The new Control Techniques DC drive, the Mentor MP

Control Techniques has made an interesting decision in their significant investment and launch of an intelligent DC drive, the Mentor MP, which will enhance their market share in this sector: a launch report from 10 November 2008

The DC drive market is only a fraction of the size of the AC drive market, but worldwide represents a significant business opportunity.

Even the growth rate in this sector is much less than the growth available in AC drives: but with tens of thousands of DC drive systems as the installed base around the world, in high power applications, Control Techniques point to a substantial retrofit and upgrade market, and consider they are ideally placed to take advantage of this.

It also appears the market is being ignored by their competitors, with little new investment.

Control Techniques was formed in Newtown, mid-Wales, in 1973, to manufacture the KTK and ‘Anyspeed’ brand DC drives: they launched the Mentor as the world’s first digital DC drive in 1986, and this upgrade offers the same mechanical footprint and main fixing centres, plus has the power connections located in the same place as the Mentor ll.

But it also brings major modern intelligence and other advantages, based on the same control platform as their market-leading AC drive, the Unidrive SP.

So it will be able to use all the add-on options from the future Unidrive developments.

Another new feature in the Mentor MP is the galvanic isolation between the power and control circuits, a first for a DC drive and the subject of a new patent.

Mentor MP offers the major system interfacing that you might expect, with plug in optional modules providing Profibus-DP, Interbus-S, DeviceNet, CANopen, and various Ethernet protocols such as Modbus TCP/IP, Ethernet I/P and EtherCAT.

So the full capabilities required on any modern plant are now available on a DC drive.

OK, so who wants this? High power DC motors are less expensive to purchase than AC systems, certainly at power levels above around 150kW at the moment, so heavy duty industrial applications are the main target.

Market analysis shows that most of the applications, around 60%, are rated at above 75kW, and the biggest single market area is in metal production, such as steel and aluminium works (although this only represents 25% of total sales of new systems).

Control Techniques see their major future business coming from retrofits and plant upgrades, where the advantages of the Mentor MP modern design and interfaces will make their drive the natural choice.

Frequently the existing DC motor and gearbox or mechanical drive train are in good condition, with years of reliable life remaining, there is just a need for better plant interfacing and improved overall energy efficiency and monitoring.

By upgrading just the drive system, with a new unit having a smaller footprint, without needing any extensive plant downtime, and with little retraining needed of operations staff, the Mentor MP can provide a far better ROI than replacing the whole motor and drive system with AC equipment, particularly in high power applications.

This is a major benefit in the current economic climate.

This customer attitude was confirmed by detailed market research by Control Techniques, and also by the independent 2007 IMS Research study entitled: “The worldwide market for low voltage AC and DC Motor drives”.

This said ” …the idea that DC drives are being replaced by AC drives is certainly starting to give way to the notion that these devices are not going away, but rather represent a totally different market with another set of dynamics when compared to the AC drives category”.

More relevant perhaps is the data on the geographic spread of the installed DC drives.

The world market is split into three approximately equal sections, Europe, America and Far East.

In Europe over a third of the installed base is in Germany: but the major markets are in the USA, with 85% of that sector, and China, with nearly 70% of their sector.

Control Techniques claims to be the existing market leader in the USA, against the normal other three major DC drive suppliers of ABB, Siemens and Parker SSD: so they have a sound base for attacking and serving the replacement market for DC drives in the USA.

In Europe it is Siemens that are dominant, but the 66% of the market outside Germany provides plenty of scope for their growth, based on their specialised drive centres in each territory.

In China, Control Techniques have a small market share at present, well down compared to the three major suppliers, so there is plenty of opportunity there – probably this will be enhanced by the high level of activity in China from various other divisions of Emerson, the parent group.