New Requirements for Miniature Motors

Innovations in the field of robotics are resulting in the emergence of smarter and smaller robotic designs. Sensor technologies and vision systems use robotic applications in warehousing, medical, process automation, and security fields. Disruptive technologies are creating newer opportunities for solving unique challenges with miniature motors. These include the robotic market for efficient and safe navigation through warehouses, predictable control of surgical tools, and the necessary endurance for completing lengthy security missions.

With industries transitioning to applications requiring collaborative robotics, they need systems that are more compact, dexterous, and mobile. Tasks that earlier required handling by human hands are driving the need for miniaturized motors for mimicking both the capability and size of the hands that accomplished the work.

For instance, multiple jointed solutions representing the torso, elbow, arm, wrist, etc. require small, power-dense motors for reducing the overall weight and size. Such compact solutions not only improve usability but also improves autonomy and safety, resulting in faster reaction times due to lower inertia. Therefore, robotic grippers, exoskeleton, prosthetic arms, and humanoid robots require small, high-power density motors. Power density is the amount of power a motor generates per unit of its volume. A motor that generates greater amounts of power in a small package, has a higher power density. This is an important factor when there is a space constraint, or where a high level of output is necessary when a limited space.

Manufacturers can miniaturize motors with high power densities. Alternately, they can increase the capability of current designs. Both options are critical in reducing the space that motion elements occupy. High efficiency is necessary to obtain the maximum power possible from a given design. Here, BLDC or brushless DC motors and slot-less motor designs in combination with efficient planetary gearboxes can offer powerful solutions in small packages. Brushless solutions are flexible enough for engineering them to meet customer requirements like long and skinny designs, or short, flat, low-profile configurations.

Smooth operation and dynamic response can result in these miniature motors being dexterous and agile. Slot-less BLDC motors achieve this by eliminating detent torque, thereby providing precise dynamic motion with their lower inertia. Applications requiring high dynamics, such as pick-and-place systems and delta robots, must be able to accelerate/decelerate quickly and constantly. Coreless DC motors and stepper motors with disc magnets are suitable for applications requiring critical characteristics like high acceleration as they have very low inertia.

Ironless brushed DC motors with their high efficiency, are the best choice for battery-powered mobile applications to extend their operational life between charges. Several robotic applications now run on battery power, thereby requiring motors with high efficiency for longer running times. Other applications require high torque at low speeds, and it is possible to achieve this by matching the motor with a high-efficiency gearbox.

Some applications that are inhospitable to humans may need robot systems capable of enduring difficult environmental conditions. This may include tremendous vibration and shock. With proper motor construction, it is possible to improve their reliability and durability when operating under such conditions.