Precision gearing - 'Value lines' growing faster than lowest backlash

Recovery in the machine tool and robotics sectors suggest a slow, but steady growth for the precision gearing industry, though it will not exceed 2008 levels until 2013.


Over the last ten years, the trend towards servo technology in machinery design has resulted in a large, strong market base for suppliers of gearboxes below 20 arc minutes, but looking forward, it appears that lower price value lines are expected to account for all of the $45 million with which the 2013 Americas and EMEA precision gearing market is expected to exceed 2008 levels.

Is this a sign that lower prices are now trumping performance in high end gearing markets? Should we expect to see factory floor robot arms starting to rattle just a little bit?

Reassuringly, No! It is simply a function of the rate of growth of the constituent user markets. The market base for lowest backlash products, (below 5 arc minutes) is almost entirely constituted by builders of machine tools and robotics equipment, and this is not changing. Accurate repeatability and minimal axis ‘play’ remain critical in these applications. Outside of these applications, the need for backlash below 5 arc minutes is rare, and customers have little interest in paying for excessive functionality. This limits the growth potential of lowest backlash gearboxes almost exclusively to growth within robotics and machine tool machinery production sectors.

In comparison, the market for lower performance products, (above 5 arc minutes) is much more diverse and growing across a broad range of emerging markets for servo technology. The preference of centralized PLC based control over less flexible mechanical and discrete setups has increased the use of servo technology in system design, to the point where servo motors are now commonplace in comparably low-end markets such as packaging machinery and food and beverage equipment sectors. This has increased demand for servo compatible speed reducers. Even though dynamic response servo compatibility are the primary criteria, modest levels of backlash are beneficial for optimal system efficiency and therefore these products are frequently selected from low backlash geared product lines. This is causing growth in the market for lower priced ‘value’ or ‘economy’ lines with backlash between 10-20 arc minutes. These applications are also providing an increasing market for suppliers of a relatively new competing technology, specifically servo rated industry grade geared motors.

Profile photo of Robert Carter, a principal analyst for IMS Research who specializes in the power transmission. Courtesy: IMS ResearchSo while lowest backlash products continue to grow steadily as a result of recovery in the machine tool and robotics sectors, they are not expected to exceed 2008 levels before 2013. This limits new opportunities for backlash rated gear suppliers to within the market for lower price, less functional (10-20 Arc min) power transmission, through to 2013 at least.

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