The Department of Commerce produces information on about the US economy every five years. In an economy estimated at $28.7 trillion, the largest segment was Manufacturing at $5.8 trillion. Manufacturing is all the categories of products from breakfast cereal to the car you drive. Within the $5.8 trillion manufacturing economy, the Apple, HP, IBM and Dell account for $443 Billion and Ford, GM & Chrysler account for $366 Billion. The Manufacturing economy employs 12 million people directly and an additional 17 million people indirectly. All of which makes tax and political policy in the business sector very important to a lot of people.
Manufacturing also includes the production of raw materials like wood, textiles, metals and chemicals. These industries tend to be run as very large centralized facilities with large batch or continuous process operations take place. Refining of crude oil into its various products is a major example of large batch processing. The preferred method of control is P-I-D based on a math model that helps balance the process inputs and outputs.
Within the broad realm of manufacturing there is also the manufacture of the unique types of machinery required to make the wide variety of products. Industry specific machinery is always challenging because the control system must capture the attributes of the product in order to be successful. This can sometimes go well beyond understanding the load conditions in the statement of work, which is often very complex in itself.
Considering the importance of special industry machinery to the entire realm of manufacturing, it is surprising that this kind of machinery design is not a major focus of motor and control system suppliers. Up to know the control system suppliers have targeted vertical market segments like semiconductor, food & beverage or packaging equipment as target markets. Packaging equipment is closer to the specialty industry machinery as a concept, but in practice there is a huge difference in food & beverage, pharmaceutical or consumer goods packaging, so this is an odd slice of the market.
There is no single solution, no “one size fits all” from a controls perspective. Material handling conveyors are predominantly powered by gear motors that are 3 horsepower or smaller. Dock side loaders that handle shipping containers require 300HP motors for the main hoist. Power levels, number of motors and control system architecture are all over the place. Everything is critical to successful machine designs, short term power requirements for starting and stopping loads, control system architecture and proper implementation of control IP.
Quality machinery is demanding, part art and part science. And it’s stuff the American engineers do every day of the week.