This month we look at a Ventura County company ADVANCED Motion Controls [AMC], which provides technology to control motors/servos. Like many technology companies located in the Ventura County area, AMC is yet another name that may not be very familiar to many. The company does, however, produce technology solutions and services that are integrated in hundreds of thousands of critical installations and brand-name products by customers around the world.
There are two general ways motors can be controlled. First, there are motors that run your ceiling fan, garbage disposal, air conditioners and the like. These motors simply spin when power is applied. There is no need to worry about the speed at which they start/stop spinning and they will spin at their rated RPM (revolutions per minute) when power is applied. The voltage we get from our wall sockets and circuit panels can vary, and when they do these motors might run a little slower or faster but it doesn’t affect the general results we expect.
The second class of motor are those controlled with very high-precision technology that regulates exactly how fast the motor starts, stops and spins. Precision controlled motors are usually referred to as “servos” to designate that they are more than just motors. Servos are used in literally hundreds of millions of critical applications, such as moving the arms and attachments of industrial robots, medical applications (MRI machines, heart pumps, as examples), satellites, electric cars, communications antennae, production lines and on and on. Servos come in a variety of sizes based on the power of the job, such as moving heavy things weighing tons, while some servos are moving things, such as lab instruments, in increments as small as a thousandth of an inch.
To develop the controls for servos doing these precision jobs takes significant engineering expertise, both theoretical and in test labs. Servos have acceleration and deceleration rates that can be controlled. A car, for example, does not go from 0 to 60 mph instantly, nor does it stop instantly. To take our metaphor a bit farther, the acceleration and deceleration is different for different models of cars based on the car’s weight, engine size and brakes. Precision-control solutions of servos, such as those designed and produced by AMC, must know the electromechanical characteristic and load of the motor and take into account the acceleration (called ramp up) and deceleration (ramp down) and speed of the system. Such control allows the servo to move (position) the device to whatever it is attached, such as an MRI table or a robotic arm, a precise distance. To know “where it is” at all times, there is typically a feedback device that tells servo controllers that you are about to reach your destination, and the servo controller then begins to decelerate the servo and stop at exactly the right location.
In addition to controlling the length of time a servo is pulsed to move forward or backward, big servos need more power to drive them and small servos need less power. That means the motion controllers have to be available in a variety of electrical and electronic component configurations to match the power that it must deliver based on a servo’s power requirements. AMC specializes in the engineering research and development of its own miniaturized components that can meet the various power requirements for their customers’ servos. That gives its servo controllers advantages over other providers that use only or mostly commercially available components.
AMC provides ready-to-go, customized and modified controllers for every servo that requires precision in it operation. Adding to the challenges of servo control itself, AMC has also developed its solutions in two basic form factors. (Form factors are the packaging configurations in which the motion controller is housed.) One form factor is protective boxes that are bolted or screwed near the servo that is being served. The other form factor is for embedded systems that are circuit boards located in the host machine itself. Both form factors are offered with a variety of network communications so that they can send or receive information about the current status or if they detect any issues with the servo they are controlling.
For its future, AMC is focused on new designs with soft-motion controls that will provide customers with more flexibility in setting up their motion control solutions.
ADVANCED Motion Controls [AMC] has made itself into one of the top servo controller providers in the world by making products that are unique, compact, reliable and well-supported by its world-class engineering teams. Originally started in small quarters in the San Fernando Valley by founders Sandor Barta and Daniel Schoenewald, AMC moved to facilities in Camarillo in the 1990s. Growing, it moved from multiple buildings in the industrial area into its present 86,000-square-foot facility just off Flynn Road. Today AMC also has offices in Budapest, Hungary. AMC does all its own engineering, design, production, testing, sales and marketing and has a little more than 100 employees, most of whom are engineers with expertise in a range of special technologies. In 2005 AMC achieved a significant accomplishment by producing its one-millionth servo drive after just 17 years of operation. AMC has also been nominated as the Outstanding Corporate Service Provider to the Engineering Community for 2014 by the IEEE of Buenaventura.
Plugged In# is a monthly column focused on new technology in and around Ventura County and it will be featured the second week of every month. Plugged In authors Bridge Carney and Karl Geiger are chairman and past chairman, respectively, for the Ventura Section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers [IEEE], the world’s largest professional organization, with more than 800 local members in Ventura County. Please find them at www.ieee-bv.org.