Should I design one big, central motor or several distributed motors?

Rob Keating

March 14, 2022

Should I design one big, central motor or several distributed motors?

When looking at electrification and new product design, it is worth noting that making incremental changes to a product will not create differentiation. In order to deliver meaningful value to end users, a broader, systems-wide approach to electrification should be adopted. To illustrate this, we have supplied an example of a ride-on lawnmower.  

An existing combustion engine provides the power source for the lawnmower, driving the propulsion powertrain through shafts, and the blades in the mowing deck through a system of belts, shafts and any auxiliary system like grass collectors, hydraulic pumps or a sweeper. Electrification of this product could be as simple as replacing the existing internal combustion engine with an electric motor, with the rest of the mower remaining the same. This would create a host of benefits for the end user, like quiet operation, no emissions, and less maintenance.  

When considering a decentralized system, a powerful propulsion motor is still required in order to move around. All other power consuming systems could be de-coupled. Each blade on the mower deck has its own directly driving motor, and the grass collector is independently powered. Now, there are no rotating shafts and moving belt systems that need to be routed through the chassis, which provides much more design freedom. No turning shaft and rotating belts are exposed, no mechanical maintenance is needed, and there are no health and safety risks from moving parts (except for the cutting blades).

Benefits
Each individual drive system can be controlled and monitored. Speed and uplift can be controlled individually, the propulsion is independent from the cutting, and the grass collector can adjust its power depending on the fill status of the collector bag or bin.  

If one fails, the others can keep running.  

The data from the drive systems can be used in the application to adjust and perfect how it’s running in real-time. It can also be sent to a cloud for multiple use cases. In the mower example, the mower business would use the data collected for better planning of jobs and maintenance, while the workshop can prepare for service and up-sales, and the customer can be provided with insights about his lawns and gardening.

The increased design freedom on the mower now opens possibilities to create user value and differentiates the mower in the market by presenting an outstanding product backed by the data collected. What if the design freedom could allow the user to either sit or stand on the mower? What if you could easily change the width of the cutting deck for narrow passages within seconds? It is a much better value proposition than simply saying it’s 'the same, but electric'.

It is worth remembering the autonomous future that is becoming popular in many industries and applications. What if decentralization doesn’t stop inside the ride-on mower, but goes further and creates many small autonomous mowers instead of one big one? Husqvarna is an example of a brand perceived as a leader in commercial autonomous mower fleets. Find out more about their lawn products here.

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