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Driving the future

Electric motors are getting smart as they undergo a significant transformation, writes Jose Franco

| | Dec 15, 2010 | 11:30 am
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Electric motors are getting smart as they undergo a significant transformation, writes Jose Franco

Having greener qualities are definitely the future for electric motors. Not only do they represent 60-70% of a building’s power consumption, electric motors also make various industry vehicles and equipment realise their functions. The onboard drive systems for railways, for instance, act to accomplish a rail application that involves the pull chain, power supply, production of air and passenger comfort. An electric motor that reduces energy consumption and allows for easy maintenance will, therefore, help shape the world’s future.

Never mind that experts do not refer to the motor per se when talking about ongoing trend and future innovation in motor production; it’s the addition of variable speed drive that provides intelligent control of the motor. “The main purpose of this accurate control is to reduce the power to the exact cooling requirement, or exact water pressure required at each floor,” says Philippe Wesolowski, General Manager of Leroy Somer Middle East. “Using a variable speed drive on a fan or a pump can reduce its electric consumption by 30-50%.”

It is, in fact, more important to use low-energy-consumption products, such as smart motors, as part of energy conservation than to pursue massive and expensive renewable energy projects like wind or photovoltaic power plants, an East Asian expert says. And such a move would be good for the UAE, especially Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and Saudi Arabia, as these countries require huge supply of utilities to power their rapid economic development and rising populations.

“We are very interested to penetrate the Gulf and the whole Middle East market,” says James Jeung, President, Founder and Chief Science Officer of SN Tech Inc, in the US, and Chairman of South Korean-based SN Tech Co Ltd. “Based on our sales and production experience, we will be able to capture a significant market in the Middle East region. We are now growing over 500% annually in North America.” His company has invested more than $10 million on innovative technology since 2007, and is now planning to spend five per cent of its revenue for R&D.

SPEED DRIVES

At the European-based Leroy Somer, intelligent variable-speed drives are being integrated into the motors, which convert electrical energy into mechanical energy, to save on power and for better control of temperature, humidity and fresh air. A division of the diversified global manufacturing and technology company Emerson Electric, Leroy Somer also has a special offer of onboard drive systems for railways that reduce maintenance, increase component reliability and improve train service life.

Just the same, talking about highly efficient motors means using higher grade magnetic steel and more copper coils – which, in turn, jack up capital and prices. In Western countries, additional cost for higher efficiency means an ROI after 12 to 18 months of consumption whilst a payback in two to four years is estimated for the Middle East. “This makes it more difficult for governments to impose energy consumption caps on building owners,” Wesolowski stresses, referring to the Middle East, particularly the Gulf Arab states.

Philippe Wesolowski

Philippe Wesolowski

And in a region where demand for HVAC&R products and services is tremendous, the market potential for electric motors is even bigger. Saudi Arabia and the emirate of Abu Dhabi are becoming the main focus of most companies engaged in the industry. Whilst 50% of its business came from the UAE for the past five to six years, Leroy Somer Middle East now sees “a clear shift” of the bulk of its business to Saudi Arabia, where 50% of its turnover will come from over the next two years.

“So far, Dubai companies have managed to keep the leadership in technology, project management and project execution, but the shift to Saudi Arabia is inevitable,” says Wesolowski, who thinks his company has an upper hand in the electric motor sector. “To sell in Saudi, you have to be based in Saudi. We have been present in Saudi Arabia for the past 25 years.”

Today, the company has a full sales and technical team in the biggest Gulf Arab economy, serving customers and helping them shift from one- or two-speed motor to one with variable speed and equipped with dedicated solutions for technical challenges.

For its part, SN Tech is looking for a partner that could distribute its products, particularly the electronically commutated motor (ECM), across the Middle East and help build a green HVAC&R market in the region. And since most HVAC&R manufacturers do not have much knowledge and experience yet about ECM, Jeung says, SN Tech is willing to provide free-of-charge product samples for the initial testing, as well as skills training on software to learn about the company’s smart motors.

