Jacob Randall
Global Director of Strategic Markets
Cone Drive
View from the Top

Zero Backlash with Customized PV Tracker Drive Design

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 13:30

Q: Why should OEM companies use Cone Drive’s solutions in PV technology?

A: One of the many value propositions Cone Drive offers to the OEMs of tracker drives is a tenured market presence spanning 90 years manufacturing precision motion-control products, including 10 years of PV market experience. Cone Drive has sold over 18GW worth of tracker drives as a direct result of its manufacturing expansion into Asia, continuously refined manufacturing process, product development, testing capabilities, global engineering, service and sales support. These elements are all in pair with the quality levels and expectations of our customers. Every single tracker drive is customized for each one of our customers. Our engineering resources, proprietary worm-gear software and testing capabilities allow us to develop our clients’ further transmission-related, mission-critical specifications.
Q: What specific aspects of Mexico’s PV market attracted Cone Drive’s attention?

A: PV tracker OEMs see Mexico as a sizable growth market. Solar irradiation levels in the country, coupled with the amount of land available and the stable macroeconomic variables, turn Mexico into a prized location for this specific pool of companies. These factors become the perfect formula for PV tracker OEMs to grow over the next 10-20 years given this niche has barely been tapped in Mexico. The number of solar installations remain limited in comparison to other more mature markets, such as China, the US or Europe.
Q: What is your view of adapting robotics to the energy industry?

A: From a global standpoint, the robotics market is showing double-digit growth, especially in the area of collaborative robots (cobots). Many cobots are being used in manufacturing settings to optimize and increase efficiencies within the production process. This creates tremendous opportunities for PV drive manufacturers like Cone Drive in providing increasingly cost-effective solutions for our customers. It spans well beyond PV technology or power generation in general to encompass benefits across all markets. For Cone Drive specifically, as a precision motion-control solutions developer, robotics is a natural fit since we develop strain wave gearing solutions.

Q: How does Cone Drive achieve zero backlash in its customized solar product design?

A: Cone Drive is divided into two different solar segments: CSP and PV. On the CSP side, we work with Heliostat CSP OEMs, which reflect the light from several mirrors toward a single point at the top of a tower. It is mission-critical to attain precision levels to hit the tower and our CSP drive provides industry-leading torsional stiffness in the smallest available package to achieve the crucial level of accuracy required. Cone Drive uses an in-house, advanced software that drives the design and manufacturing process for our double enveloping worm technology to reduce motion loss between gears and worms and to prevent backlash. On the PV side, backlash is not as critical since the sunlight is not being directed toward a tower but rather trying to track the sun. We can hit virtually any backlash.
Q: What does Timken’s acquisition of Cone Drive mean for your renewable energy portfolio?

A: Timken is a large multinational that will close 2018 with nearly US$4 billion in revenue. Its extensive global footprint is an opportunity for Cone Drive to expand its product portfolio into other countries, including Mexico. Having Timken Mexico’s foothold unlocks an opportunity to leverage those resources and look at manufacturing and assembly possibilities in the country. With a consolidated local availability of resources, we could potentially see an in-country product supply offering for our customers. One of the reasons Timken went after this acquisition was to integrate a solar portfolio. It saw a significant added value in augmenting its core bearing business by branching out to solar, robotics and the food industry, all covered by Cone Drive.