Precision Gearboxes Grind Forward with Mid-Range Backlash

Oct. 20, 2014
In both industrial and precision markets, 5-20 arc-min backlash-rated precision gearboxes are seeing the highest growth, offering a midpoint between high precision and industrial geared motors.

Despite significant differences in applications between the industrial and precision gearbox markets, both are seeing an ongoing trend toward the adoption of mid-range, 5-20 arc-min backlash-rated precision products.

Historically, there were primarily two options for gearboxes in terms of backlash rating: non-precision (>20 arc-min) and high precision (<5 arc-min). However, in recent years, precision geared product lines have expanded, primarily in the 5-20 arc-min backlash range, generating increased demand for precision products. These new and improved products offer a midpoint between high precision and industrial geared motors.

An example of such a product is an AC servomotor mounted with a precision bevel or worm gear. Servomotors are increasingly being used in systems that were until relatively recently dominated by AC induction motors. This is because of the lower cost of the worm gear solution compared with a servomotor combined with a planetary gearhead rated for <5 arc-min.

The difference between the industrial gearbox market and the precision gearbox market is generally one of applications. Industrial gearboxes and geared motors are more often used in applications for transferring power with higher torque requirements, where high levels of precision may not be required, such as in the material handling, cement and aggregates, and mining industries. Combined, these markets accounted for 77 percent of the revenues for industrial gearboxes and geared motors in 2013.

In contrast, precision geared products are primarily used in industrial applications for robotics, machine tools, and food and beverage, for example. These markets accounted for 57 percent of the revenues for precision geared products in 2013.

The shift to 5-20 arc-min products is expected to be specific to applications that do not require a backlash rating of ≤5 arc-min but still require an increased level of speed control and precision, such as within the food and beverage and material handling industries, packaging, and some process industries requiring valve control such as oil and gas.

IHS has forecast that the backlash range of 5-20 arc-min for precision geared products will grow the fastest of all the ranges at a 10.3 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in terms of revenues from 2013 to 2018.

Sectors with traditionally strong ties to consumers—particularly the food, beverage and tobacco, and packaging and labeling machinery sectors—continue to drive growth in the precision gearbox and geared motors market, as their products continue to experience stable or increasing demand from the general population. In addition, growth of precision gears in the food, beverage and tobacco market is tied to the performance of the packaging and labeling industry.

Population growth and increased consumer spending resulting from higher average incomes will help drive demand for products that need to be packaged. Despite a push for healthy and low-calorie food options in the U.S., the same amount of food is expected to be consumed, but rather in more numerous, smaller packages that will require new production machinery. The growth of the packaging and food, beverage and tobacco industries will positively impact the sales of the 5-20 arc-min precision geared products as more end users and machine builders continue to incorporate these mid-range backlash products into their systems.

This trend toward the mid-range backlash precision geared products is most prevalent in Asia-Pacific, where growth is expected to be the highest of all regions globally for the precision market in terms of unit shipments at a projected 14.2 percent CAGR from 2013 to 2018. Additionally, new Asian players are expected to enter the precision gearbox market over the next five years.

Markets in countries that were previously using primarily higher-backlash, lower-precision products, such as India and China, are now investing more into precision machinery, allowing them to compete internationally.

>>Jared Kearby is a senior analyst for IHS (