The ECM technology has great potential to treat energy loss in the Gulf, Jeung says, and SN Tech is developing a motor that could well adapt to the Gulf environment. He adds that SN Tech has been successful in supplying high efficiency motors to such mature markets as North America, the EU and Australia since 2005.

MAJOR CHANGE

SN Tech’s double-shaft ECM , a green motor

SN Tech’s double-shaft ECM , a green motor

Such moves by Leroy Somer and SN Tech are testament to the electric motor industry undergoing a significant transformation for the past years, owing to global market consolidation and the emergence of international competitors. Also, US-based AO Smith announced this month that it has agreed to sell its Electrical Products Company to Regal Beloit Corporation for about $875 million. The transaction, which involves $700 million in cash and about 2.83 million shares of Regal Beloit common stock, may close in the first half of next year.

“The consolidation in the marketplace, which has accelerated this year, prompted us to evaluate the potential sale of our motor business, with the expectation that we would reinvest the proceeds into high growth opportunities,” said Paul W Jones, Chairman and CEO of AO Smith, in a December 13 press statement. “We are very excited about the prospects of Electrical Products combining with Regal Beloit.”

AO Smith’s core business will now be manufacturing residential and commercial water heating and purification equipment, which posted sales of $1.1 billion between January and September. Its Electrical Products business, which manufactures an extensive line of fractional and integral horsepower and hermetic motors for residential and commercial applications, reported operating earnings of $61.9 million on sales of $539.4 million for the first nine months of the year.

Ranging in output from 1/100th to five horsepower, fractional horsepower motors are used in applications ranging from pumps, furnace fans and air conditioner fans and blowers to garage door openers and air compressors. Integral horsepower motors, on the other hand, range from one to 400 horsepower and are used in large commercial HVAC blowers, industrial agricultural ventilation, conveyors and overhead cranes.

The residential and commercial air conditioning compressors and commercial chillers use hermetic motors, which are precision rotor and stator kits with a 1.5 to 500 horsepower output.

GREEN MOTORS

SN Tech has brought motor production to a new level with its green motors. Called SN-ECM Motor, the product uses 80% less electricity than the other high-efficiency AC motors. This green motor operates in a wide range of linear step-less speed controls and is used for HVAC systems, A/C fans, blowers, air drying units, gate and door air curtains, transportation A/C systems and agricultural venting systems.

Jeung describes the product as providing “fun to HVAC&R manufacturers” the way LED (light emitting diode) lighting does, owing to its very low power consumption being realised through a high operating efficiency on variable speed. “The best solution to meet consumer demand in the green area is to use speed controllable high-efficiency motors, like SN Tech’s smart motor, to drive fans or compressors,” he says, stressing that governments could play a vital role by imposing tax deductions or rebate programmes to encourage the use of green products.

The trend in ECM, Jeung says, moves towards smart, green products for intelligent buildings and houses, and developing motors of 380-460V and high-powered ones of 2-5Hp for industrial application. “Also, an advanced ECM technology could be designed to enhance a network control or a smartgrid system with IP technology in the near future,” he adds.

Davidon Industries, which represents leading manufacturers of internationally recognised and approved electromechanical and electronic controls and related materials, claims that the SN-ECM motor reduces carbon emissions by 80%. And this says a lot about the product, considering that in the US, electric motors account for 24% of total US carbon emissions.

It also says that SN Tech’s green motors last twice as long as the other motors – thus, saving on costs – and minimise peak power with variable speed programming. It says on its website, “With fewer parts, solid, anisotropic ring magnets and no brushes, there is minimal vibration and, therefore, almost no noise factor, promoting a more comfortable and stress-free environment.”

Motors are, indeed, subjected to severe mechanical and electrical stress by various vehicles and equipment they help run. In a rail application, for instance, motors have to contend with vibrations, shocks, temperatures of between -30°C and 90°C and solid state converter (power supply) generating low-quality sine waves. These factors usually accelerate the ageing of motors, particularly those of lower quality.


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