Global linear motion market faces growth, dynamic change
The recently-released IMS Research report “The World Market for Linear Motion Products, 2010 Edition” indicates that despite a fluctuating market, the combined ball screw and linear guide markets are estimated to be worth $3.8 billion, nearly 45% of which came from the large, established sectors making machine tools and semiconductor production equipment. Suppliers are finding new markets and new applications in areas such as pharmaceutical production, agriculture, and food and drink processing. Another area of growth is in new markets, such as production machinery for lithium-ion batteries and photovoltaic panels. Report author James Dawson of IMS Research talked with CFE Media about the market and its potential for growth in a challenging economy:
CFE Media: Your report indicates the linear motion market has been unstable over the last several years. What is creating the instability? Is it more of a mature market or more because of the recession?
Dawson: The linear motion market is linked strongly to global economic activity, specifically to industrial production machinery and demand for capital equipment such as machine tool and semiconductor production machinery. After an extended period of sustained economic growth, the world economy experienced a severe downturn towards the end of 2008. A reduction of credit availability and consumer confidence resulted in a rapid fall in consumer spending, which was very visible in the sales and production of cars. Lower consumer confidence in turn set off a domino effect of companies reducing inventories and industrial production; this, with tighter credit, resulted in a massive contraction in capital equipment spending in early 2009.
CFE: The new application areas for linear motion – food, pharma and agriculture – are both consistent markets and more process oriented. How have suppliers adapted linear motion to work in these markets?
Dawson: Food, medical and agriculture machinery are not new areas for linear motion products, they offer potential for sustained growth and less prone to cyclical swings in demand which machine tool and semiconductor production machinery have suffered in recent years. Linear motion companies producing electro-mechanical actuators for these markets are in quite competitive environment with established fluid technology actuators. It is therefore important to offer products capable meeting the technical demands of these industries and competitively commercially.
CFE: What linear motion applications make the most sense for these process markets? Conversely, what new applications are being used in discrete industries?
Dawson: High duty-cycle Rod-style linear actuators appear to be benefiting most from the process industries.
CFE: How does linear motion benefit the emerging power generation market?
Dawson: Large government funded infrastructure projects such as power generation tend to offer stable growth for industrial machinery such as machine tool. This seems to benefit large sized linear motion components capable of dealing with high loads required for producing products and components associated with infrastructure.
CFE: What’s the breakdown of growth in linear motion on a regional basis? Are we seeing the typical growth in emerging markets, or are the more mature markets also finding new linear motion applications?
Dawson: The Linear motion report is published in regional volumes (EMEA, Asia Pacific, and The Americas) and considers how individual countries are growing and produces forecasts through to 2015. As I mentioned one of the biggest factors driving growth in the linear motion market is demand for industrial production machinery. Europe, Japan, North America are established regions for industrial production machinery, Demand for industrial machinery from China benefits these established regions of production and countries such as Taiwan, South Korea as well as China itself.
There are large markets for fluid actuation in the established markets such as Europe, Americas and Japan, which offers a big potential replacement market for linear motion products.
CFE: Linear motion seems like a fairly mature technology. What are the longer-term prospects for growth in this area?
Dawson: Trends for increased levels of automation in industrial machinery still has a long way to go particularly in countries with low labor costs. Long term prospects are also boosted by product replacement trend, the biggest of which is the trend to replace fluid actuation with electro-mechanical actuation. The trend to electro-mechanical actuation is driven by:
- Demand for machinery which operates at increased levels of energy efficiency.
- Demand for machinery which operates greater levels of precision.
- Machinery which requires less maintenance.
- Machinery with reduced levels of manual intervention for set up processes.
- Increased range of actuation in terms of variable positioning.
- Accurate and smooth delivery of force.
- Cleaner machinery.
- Reduced levels of noise.
The above trends are attributes displayed by electro-mechanical actuation which also contribute to its lower life time costs than those of fluid actuation.