Maybe the real answer is volume. Comparing the size of the consumer electronics market to the industrial controls market including motion control there is still a huge disparity. The 2012 worldwide market for consumer electronics is estimated at $1 trillion while the worldwide market for industrial controls is around $140 billion. We can argue about the measurement basis for the numbers, but you get the idea. The companies with the real economies of scale in manufacturing are typically not the industrial controls companies.
The premise is that the rate of change in the industrial controls markets must accelerate or there is likely to be severe disruption within this economic activity. This issue is important because, not just for the sake of the businesses engaged in this market, but because control technology is an enabling technology to everything else. The $300 billion semiconductor market, which fuels almost everything, is the largest consumer of motion control technology by percentage of any segment I know. So I think this is a pretty big deal.
The industrial controls market moves slowly because of its history and because of the development processes that go into it’s products. Industrial controls are inherently very high reliability systems due to the cost impact of failures. Wrecking a boat of wafers could cost $250,000 or more depending on the complexity of the part and how far along in the manufacturing process the product is. Dropping a cellphone call, while frustrating, is a lot less costly.
Life expectancy in the industrial controls arena is very different from consumer electronics. Most consumer devices are obsolete in 2 to 3 years. Most industrial devices are expected to last 10 to 20 years. The longer life cycles in the industrial arena are a function of return on investment. To install the control system requires extensive labor and system costs that are not part of the consumer world.
Yet we find industrial applications being highly engaged by Windows based platforms, Microsoft programming conventions, wireless interfaces which replace the cost for hard wiring, and Ethernet communications. Why? Because the cost effectiveness of these technologies are compelling and implementation is getting cheaper as economies of scale and cumulative expertise increases.
Where does the industry go from here? In the presence of a Raspberry Pi processor that costs $35. and runs Linux OS, the most stable system around, it’s going to become very difficult to justify paying thousands of dollars for the high end controls of the major vendors. The introduction of $6. embedded processors combined with declining costs for power semiconductors will shrink the size and costs for control of electric motors.
The next generation of controls will come as the large suppliers embrace and drive the rate of change. large controls vendors will probably acquire the technology of smaller, more innovative companies, or they will be disrupted out of the market as new solutions become more mainstream.