A few months ago, we sent out a survey asking our readers to tell us what they do, what sorts of components they specify and purchase, and what they consider to be their greatest challenges. If you were among the thousand or so respondents, many thanks.

Because of your help we know that motion system design is at the hub of a significant amount of commerce, in which many and varied components are bought and sold. Were it not motion system designers (MSDs) like yourself, manufacturing, medicine, transportation, and almost every facet of everyday would grind to a halt. So let’s explore the highlights of the study and what it reveals about you, the MSD.

Today’s motion system designers work on a variety of projects, split fairly evenly between rotary (82%) and linear (80%) motion. Forty-two percent say they design machinery for resale, 39% design equipment for in-plant use, and 19% do both.

We also know from the study that our readers are just as likely to be working on a position-control axis (71%) as an adjustable-speed velocity axis (75%). In addition, 50% are involved with fixed-speed applications and 40% are controlling torque.

I suspect some marketing people may be scratching their head right now. These would be the ones who portray the motion industry as two separate camps, one for “servo guys” the other for “shaft turners.” To hear them tell it, there’s a specialist for every component: Sensors are used by “sensor” engineers, controllers by “control” engineers, precision mechanical components are used by “precision mechanical” engineers, and servosystems are used by “servo” engineers. If only these folks understood the interdisciplinary nature of motion systems, they might realize that just because a guy knows how to spec a grade of grease, doesn’t mean he’s not also qualified to tune a servo loop, write motor and machine code, and capture and process a transducer signal. Indeed, in the realm of system-level interdisciplinary physics, these tasks are one and the same.

As far as challenges go, MSDs face the same battles as everyone else. They have to do more with less, and they have to do it faster, better, with fewer parts, and at lower cost. Perhaps because of these challenges the component attributes that rank highest according to our study are ease-of-use, lifetime and reliability, performance, and price. Supplier factors, in order of preference, are engineering assistance, support and service, and delivery.

A final highlight from the study reveals how engineers stay current on new products and technology. The majority, 65%, checked off technical and trade magazines. The next closest category, Internet searches, picked up 17%, manufacturer’s websites had 7%, trade shows 6%, and e-newsletters and seminars each had 3%.