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`Disruptive` technology could spawn a new generation of electronic motors

16 May, 2008

A New Zealand manufacturer of electronically commutated motors, Wellington Drive Technologies, has received a $1.75m grant from the country’s government to apply a technology known as "advanced fabrication" to its products.

"Wellington plans to be the first company in the world to bring this revolutionary technology to the electric motor industry, leading to physically smaller, robust and highly efficient electronic motors which surpass anything currently available on the market," says Wellington’s chief executive, Dr Ross Green.

"We expect their availability over the next two to five years, enabling rapid acceleration of sales as ‘majority market’ customers replace their old motors across most or all of their product range, adopting the new and improved Wellington motors," Green adds.

To date, advanced fabrication – which Green describes as a "disruptive" technology – has been applied mainly to mass market products, such as mobile phones. It moves electronics from printed circuit boards to custom silicon devices which lead to smaller products, with savings in material and labour costs.

Wellington EC motors

Wellington claims that its existing motors (above) already consume up to 80% less energy than some rival machines. The motors, protected by various patents, make extensive use of polymers and ceramics and avoid the need for stamped laminations. They require about 30% less copper and 80% less steel than conventional designs. In the case of compressor motors for domestic refrigerators, for example, each motor needs 2–3kg less copper and steel than standard machines.

Refrigeration is one of Wellington’s main target markets, along with ventilation equipment and vending machines. It hopes that its planned developments will help it to dominate the $3bn market for refrigeration compressors. The company says it is already working with companies representing around 40% of the global market.

Last year, Wellington picked up an order for 400,000 motors from a major North American manufacturer of refrigerated vending equipment. This order, which has doubled Wellington’s output, will result in electricity savings worth an estimated US$40m a year. The customer expects its demand to exceed 400,000 a year as it starts to use Wellington’s motors in other product lines. A further 70,000 motors have been ordered by another US customer, Hill Phoenix.

By 2011, Wellington expects to be producing more than 15 million motors a year. Some will be manufactured at a plant in Singapore where the company is investing $4m. This site will have the capacity to produce up to five million motors a year. Some manufacturing is also being subcontracted to factories elsewhere in Asia.

Wellington, founded in 1986, employs 90 people in New Zealand, Singapore, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, the UK and the US.

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