I have had number of occasions to be involved in helping clients with control systems where several hundred to several thousand systems per year were going to be manufactured. Over the years, I have done several market research projects on the economics of machinery building. The Department of Commerce reports on quite a few industry segments and I haven’t come up with a total, but, so far, the segments I have looked at total in the tens of billions of dollars.
Machinery building is a very tough business for a variety of reasons. It’s all about price and performance. And there’s always competition. For example, in electronic assembly machinery, the customer is paying for 10’s of thousands of part placements per hour. The more throughput, the higher the price. And the greater the complexity of the machine. Doesn’t matter if you’re baking cookies or making cars. It’s all about throughput and cost.
Machinery building, at a minimum, involves mechanical and electrical disciplines. Many other technologies may be required depending on the situation. Even though the system may be predominantly electrical and mechanical, there may be sub systems that are hydraulic or pneumatic. So like all mechatronic systems, there can be a broad range of technologies involved.
Each machinery market involves years of learning and development in order to achieve the cost performance that makes it successful. And sometimes that involves development of control strategies that are proprietary or operating code that is root of unique performance advantages.
The amount of control gear going into the machinery markets is also very significant. The Department of Commerce tracks significant inputs to the businesses it reports on if the commodity is significant. And one consistent feature of the machinery manufacturers is that they purchase a lot of motors and electrical control equipment.
Traditional electrical manufacturers sell a lot of control equipment. But there seems to be a gap in the ability of traditional control vendors to be able to supply cost-effective solutions for machinery builders. And this has contributed to a broad division in how engineers choose to solve their control applications. The type of control selected may be dictated by several external factors, one of which is the need to connect to existing plant control systems.
And as control systems are increasingly more data centric, the need for higher level communications make traditional control solutions subject to substitution by PC and embedded control systems. This trend has some history in semiconductor machinery industry.
And it may be coming to an application near you. More processor choices at lower prices are coming to the market all the time. Real Time operating systems with mission critical reliability are becoming competitive. So the options, and the prices, are becoming more attractive. With the right network, lots of options need to be explored.