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Trends in the LV drives market

Author : Blake Griffin, Senior Analyst

18 November 2021

The variable speed drive market is back on track, with 7.7% growth predicted for 2021. Interact Analysis’ latest market research offers insight into three important trends influencing the drives market: functional safety, predictive maintenance, and efficiency regulations.

(Shutterstock image)
(Shutterstock image)

Functional safety is a slow growth trend, but it is very real and it will not stop. Predictive maintenance, though some dismiss it as hype, is crucial and drives have a big role to play. Finally, energy efficiency is obviously in vogue. New classes such as IE4 and IE5 require drives and so will provide an important market boost.

Functional safety – drive users are beginning to look beyond STO

Progress towards enhanced functional safety in the drive sector is slow and, in two significant respects, uneven. Firstly, there is considerable disparity at the regional level, with standards and regulations exerting a top-down pressure in the US and EMEA, whilst in China and other low-cost regions the driver is principally the end-user. Secondly, the nature and deployment of different drives determines levels of functional safety. Most drives sold in EMEA and the Americas incorporate basic STO (safe torque off) technology, with only a small proportion having anything more advanced. EU laws are pushing manufacturers to include SS1 and SLS features in their products, but progress is limited because advanced safety requires precise control – often full closed-loop vector control – significantly pushing up prices.

Although progress towards greater functional safety is slow, it is important to note that some drive manufacturers are already including their own tailored safety features in order to corner the market in specific applications. For example, Lenze and SEW are doing this with conveyor drives designed for very specific applications in the food & beverage and airport sectors.

Predictive maintenance – the drive as data sensor and aggregator

Unlike other forms of maintenance and machinery monitoring, predictive maintenance (PdM) is proactive, utilising data and machine learning algorithms to signal when a failure is likely to happen. The value of PdM lies in the fact that it prevents expensive motors from failing, and, worse still, production coming to a standstill.

A key feature of LV drives is that they can perform PdM on themselves, and on the motors they are controlling. They act as data sensors, indicating when a motor is under stress, and they also act as data aggregators. Machine builders have recognised the monetary value of developing predictive maintenance applications but have told us that a major problem is collecting accurate vibration and temperature data. This is owing to the fact that it is not always possible to place sensors on the appropriate parts of a machine.

The ability of LV drives to monitor and store data from the machines they are controlling could very well mean they become the predictive maintenance solution of choice for machine builders. PdM features in drives will come at a premium initially, but their value is so strong that they will quickly become standard features and prices will drop. Drive manufacturers should recognise PdM as a potentially significant revenue stream and grab the opportunity with both hands, now.

Efficiency regulations – a serious market opportunity

Around 40% of the world’s electricity is consumed by electric motors. And the global drive to address energy sustainability has caused the spread of energy efficiency regulations across the world. New rules this year affecting the EU, Great Britain and Ukraine state that all motors sold must meet IE3 standards. As a consequence, demand for drives from the electric motor industry has increased.

IE4 and IE5 standards are now well understood, but not yet enforced, and motors operating to this standard require a drive. Whilst currently only occupying a small market segment, IE4 and IE5 are forecast to see considerable growth in market share over the next five to 10 years. Initially the high cost of this new generation of motors will mean that they will penetrate only into energy intensive sectors such as HVAC and data centres, where there would be a healthy return on investment. But regulatory pressures coupled with price erosion as demand scales up will drive the spread of this technology.

Currently, Europe is the leader in motor efficiency regulation, and we expect adoption of IE4 and IE5 motors to be highest there. Encouragingly, though, China recently adopted IE3 as an efficiency standard. Meanwhile the US department of energy targets whole motor systems rather than individual components – a way of thinking that will encourage adoption of drives to push efficiency to the required levels.

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