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AC drives sales will fall by 10% in 2020 and rebound in 2021

18 August, 2020

The global market for low-voltage AC drives market will fall by more than 10% this year, according to a new report from Interact Analysis. It points out that the drop is not as severe as it was in 2009, adding that there is “light at the end of the tunnel” with strong prospects for a return to growth in 2021.

The report attributes the downturn to a combination of Covid-related factors – such as stay-at-home orders causing a reduction in manufacturing output and demand, as well as factories being closed and workers being furloughed.

Of the ten regions surveyed in the report, Interact predicts that the UK will be the worst affected, with drives sales unlikely to recover to 2019 levels before 2024.

Growth in the global LV drives market is running slightly above the output of the manufacturing industry as a whole. This is a long-term trend. Between 2007 and 2019, the underlying growth rate for LV drives revenues was 3.8%, Interact is predicting that the CAGR will rise to 5.3% in the period 2020-2024, and expects the market to recover in a similar way to 2010-2014.

There will be big regional differences in recovery rates. The earliest areas to recover to 2019 levels will be China, South Korea, and India – all of which will do so by 2021. In fact, Interact reports, China has already largely returned to normality.

But France, Germany, Italy and the UK will not recover until 2024. The problem for Germany is that it is crippled by its heavy reliance on exports, many of which go to countries that have been hit by the virus far worse than Germany itself.

In a blog about the report, Interact research analyst Blake Griffin highlights the trend towards low-cost, reduced-function drives. These tend to offer power ratings from 0.1–3.7kW, be cabinet-mounted, and protected to IP20 or lower. The most keenly priced products – generally those with ratings of around 0.4kW – sell for around $100 in Asia. The presence of more stringent regulations and, increasingly, tariffs, in the EMEA and the Americas is not holding back the growth of low-cost drives in these regions.

Achieving such low prices requires some advanced functions – such as encoder support – to be stripped out, although some of the drives still offer plug-in options such as digital communications.

ABB and Yaskawa have been selling low-cost AC drives since the mid-2000s, the report points out, but the trend is being “turbocharged” by the rapid emergence of Chinese drives suppliers such as INVT and Inovance onto the global stage. Many drives users – except, perhaps, high-end OEMs – like these products because they can be bought in bulk and stored easily to replace failing drives when needed, thus helping to minimise downtime.

The global market for low-voltage AC drives: after a 10% dip in 2020, it will start to bounce back in 2021
Source: Interact Analysis

Griffin suggests that observing the behaviour of established vendors indicates how marked the trend to low-cost drives will be. He regards the entry of leading suppliers such as Siemens (with its V20 range) or Yaskawa (with its GA500) is “instructive”.

Another trend that the report identifies is the displacement of LV drives in some areas by other technologies, such as ECMs (electronically commutated motors). ECMs are brushless DC permanent magnet motors, similar to stepper motors, with IP ratings of IP55 or higher. They are increasingly helping users to achieve energy efficiency targets in high energy usage applications that do not need the computational capabilities of AC drives. Some ECMs can now reach IE5 levels of efficiency, leading to dramatic cost savings. Griffin expects the uptake of ECMs to be highest in Europe where energy efficiency regulation is the most stringent.

Turning to predictive maintenance, he suggests that drive manufacturers should move away from seeing the technology as a means of extending the life of only the drive itself. A more important consideration is how the drive can be used as a sensor to harvest useful data on motor health, thus avoiding motor breakdowns on fast-moving production lines.

Griffin points out that drives can produce data on motor behaviour that is not available from most smart sensors. For example, they can produce profiles of the electrical behaviour of the motors they are controlling. If a motor is under undue stress, its electrical demands will increase. Using this data in conjunction with smart sensors, can generate an extra source of data for triangulation that can improve the accuracy of machine-learning algorithms.

Griffin argues that predictive maintenance is one of the most important trends in industry and that LV drives manufacturers should act now to capitalise on this.

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