Innovation as a verb is the action of transforming a process or product from its current state to something new and improved. Processes, methodologies, products can all be the subject of innovation. Anyone living in the industrialized nations is very aware of innovation in everyday life.
The electric motor industry constantly, if slowly, innovates to produce unique, new electromechanical structures in order to solve a problem or improve over existing techniques.
The stepping motor was conceived in the late 1960’s as a low cost motion control solution using on-off switching. Two 5 Volt dc TTL switches can be operated at fairly high speed through level translation devices to drive the stepping motor and produce very precise positioning. Although stepping motors have been somewhat impractical in high power ranges, the motors are relatively low cost, have no brushes, and the control technology is incredibly inexpensive.
The reluctance synchronous motor was developed by Jim Hendershot in the early 1990’s with an improved rotor construction and expectation of lower manufacturing cost. In 1992, however, the limiting factor for the motor technology turned out to be the controller. With a very expensive dedicated computer processor, the motor could be made to produce any speed torque curve required. This would make them ideal for washing machines where low speed and high torque is needed for agitation and high speed and low torque is needed for spin cycle. Unfortunately the control cost became a barrier to high volume application of the technology and reluctance synchronous machines have, until recently, remained somewhat obscure in the field of electric motors and drives.
Many electric motors are used to produce linear motion using a variety of mechanical conversion techniques, most commonly screws and belt drives. What happens when you can eliminate the mechanical system and drive a linear load with a magnetic structure? The semiconductor guys have been doing it for years with high precision linear motors using linear position feedback devices that measure down to millionths of an inch. First developed by English scientist Eric Laithwaite in the 1960’s, his targeted innovation was improving rail transportation. The Maglev train was never successful in the UK but we have seen them develop all over the world, and they are now very popular in airports and amusement park rides.
The funny thing about innovation is that you never know where it will take you. Commercial success is not guaranteed. Sometimes in the struggle, we find our way to something better than what has existed before.