What are the key differences between customised and off-the-shelf drive systems?

Rob Keating

October 20, 2021

What are the key differences between customised and off-the-shelf drive systems?

The world is experiencing a rate of technological change that is moving at an exponential rate. And this change is not just the world moving faster – it is accelerating rapidly. Advancing technology in everything that improves our lives, from the cars we drive, our home appliances and our smart devices, is happening faster than ever before.  

We are getting used to the innovators, the change makers, and those that combine several existing components to create new ways of doing things, and new ways to improve people’s lives.  

Drive systems are a key component of most modern devices, appliances and machinery we use today. Regardless of size, a drive system used in a robotic or propulsion motor can be complex and can operate multiple motors in a device or appliance to make it function. When you are looking for a drive system for your next new product, you’ll want to ensure it’s going to do everything you need it to do. Depending on your product design and the expectations of its use, there are two different drive system options to consider prior to its manufacture.  

Off-the-shelf and custom-made solutions can vary greatly in terms of the level of engineering and manufacturing required in order to complete your project. Here we will look at both options to help you to decide which one will best suit your needs.  

Off-the-shelf drive systems

When looking for a solution, you may wondering whether or not you can find a motor that fits your requirements. What level of efficiency do you need? Are factors such as noise, speed and torque important, and how much control do you need? These are all considerations to be made and could exist in an OTS solution.  

Off-the-shelf solutions are a great turn-key option for many customers. Having gone through many processes, including testing, certification and quality assurance, you know the product will be tried and true and likely to be readily available when you need it. Should an OTS solution suit your needs, you will mitigate risk, save time and allow yourself to focus on other important aspects of your project, knowing that all the hard work has been done designing and manufacturing the drive system for use in its intended capacity.  

However, if your application is very unique, an OTS solution may not fit the bill. You may be at liberty to alter some of your design choices to suit. An OTS solution may come with more than you need, so again a review may be appropriate.  

Cost and risk

OTS solutions are predominantly the most cost-effective and the most risk averse. An OTS solution, if suitable, is a great option you should consider after thoroughly assessing your project’s requirements. It can also save you a considerable amount of manufacturing and production time, compared to a custom-made solution. If your expected volume is smaller, and you can make an OTS work for you, it is going to be a more cost-effective option.  

Custom made drive systems

A custom-made solution is ideal if your project requires special form factor, a specific type of motor, or extra performance capabilities. With all the components tailored to your exact requirements, this can be the answer to getting exactly what you need.  

Cost and risk

Custom-made solutions are always going to be more costly than OTS due to customising and developing equipment and machinery specific to your project. Additionally, with lower volumes of custom components needed, it will likely further increase costs.  

Although a larger investment will be needed up front, with your own tailored solution created, it can lead to cost benefits down the track, and you are guaranteed a unique, high-quality product that competitors will not be able to copy. This is beneficial if the volume and scale of your application is high. The need for additional updates and add-ons may also be reduced.  

Being the first of its kind, a custom solution can carry a somewhat higher risk, as it has not been used before and is as yet unproven in the market. With this in mind, you’ll want to ensure the risk factor is mitigated as much as possible. Also, allow for a longer lead time, as custom equipment manufacturing, and other production work will need to be factored into your timeline.  

Conclusion

While there is no right or wrong choice here, be sure to consider all the points mentioned above when deciding between an OTS and a fully custom-made solution for your project. For those looking for a more bespoke system for a unique product, or one with complex requirements, a custom-made solution would be preferable. Or those looking for a proven, tested and ready-to-go system, OTS may meet your needs perfectly. It may even be that there is an option available somewhere in the middle ground. Perhaps your application could be slightly modified to suit an OTS solution, or compromises reached on certain criteria.

It is recommended to look at all options in detail to find out which one is best suited to your individual needs and budget.  

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