What part do DC motors play in the medical industry?

12th March 2018
Posted By : Lanna Deamer
What part do DC motors play in the medical industry?


With DC motors as small 4mm it’s not surprising that 45% of maxon motor’s business is from the medical industry. Patrick Vega, Technical Engineer at maxon motor uk, discusses some of the applications that maxon have featured in.

Prosthetic limbs are used to replace what is lost to an amputee. These contain DC motors that play a major part in the capabilities of an artificial limb. Prosthetic limbs allow people to gain a sense of feeling of movement again. Imagine something as simple as picking up a glass of water.

We require our fingers to wrap around the glass and apply just the right amount of force around the glass to keep it held in your hand. Small DC motors are necessary for these applications. When selecting a DC motor for a prosthetic, it will need to fill the following requirements: compactness, high power density, high acceleration, lightweight and some require high controllability.

maxon products succeed in every single aspect. Next it is a matter of selecting the most suitable drive system to provide the required torque and speed.

Compact and light-weight
In maxon’s brushed motor range starting from the smallest, we have the DCX 6 which has a diameter of just 6mm. Now you must be thinking, you can’t get smaller than that, surely? Oh yes, we can! maxon’s specialism is creating small drives below 70V. Our brushless range starts as small as 4mm diameter with a length of below 21mm with a mass of just 1.2g.

EC Flat motors are popular for many reasons; brushless technology, lightweight, high torque, compactness and low cost. These motors are used in many applications throughout all areas. This year we have developed the EC Flat frameless. Forget the motor’s housing, bearings and motor shaft. All you have is the rotor and stator so that you can fully integrate the motor into your design; saving even more space with reduced weight.

High power density
Our brushless frameless motor has a maximum continuous torque of 1.03Nm, add a gearhead and be prepared to increase your torque and reduce your speed to what you want. Combining the size and the pure power of the motor gives an amazing volume-to-power ratio.

Running continuously you can be limited, however, if your duty cycle is intermittent then our motors can be overload for a period. Great if you want to keep the motor size small and can’t go bigger but require three times the nominal torque of the motor for only a few seconds.

Let’s see what I mean:

Let’s take the DCX14L with graphite brushes. If this motor was overloaded three times the nominal torque it will be able to operate for roughly 10.3 seconds, which is the thermal time-constant of the winding. Now if you overload the motor only two times the motor will able to run for 51.5 second, which is five times longer.

Remember that the motor has been overloaded so the winding is very hot with 125ºC. The motor requires time to cool down. Be aware if time ON is exceeded and not giving enough OFF time is given, this may cause failure. Time required OFF can be calculated given the formula;

maxon’s ECX SPEED is very popular in the medical industry for applications that require high speed and high acceleration. Applications include dental drills and centrifuges. This family of products was developed to help the medical industry fulfil their technical and product quality needs.

High speed and acceleration
If it was a race the ECX SPEED will take first place every time straight from the start line. These motors top out at 120,000rpm. To reach such speeds you will need the available voltage as speed is proportional to the voltage.

Take the ECX Speed 13L for instance, it has a stunning 1.58ms, mechanical time constant. Which means that this is the time taken for the rotor to accelerate from stand-still to 63% of the no-load speed of 66,200rpm. Next issue is how to control such speeds?

High controllability
maxon can control three main parameters; speed, current and position. We have 1-Q controllers know as DEC controllers, that allow you to set a speed and it will run at that set speed. However, there is no active braking, meaning there is no deceleration apart from the moment of inertia of the rotor and the load.

On the other hand, we do have 4-Q controllers which have active braking, so regardless of direction it can be decelerated at a controlled rate. These controller products are the maxon ESCON, EPOS2 and EPOS4. ESCON controls speed and current and the EPOS controls all three.

maxon would like to introduce the new EPOS4 EtherCAT cards with combination for EPOS4 encased and module controllers which give real time feedback. EtherCAT cards support CAN Application Layer over EtherCAT standard according to IEC-61800-7 profile type 1 (CiA 402) and fulfils the relevant conformance requirements. Particularly of interest for precise medical equipment, this EtherCAT feature can provide a response as quick  as 1 millisecond given the appropriate Process Data Object (PDO) mapping.

maxon medical based in Switzerland have been designing a new complete unit that has the motor, encoder and controller completely enclosed. This unit uses the new EC Flat Frameless and has been designed to be applicable for exoskeletons.

No need to worry and waste time thinking about how to enclose a unit or the best way to mount a complete system in to a limited space. We can work together to design and produce a simple plug & play unit.

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