Electronic Design

Digital Motion Control To Drive Power Efficiency

The Energy Information Adminstration estimates that world energy use will grow by 54% between now and 2025. The organization also expects most of this energy to come from nonrenewable fossil-fuel sources. Coupled with other considerations, such as the need to control the growth of carbon-dioxide emissions, statistics like these emphasize the pressing need to improve energy efficiency. Improvement is more than a desirable requirement-it's fundamental to the sustainable prosperity of the global economy and the health of our planet.

The bulk of the responsibility for delivering improved energy efficiencies is going to fall on the shoulders of electronic engineers tasked with designing motion-control applications. In its breakdown of world energy use, the EIA reports that electricity generation consumes 39% of all energy. Transportation requires 21%. Digital motion-control applications can significantly impact energy use in both of these areas.

Electric motors consume over 50% of the electricity generated globally. These motors can be found in home appliances, air-conditioning systems, and elevators and escalators. They're also in the industrial control systems, automated assembly lines, and conveyors in factories and warehouses. At least 80% of these motors are electromechanically operated and feature little or no power management whatsoever.

If we can halve energy use in these applications, we can reduce world energy consumption by as much as 10%. Yet the challenge here is to improve efficiency without incurring penalties in terms of functionality, performance, or cost.

The solution lies in combining variable-speed motors with sophisticated motor-control and power-management solutions that not only facilitate more efficient operation, but also deliver added levels of functionality. We're already seeing this in certain home appliances.

For instance, some of the latest washing machines use variable-speed motor-control technology to reduce power consumption as well as deliver added functionality like silent and vibration-free operation and faster spin speeds. This trend will spread across more and more home, commercial, and industrial motor-based applications. It's not hard to foresee that the vast majority of motor-based designs will be predicated on variable-speed motors a quarter of a century from now.

The same trends prevail in the transportation industry, too. Take the automotive sector, where engineers will increasingly be expected to implement solutions that cut fuel consumption without compromising vehicle performance or cost. Solutions such as electronically assisted turbo chargers driven by electric motors, rather than the conventional mechanical arrangement, and the addition of an integrated starter motor and alternator allow for significant fuel economy improvements. These types of innovations can even enable automotive manufacturers to use a smaller engine without sacrificing speed or acceleration. Combining such techniques with, say, a variable-speed compressor for air conditioning can produce even better energy efficiencies.

It doesn't matter if the target application is in a car, home, factory, or office. Digital motion control will let electronic engineers deliver commercially viable, high-performance, cost-effective, energy-efficient designs. Providing this control will mean choosing new and emerging power semiconductor solutions based on new processes, new architectures, and new packaging technologies.

As these semiconductors evolve, levels of integration and configuration flexibility will increase, permitting engineers to implement designs with very low component counts or even single-chip solutions. By using these solutions, OEMs will be able to contribute to the energy-efficiency improvements the global economy so desperately needs, and at the same time continue to improve their products.

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