clever design", whereupon Matthew Aldridge could not help interjecting, "With an Igus linear bearing." (This particular design won the gold award in the UK's section of last year's Igus Manus competition)

Robert Love then commented that designers of systems built with his company's products also had to pay attention to loss of power in vertical applications because it is possible for an unsecured load to back drive a ballscrew.

Matthew Aldridge said that there were specific rules when designing with plastic bearings and it was usually necessary for his design engineers to check up on overhang loads and other parameters the customer designer may or may not have thought of.

Cliff Joliffe mentioned the importance of achieving sufficient cooling to avoid thermal expansion, which as Ian Oliver interjected, "Affects metrology."

This led onto discussion about who eventually specified the system sold. Matthew Aldridge simply stated, "We specify." Robert Love said, "Our sales force specifies, backed if necessary by technical support." Ian Oliver said Renishaw was, "" for technical advice, when the customer realised, "We need to control it. If there are problems, we become the technical experts. Most companies want repeatability. To us, it is a complete system. If I talk about encoders I have to talk about ballscrews and what happens if they get hot in the middle. We can only offer a certain amount, but technical partnerships with other suppliers do work." Problems could appear, however, according to Cliff Joliffe, if the partner was bought by a competitor with competing products.

Igus (UK)

Tom Shelley

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