Friday 25 January 2013

Custom servo drive business extended

Metronix, has expanded the customisation capability it offers, and launched a new fast-track service.

Metronix is one of the largest designers and manufacturers of custom servo drives. Around 35,000 servo drives a year - over half of Metronix's annual output - are sold under other companies' labels or produced for specific OEM applications. Today, the company is typically working on about 30 adaptation or customization projects at any one time.

The opportunity for custom drives continues to grow strongly, and Metronix has just expanded the size of its R&D department by a third to meet demand. The company has also streamlined the way it handles custom design or private-label branding projects, to offer what it believes is the fastest-turnaround service in the European market.

A team of just two staff are responsible for reviewing new projects with clients and initiating development and manufacturing orders. This efficient arrangement makes Metronix exceptionally agile, allowing it to react very rapidly to customer requests and to 'green-light' new projects within days if required. Using lean manufacturing, the company is able to get new projects into trial production within months of initial customer enquiries, and ramp to volume production quantities in less than a year.

Growth in demand for custom servo drives is increasing strongly. This stems from numerous factors, including the continuing growth in demand for precision servo control, demands for lower power consumption, the increasing desire to reduce physical size or for drives to fit into specific spaces, and from the sheer added value that strong brand identity delivers.

"Many industrial companies are currently realising that they can increase their market share and improve their margins with the aid of better drives and controls," says Jan Koch, CEO of Metronix. "Metronix has the resources and structure to partner with them and accelerate their time to market in such situations."

"Our new investment is targeted at satisfying the strong growth in demand for branding in our segment of the industrial automation marketplace, while also capitalizing on the core strengths of Metronix," adds Jan Koch. "These strengths are a drives business that is large enough to allow us to offer best-in-class manufacturing quality at a very competitive price point; but with a company size that is also small enough to react very quickly."

Metronix, headquartered in northern Germany, has a flexible structure, with a headquarters facility that handles core activities such as engineering and final assembly of drives and controls products, and a number of high quality subcontract partners who manufacture most of the electronic and electro-mechanical component parts and sub-assemblies.

The company's agility and responsiveness is illustrated by a recent survey of its custom product clients which showed that Metronix achieved an on-time delivery score of more than 95%, rated against the deadlines that the customers themselves had asked for - which included many urgent requests for service that fell outside of agreed normal schedules.

Most of the custom requests that Metronix deals with fall into two categories. One is full-custom design, producing application-specific drives to help OEMs optimize performance and/or reduce the bill-of-materials costs of their industrial equipment.

The second main form of request is for 'private label' products - coming from automation suppliers and motion control system builders who typically need a drive to fill a gap in their range. Often, the private label drives that Metronix supplies will also have a number of minor adaptations, such as custom firmware and connectivity, to suit the client's particular target applications and marketplaces. For many of these companies a key target is to get their application solution firmly designed in by OEM customers. By partnering with Metronix, they are able to broaden their product range quickly and competitively, to help differentiate their service from other automation competitors.

In both cases, by selling third-party drive products under their own name, clients typically increase the value of their own brand in terms of enhancing customer recognition, and extending their market reach. Metronix is a complementary partner for such companies, because as a pure drives specialist it does not compete in the higher-level motion control and systems automation engineering parts of the market.

One unusual aspect of Metronix's services in this custom engineering area is its willingness to transfer intellectual property rights to clients. Users can be assigned full rights to manufacture the drives themselves if they wish, typically after a certain initial production figure has been achieved. Metronix also has no minimum batch size for orders, it will even produce quantities of just one item if that is what's needed.

Metronix has been producing motion control technology for industrial machines and automotive applications for over 30 years. Its product range includes smart servo drives with integrated positioning capability, plus motion controllers and accessories that provide cost-effective solutions for multi-axis motion control and automation, and decentralized machine control requirements. A key feature of Metronix's motion products is their rich networking and encoder interfacing capability, which ensures that drives can be integrated easily into virtually any industrial system or machine - even if an OEM has custom PLC or control hardware. This feature is highly valued by many OEMs as it allows them to create and continue developing innovative brands of machine offering unique features. Metronix complements this capability with what is probably the most sophisticated and capable custom drive engineering service on the market today. Motion control products designed by Metronix are marketed under its own brand, and in custom forms by a number of well known industrial OEMs.

• The company additionally makes geophysical instruments and customer-specific digital controls for measurement and control applications. Metronix is part of the Apex Tool Group, headquartered in Sparks, Maryland, USA. The Apex Tool Group has more than 7,600 employees in over 30 countries. 

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