The Package Deal
In order to deal with the increased price pressure, many motor and air-moving device manufacturers are taking a "system" approach, offering OEMs more than just the core motor or blower. "In many higher volume applications, OEMs are asking critical component suppliers to provide added value by implementing what I would call a sub-system solution," says Mr. Gulalo of MTT. "Motor suppliers need to respond positively to these large-volume OEMs in order to secure their supplier position. Motor manufacturers are adding value by providing a 'motor plus' - the motor plus gears and/or plastic or metal mechanical elements. This relieves the OEM from employing assets in areas outside of the OEMs' expertise," he explains.
Lau Industries, Inc. ( Dayton , OH , U.S. ) has taken this type of approach and recently introduced a new program for its customers called Motorized Air Products (MAP). "Our traditional business is to supply a customer with an air-moving component - either a propeller fan or a forward curved (FC) blower wheel. The customer would then attach the component to the motor and install the assembly in the final product," Dr. Michael Brendel, Lau's director of Engineering, tells APPLIANCE.
"An emerging trend in the large appliance arena is for the supplier to provide a complete motorized package. This is particularly attractive when an FC wheel, housing, drive, and motor are involved since there is a high cost associated with labor and floor space needed to assemble these units," he explains. "This trend to purchase a complete 'module' is similar to the one that started in the automotive industry about 15 years ago," he continues.
Dr. Brendel adds that Lau's MAP program has been especially popular with smaller customers that do not have the expertise or infrastructure to assemble components. He says, "Larger OEMs like this approach because it eliminates purchasing and logistic issues associated with buying many smaller parts and then assembling them in-house."
Keith Hallenbeck, director of Sales at Ametek Rotron ( Kent , OH , U.S. ), notes that in order for system solutions to be successful, a supplier needs to be sure it fully understands the application. "There is a high degree of resources put into having in-depth technical understandings of the customer's application and use of the product," he explains. "That's really been the trick to it. Once you take over integrating the three technologies - the blower or pump, the motor, and the controller - you really need to know the system requirements."
Mr. Hallenbeck adds that often times Ametek Rotron is able to develop a higher efficient product than if the customer was trying to integrate the three technologies. "A customer could go out and get the most efficient motor it could buy, and let's say we couldn't compete with that. And then he purchases an efficient impeller and the electronics, and puts them all together. But they aren't perfectly 'matched' for the highest overall efficiency," he explains. "This means the speed torque curve isn't perfectly matched to the aerodynamic load, which isn't matched perfectly with the electronics - all because he bought them at three different places. The advantage is realized when it is integrated by one company."
Passing the Test
Many appliance producers are also asking their motor and blower suppliers to take on the additional responsibility of testing. While this can be costly for the supplier, most are quickly adapting to the trend, building test facilities or offering on-site technicians.
According to Stu Gatley, director of Engineering at Jakel, Inc. (Highland , IL , U.S. ), the main reason for this trend is lack of personnel at OEM facilities. "Because a lot of manufacturers are cutting back on their engineering staff, they are relying more on their suppliers to provide that service," he explains.
In a recent development project with International Comfort Products Corporation (USA) (ICP), Jakel provided an on-site technician to help with the testing of ICP's 90-percent condensing furnace products. While Jakel was initially brought in to develop an inducer assembly, it ended up providing ICP with 6-months worth of testing assistance. In fact, according to ICP, Jakel's willingness to offer this "value-added" service was the main reason the OEM chose to work with the supplier. As a result, the two companies now have a purchasing agreement.
Ignacio Santa Cruz, business development director for FASCO Motors ( St. Louis , MO , U.S. ), says that in order to successfully meet the increased demands from appliance OEMs, motor and blower suppliers are required to have extensive design, prototyping, and testing capabilities. This is why, he explains, FASCO recently completed a six-station laboratory with full capability for performance and emissions testing of gas appliances.
The company's additional testing capabilities were especially helpful, Mr. Santa Cruz explains, when one of its HVAC customers asked FASCO engineers to reduce its costs and remove operations from its facility. "We were to include the inducer exhaust transition, which had always been added by our customer," he says. "The change required the inducer restriction to be at the inlet of the blower instead of at the exhaust. The many sample iterations would have only been possible if the engineer had been directly involved in the product testing."
The Personal Approach
Many motor and blower suppliers say that their most advanced designs have resulted from close collaboration with the OEM. In fact, some industry professionals believe that customization may be one way suppliers can overcome the threat of motors and blowers becoming low-cost, "throw-away" products.
In a recent development project with appliance maker BSH Group, German supplier Motoren Venilatoren Landshut GmbH (mvl) was able to create a completely new air-moving device while trying to meet BSH's specific requests for its new platform cooker. The result was a custom hot air convection system and cooling system that brought the OEM substantial cost savings. "When BSH started the new development of an oven, it requested a cost reduction," explains Stefan Brandl, sales director at mvl. "Therefore, we suggested the option of combining the crossflow fan and the radial fan into only one device."
BSH then sent mvl a prototype oven, and the supplier began investigating how it could develop an optimized fan solution. After overcoming challenges such as meeting air performance requirements and space restrictions, mvl developed one of its newest product offerings, the AL108, a shaded-pole motor with two impellers on the shaft ends.
"One shaft end keeps a plastic axial blade as a replacement for the crossflow blower. This fan cools the oven case," explains Mr. Brandl. "The other shaft end holds a stainless steel radial fan surrounded by a die cast scroll housing, which replaces the former radial fan. This fan sucks out the moisture air of the oven cavity. The motor power is adjusted to the required air performance of the fans."
According to Mr. Brandl, the major benefit BSH achieved in this development project was cost reduction, as the OEM has to buy and assemble only one fan instead of two. It also reduced assembly costs and time, as only one fan needs to be assembled, using only three screws. The reduced number of fans also gave BSH a noise reduction, he adds.
Of course, some OEMs might not require such intense customization, especially if it slows down product development time. Even so, suppliers can still offer customers a certain level of customization by fully understanding the end application.
Dr. Thomas Bertolini, executive technical director at ebm Werke GmbH ( Mulfingen , Germany ) says that one way suppliers can approach this is by dividing its R&D departments into two parts - platform development and application engineering. "The platform department develops new products as kits, which can then be easily applied to customer-specific needs," he explains. This, he adds, can speed up production development time.
"ebm developed an energy saving motor as a platform development within 18 months," Dr. Bertolini says. "Then it was applied to the first pilot customer within 6 months. Now, while the motor is mass-produced, it is possible to use it in further applications and adapt it to these within a couple of weeks."
The Deciding Factor
In the end, the driving force behind the adoption of advanced motor designs in the highly competitive appliance industry is - and always will be - cost.
And while there are certainly many technologies out there that could increase the efficiency and performance of appliance motor designs, as Mr. Hallenbeck of Ametek Rotron notes, there needs to be a significant cost reduction before an OEM will even consider updating to more sophisticated controls or even high-quality materials such as rare earth magnets or special lamination materials.
Therein lies the catch 22 - cost doesn't go down until demand goes up. As price pressures from all over the world continue to dominate the industry, motor manufacturers are quickly realizing that the coming years will require a more aggressive stance than in the past. Suppliers will need to continue to educate OEMs about long-term savings and benefits of certain motor technologies, while continuing to innovate and expand engineering capabilities and services. Waiting around for the price of advanced technologies to drop will no longer be enough.