The world is knee-deep in people that make gearboxes,” says Melvyn Hazell, managing director at gearbox and motor manufacturer Rotalink. So to export 70% of its products from the UK, where labour costs are considerably higher than many other places in the world, the Somerset manufacturer must be doing something right. One of the most innovative things it has done is produce a modular range of motors and gearboxes for machine makers with a competitively-priced feedback option.
Rotalink offers incremental and absolute feedback across its range of products for companies that want to manage their motors.
Gearing up for success
The servo, an automatic device that uses error sensing to correct the performance of a machine, enables feedback that shows manufacturers if a machine’s mechanical position or speed is out of kilter. Detecting such problems improves performance and reduces the risk of faults occurring.
Rotalink developed a low-cost application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) over the space of four years to deliver more cost-effective feedback on machines.
“Our standard range of encoders can fit feedback for a marginal increase in cost of a motor gearbox, so that people previously excluded by cost now have access to feedback,” comments Hazell.
Customers purchasing feedback is on the rise, with the experienced industrialist explaining that building choice into everyday products is driving demand as greater programming is needed. For vending machine manufacturers, Joe Bloggs and John Smith in the office block have different tastes. Coffee machines have long catered for Joe who likes an espresso to reboot after a long night on the town with clients and John who likes a milky coffee just the way his wife makes it.
There is a growing trend of customisation in products, but for the coffee machine and other devices to make these choices, the machine manufacturer needs to make a product that can search for a number of options, each requiring different programmes, to decide how the cup of coffee will be made.
Feedback helps to support this demand on a motor gearbox range of up to 15 Newton metres of toque with speeds up to 1,000 revolutions per minute.
Rotalink is able to fit a customer’s application from a standard range of components. The modularity of Rotalink’s gearboxes gives it a huge number of options. Offering incremental and absolute encoder feedback, customers can drive motors through its drivers, use the drivers as a design tool or take the chip from driver and put on portal. What you end up with is a huge modular catalogue.
Its gearbox and motor range helps customers manage antennae in China, powering vending machines and ATMs in North America and driving pumps in Northern Europe.
Over 70% of the company’s sales come from exports, competing competitively on the global stage. The modular system allows customers to trial products and modify them during the design process. “We can upgrade or downgrade components to suit the customer, increasing or decreasing the levels of speed or torque to match production requirements,” says Hazell.
This means that any changes to a product, during the R&D process or after, can be implemented so that new and upgraded products can quickly be brought to market.
In a world with 10 million engineering jobs unfilled, according to Craig Giffi, head of industrial products at Deloitte, the modular system also cuts down on the amount of skills and operations required, so that resources can be ploughed into more desirable tasks such as product development.
It can be frustrating for managers and the workforce if a whole team has to be sent on a training day, as is often the case with IT systems. Rotalink has designed its programmes with simplicity in mind, a strategy that seemed to work well for a small company in California called Apple.
“We have very flexible programming systems so a competent engineer can teach themselves to programme very rapidly,” says Hazell. “He or she doesn’t need to go outside of the business to get specialist expertise; he or she can already do it.”
Looking in the mirror
Rotalink has been busy improving its own factory to provide a better product, introducing a new cell to specially support original equipment manufacturers.
With OEMs not wanting to carry stock so that they can efficiently operate Just-In-Time production. they need suppliers to operate in a certain way. Therefore Rotalink is implementing lean practices at its own factory to cut lead times for customers. Its engineers are using the latest 3D modelling software and in house prototyping to deliver motion control products to tight timelines, providing and delivering a customised solution within just eight days.
Timing is everything. And this UK manufacturer is predicting further growth at a time when the UK needs to balance its books by exporting more goods and services.