Stories from over 90 years of SEW-EURODRIVE: Drive Technology

From geared motor to mechatronic drive system

Drive technology from SEW-EURODRIVE
, breaking new technical ground
Drive technology from SEW-EURODRIVE , breaking new technical ground

Drive technology was the force behind much of the industrialization that has happened in the 20th century. It is now one of the key pillars of automation as a whole. In decades of change, the modular system, the advance of electronics and new construction and production processes revolutionized the development, manufacture and performance of electrical drives.

As a pacesetter in the field of drive automation, SEW-EURODRIVE has always been in a position to play a significant role in shaping these developments.

At the start of the 20th century, industry was still dominated by transmission drives

One central motor drove several machines. Apart from the transmission losses and noise pollution involved, the high number of drive belts on the factory floor increased the risk of injury. Another disadvantage was the low energy efficiency, since the motor had to be switched on even when only one machine was in operation.

The next stage of development involved mounting an electric motor, gear unit and intermediate coupling on a base plate. While this enabled individual operation of machinery, it offered only little flexibility in terms of installation and also took up a lot of space in some cases.

The 1920s – technical advances thanks to the motor-gear unit combination

Designer Albert Obermoser, from Bruchsal in northern Baden, Germany, was one of the engineers who started looking for a space-saving solution. He registered his patent for a “geared motor” (pictured) on August 11, 1928. Obermoser coupled the electric motor directly with a low-speed drive component. The advantages of this invention were the smaller, more compact drive unit and its quieter, more precise operation. In terms of the history of technology, it can be seen as a precursor to the gearmotor, the key elements of which it already contained.

At the end of the 1920s, the geared motor represented a drive unit that could work with various gear units, depending on machine requirements, and – most importantly of all – enabled machinery to be operated individually.

The patent transcript describes the innovation thus:

“The invention relates to a motor-gear unit assembly with a motor unit flange-mounted to the gear unit housing. The motor shaft is mounted at one side instead of in an endshield in the wall of the gear unit housing and the countergear shaft in two walls of the same part of this housing.”

Motor manufacture in 1940
Motor manufacture in 1940
Motor manufacture in 1940

The 1930s – foundation of Süddeutsche Elektromotorenwerke

Once it got going, there was no stopping the advance of gearmotors, as we call them today. Founded in 1931, Süddeutsche Elektromotorenwerke – now known as SEW-EURODRIVE – was quick to recognize the outstanding potential of this drive technology, and continued to develop and optimize it. Under the leadership of company founder Christian Pähr, the Bruchsal-based company went on to make quite a name for itself in the mechanical engineering industry over the years that followed.

The second half of the 1940s was characterized by new beginnings and rebuilding after the Second World War. Shortly after the end of the Second World War, in 1945, Ernst Blickle, the son-in-law of Christian Pähr, took over as Managing Director. Despite the difficulties of the post-war period, he continued to expand operations. After the repair work was complete, the company was soon able to resume production of its gearmotors (pictured).

SEW-EURODRIVE drives were in great demand during the reconstruction period. Even before the currency reform of 1948, a slight boom was apparent in the market for gearmotors. The foundation stone was laid for the plant in Graben, near Bruchsal, in the spring of 1948. The first technical sales offices sprang up in western Germany, selling SEW-EURODRIVE products as independent agents. The German constitution came into effect in 1949, and progress can be seen in industry, too.

From 1950 to the present

The 1950s – gearmotors as drivers of innovation

At a time when the top priority was to rebuild an entire country and meet a huge demand for goods and production facilities destroyed by the war, SEW-EURODRIVE became an essential part of the German economic miracle.

Originally, the electric motor was combined with a helical gear unit. The gearmotor evolved through the invention and use of new kinds of gear units. The increasing diversity of these combinations enabled the universal use of gearmotors in all areas of the industrial process. In the early days of SEW-EURODRIVE, planing machines, grinding motors, bandsaws and other machinery were driven by electric motors.

By the mid-1950s, SEW-EURODRIVE had already taken innovation one step further by moving from helical gear units to helical-worm gear units. Mechanical infinitely-variable drives followed soon after. In the 1950s, gearmotor customers were primarily drawn from the construction industry, mining and other raw materials industries.

The 1960s – large-scale series production and the modular system

The 1960s saw pioneering breakthroughs in drive technology. Perhaps the most important came in the mid-1960s, when SEW-EURODRIVE succeeded in developing a modular system for manufacturing gearmotors. It still remains one of the key foundations of the company’s success (image). A manageable number of standard components and subassemblies formed the basis of this system. These components could now be used to create drive solutions quickly and cost-effectively. Furthermore, they were characterized by both their diversity and consistently high quality.

The combination of modular gear units and motors opened the doors to millions of variations to meet every customer requirement. The fast delivery of standardized parts and their rapid assembly helped give SEW-EURODRIVE a real competitive edge.

The system of combining centralized production in northern Baden and Alsace with decentralized, on-site assembly provided benefits in terms of time, range and cost, since large-scale series production brought down manufacturing costs. The structure of the modular system went hand-in-glove with an outstanding service organization. By the end of the decade, the company’s portfolio included a wide range of gear unit and motor constructions, the basic types being helical and helical-worm gear units, mechanical variable speed gear units and brake motors.

