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Schaeffler buys gear-maker Melior to boost its robots business

25 January, 2022

Schaeffler is buying the German precision gearbox manufacturer Melior Motion, which specialises in planetary gearboxes for robots and other automation applications. The parties have agreed not to disclose the financial details of the transaction, which is due to close by the end of January 2022.

The acquisition will expand the robotics portfolio of Schaeffler’s Industrial division.

Melior, founded in 2017, can trace its origins back to Stephan-Werke, founded in 1908, which was acquired by Premium in 2011. The company, which generated revenues of around €23m in 2021, has more than 100 employees and is located in Hamelin, Germany. It is planning another production site in China and intends to expand its production capacity "significantly" during 2022. The company’s main markets are in Europe and China.

Melior Motion has developed a precision planetary gearbox that is said to deliver good repeat accuracy and low noise levels, as well as being robust and offering long service lives. The gearboxes are claimed to offer key advantages over the cycloidal boxes, including higher torque densities for faster movements, smaller design envelopes and higher payload capacities.

Melior has developed a modular platform concept based on its technology. The first gearboxes of this design went on sale in 2017.

Melior Motion and its predecessors have been developing precision gears for more than 30 years. After many years of collaborating with the robot-maker Kuka, the new gearboxes are being used in two axes of Kuka’s KR Cybertech robots and six axes of its KR Iontec machines.

The gearboxes are aimed precision industrial robots with medium-to-high payload capacities for applications such as welding, mounting, and applying adhesives and paints. Other potential uses include machine tools, medical technology, logistics, and packaging machines.

“In Melior Motion GmbH, we are acquiring a highly innovative company in the robotics field that is on a strong growth course,” says Dr Stefan Spindler, CEO of Schaeffler’s industrial business. “This acquisition adds to our still-young portfolio of robot actuators and considerably expands our position as an innovative supplier in this important business area. As a user of robots ourselves, we will also utilize the special characteristics of this portfolio to increase efficiency at our 75 Schaeffler production sites.”

Melior Motion claims that its planetary gearboxes offer advantages over cycloidal designs

Ralf Moseberg, Schaeffler Industrial’s senior vice-president for industrial automation, describes Melior as “an ideal addition to the Schaeffler Group’s product portfolio. The much lower backlash, compared to competitors’ products, is derived from an ultra-precise planetary gearbox concept with special characteristics. The high torque density, long service life, and outstanding energy efficiency are of exceeding interest to our large customer base in the field of robotics. The two companies’ products are complementary and share the same group of customers. We also expect the similarity of our manufacturing technologies to enable us to realize synergies in purchasing and production.”

Melior Motion’s managing director, Chris Morrell, says he is “delighted to gain a new owner and strategic partner for the future in the Schaeffler Group. Its global footprint, manufacturing expertise, and especially its ability to scale up the business will enable us to launch another phase of accelerated growth with respect to industrial robots and the machine tool market. Along with Germany, we especially plan to considerably increase local production capacity in China. This can now be done much more rapidly within Schaeffler’s existing infrastructure.”

Schaeffler has been expanding its presence in the robotic components market. As a first step, it started to produce a strain-wave gearbox equipped with an electric motor and sensors for use in collaborative robots (cobots). It is now adding more powerful gearboxes for higher payload capacities in industrial applications.

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