How to make prototypes of drive systems? How long does it take and how ‘good’ are they?

Rob Keating

March 15, 2022

How to make prototypes of drive systems? How long does it take and how ‘good’ are they?

There are several different approaches to creating a prototype of a drive system. We have listed these with the details and benefits highlighted below.  

Using the existing motor (standard motor or in production), transmission and controller.

  • Design mechanical, electronic and electric interfaces accordingly.
  • Accept the potential trade-offs in performance, size and capability.
  • The software to simply make a motor spin, control torque and speed should be readily available.
  • Get started pretty much straight away.  

Prototype motor, transmission and controller.

  • Prototyping a motor provides the design freedom for performance, dimensions and interfaces.
  • Upfront simulations and design methods get you really close to final product characteristics.
  • Laser cutting laminations, manual winding or winding on a prototype winding machine, lathing and milling parts for rotors and stators, 3D printing, and manual assembly are methods that make prototyping a matter of weeks if the materials are available. The magnets might have to be made to order.
  • Transmissions come in many shapes and sizes: traditionally gears, belts, chains, but also friction, hydraulic, magnetic power transmissions are available and must be selected for the specific application.  
  • Controllers can either be designed and manually built, or a development board from established PCB companies might be sufficient.
  • Software must be either written or an existing code modified. With the right team working on it, it will take some days, maybe weeks.

Complex and innovative technologies.

  • The more complex the system is, the longer it takes to get one single prototype done, particularly the first one, as it will take some iterations to get it spinning.  
  • Typically, if new materials are used, their production method – even for prototyping – must be figured out, like the right parameters, the correct thicknesses, the surface properties etc. That requires some loops and investigation. On a component level, you can learn a lot, but in the assembly more challenges are likely to surface.

Conclusion
Depending on the requirements for the drive system and application, it can take only a matter of days to use and adapt an existing drive system if you are willing to accept the trade-offs. A full prototype of a drive system can be built in a matter of weeks. If overly complex ingredients are put into the mix, it may extend the timeline, depending on their nature and maturity.

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