The 1970s – larger portfolio and new markets

The 70s were a time of incredible technical achievements – the new Elbtunnel in Hamburg, Concorde and the Apollo-Soyuz project, for example. A more down-to-earth invention, on the other hand, was the personal computer. This triggered perhaps the greatest ever technical revolution. There were also many ground-breaking developments in drive technology during this decade. Some of them were initiated and driven forward by SEW-EURODRIVE in Bruchsal. In 1970, the company was already looking back at a successful decade of international expansion. The workforce had grown to some 2000.

The merger with Obermoser in 1973 brought a number of new motor groups to SEW-EURODRIVE’s portfolio. These included DC motors, which at that time were still of major importance on the market. Obermoser’s practice of naming motors was also adopted. By now, SEW’s product range included helical and helical-worm gear units as well as motors, V-belt and friction wheel variable speed gearmotors, couplings, brake motors, DC motors, converters and electric accessories. The modular system designed for these components by that time enabled more than 13 million drive combinations.

SEW-EURODRIVE presented the real innovation of the decade at Hannover Messe in 1977 – bevel gear units (pictured) were a crucial advance in the field of drive engineering as they exhibited a high efficiency rating and were particularly cost-effective. They achieved greater power ratings with a reduced noise level. The new K gear unit series expanded the field of application for gearmotors significantly.

The 1980s – increasing industrial automation

As personal computers became more commonplace at the beginning of the 1980s, a number of computer manufacturers and operating systems appeared on the market. There was a real explosion in CAD, which had a lasting effect on construction in drive technology. Generally, the 1980s are also regarded as the decade in which electronics made its entry into industrial production.

For example, frequency inverters now drove the motors. Electronic control systems were also being used increasingly in process automation, and electronic components were combined to create complete systems. The priority was no longer the quality of individual components such as gearmotors, but their smooth interaction as part of an electronically-controlled system.

The 1990s – the future is decentralized

In the 1990s, the company once again proved its innovative credentials with new products and solutions. 1991 saw the launch of particularly low-backlash gear units and a new generation of inverters. Highly dynamic servomotors opened up a wider customer base. To appeal to customers in the paper and cellulose industry and mining, SEW-EURODRIVE added large gear units to its range.

Company owner Ernst Blickle launched a drive electronics group. A fundamental question had to be addressed – “Make or buy?” In 1991 came the decision to establish in-house electronics production in Bruchsal.

In the years that followed, SEW-EURODRIVE again developed an innovative overall concept that was to have a long-term effect on cutting-edge drive technology. The demand for greater reliability through electromagnetic compatibility led to decentralized drive systems, where the components – frequency inverter, motor switch and field distributor – were no longer to be found in centrally located control cabinets, but rather directly at the machine, at the conveyor belt or in the immediate vicinity. This boosted the performance of the production systems. Their configuration was more flexible, enabling them to fulfill more complex tasks.

At Hannover Messe in 1997, SEW-EURODRIVE presented the first gearmotor with integrated frequency inverter – MOVIMOT®. This was a decisive step into the mechatronic age. It reinforced the Bruchsal-based company’s place among the pioneers in the field of decentralized drive technology. Plant engineers soon recognized the potential of SEW-EURODRIVE’s decentralized drive concept, and it has long since become standard.

The 2000s – mechatronics break through

More changes have been evident in the market since the beginning of the 2000s. Increasingly, customers are looking to buy complete solutions rather than individual products.

At Hannover Messe in 2005, SEW-EURODRIVE presented MOVIGEAR® – the next developmental step. In this mechatronic drive unit, the motor, gear unit and inverter are combined in a single unit.

At the 2007 Hannover Messe, SEW-EURODRIVE presented an industrial gear unit series developed in-house that expanded the program upward. A new production plant was constructed in Bruchsal to manufacture these gear units.

A key area of focus for SEW-EURODRIVE at Hannover Messe 2009 was the expansion of its customer service and additional services. SEW-EURODRIVE’s heart beats not for our product but for our customers, and their needs and desires.

The 2010s – further increases in energy efficiency

Back in 2002, SEW-EURODRIVE began offering special energy-efficient motors with rotors made from cast copper. Now, the DR.. standard modular motor system from SEW-EURODRIVE enables millions of drive combinations around the world. At Hannover Messe 2011, this was expanded to include the DRU.. version, which also meets the requirements of the super premium efficiency class.

This line start permanent magnet motor unites the benefits of the robust asynchronous machine with those of the low-loss synchronous motor. It can run on a frequency inverter or direct from the grid. Whatever the energy efficiency class required, AC motors are available in all efficiency classes and with every motor option and configuration. This makes the Bruchsal-based drive specialist one of the few manufacturers able to offer this kind of comprehensive and complete product range worldwide.

The latest member of the SEW-EURODRIVE family of mechatronic drive systems is the DRC electronic motor, also introduced in 2011. This can be combined with gear units from the extensive SEW modular system, and thus has even more universal potential. Both drives meet the requirements of efficiency class IE4.

Customer requirements come first

It is impossible to overestimate the role the invention of the gearmotor has played in industrial manufacturing. Motor-gear units are now used in every production and logistics sector, and open up a huge range of potential applications. Thanks to the experience we have gained from millions of applications, SEW-EURODRIVE can offer its customers significant added value that goes far beyond the product itself. In all our market-leading innovations and outstanding products, SEW-EURODRIVE always puts its customers and their needs and desires center stage.

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