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Production Expands to Meet Demand of Steer-By-Wire TFD Brakes

(10/12/2010)

LORD Corporation has expanded manufacturing of MR Steer-by-Wire (SBW) Tactile Feedback Devices® (TFD) brakes in two of our plants to meet production demand.

Although the technology was developed in Cary, N.C., TFD brakes are now produced in Cambridge Springs, Pa. as well as Monzambano (MN), Italy.

LORD MR technology is based on proprietary and patented material, damper, mount, brake and clutch designs and sophisticated computer control algorithms. When exposed to a magnetic field, MR materials change state nearly instantaneously and with complete reversibility. As a result, MR technology provides fast and infinitely variable control of energy dissipation for industrial and automotive brakes. The technology enables engineers to design a wide range of brakes and systems with great flexibility. The result is improved performance, reduced part count and complexity, smaller package size and less weight.

According to Mark Rose, Operations Director for the Cambridge Springs plant, LORD already had electromechanical production capabilities at their location, but this expands the portfolio and secures more activity for the facility.

"Although we only expect an initial addition of two people because of this production expansion, we have ample capacity to support this move and additional growth is anticipated," said Rose.

According to Phil Welsh, LORD Italia plant manager, a new flex cell has been built in LORD Italia with the capability to manufacture the entire range of SBW products currently sold to European customers.

"This will significantly benefit our customers on many levels including reduction in lead-times and consequently lower inventory levels, quicker response times and closer collaboration," said Welsh.

According to Jim Toscano, Market Manager, LORD Corporation, the applications for MR technology continue to expand. "Once a lab curiosity, more than one half million MR-enabled brakes are now in use," he said.

Eileen Suazo, Product Manager for MR Brakes & Fluid, LORD Corporation, agreed that demand continues to increase.

"Global demand of SBW is on the rise and coming closer to stronger economic times," said Suazo. "This is evidenced by a 19 percent increase in year-to-date volume over the same period last year. With an average of 85 percent of sales originating in Europe, we expect this strategic expansion to fortify our regional growth efforts."

Paolo Colletti, European Market Manager, LORD Corporation, stated that for several years, Europe has experienced a progressive and increasing move to steer-by-wire applications, replacing traditional hydraulic steering systems.

"The material handling industry is still leading the acceptance of SBW," said Colletti, "but an increasing number of manufacturers in the off-highway industry also are showing an interest in SBW. Current and potential European customers are enthusiastic about LORD Corporation's decision to localize manufacturing in Europe as a way to improve their supply chain and reduce lead time."

Case in point is the use of MR technology for TFD Brakes, which has established LORD as a leading supplier of components for industrial steer-by-wire (SBW) applications.

"As more industrial equipment manufacturers move to steer-by-wire, the benefits of our brakes - including smooth steering feel and responsiveness, easy programmability, modular design and compact packaging - are driving high interest and increased sales as operator safety and comfort is enhanced," said Toscano. "This expansion allows us to better respond to the increase in demand we are experiencing that spans global regions and industries."

Current LORD steer-by-wire applications include industrial fork lifts, earth moving machines, and high performance watercraft. LORD TFDTM brakes will additionally be deployed on greens mowers and agricultural vehicles in the near future. LORD also offers non-contact magnetic sensors for SBW applications. Introduced in 2000, LORD TFD® Steer-By-Wire Brakes are a proven solution for improving by-wire control and safety. The TFD device, available in 5 Nm and 12 Nm torque configurations, produces a continuously variable resistive steering torque, delivering high-fidelity tactile feedback and maximum control to the operator.

Integrated into the TFD device are the multiple rotational sensors required to translate operator movement of the steering wheel into the electrical signals for controlling vehicle direction. According to Bob Marjoram, LORD Senior Staff Engineer, LORD recognized the need for an improved sensing solution because of the high degree of reliability needed for such sensors, as well as the need to interface with a variety of different steering controllers.

The integration of such sensing technology into the LORD TFD Brakes has proven to be a major step forward in performance and design flexibility. Packaging is mechanically straightforward as the sensor and magnet are not as sensitive to alignment issues as other technologies (such as potentiometers or optical encoders). Further, the sensing function can now be integrated into a single printed circuit board with the other electronics required in the TFD Device. Previously, the sensor and controls were separate components, but now up to four sensor outputs can be on the same circuit board as the control and communications (CANbus) electronics. According to Marjoram, this redundancy and diagnostics offers a major safety advantage as compared to other systems.

"The LORD system offers an appropriate degree of redundancy customized to the vehicle type or use," he said. "A minimum of two sensors are typically used for industrial trucks, and up to three or four for higher-speed vehicles that are used in public areas such as agricultural tractors and marine vehicles."

A typical LORD TFD Device is compromised of an input shaft to which the steering wheel is attached, a housing in which two bearings locate and support the shaft, a first sealed chamber containing an MR rotary brake and a second chamber containing the sensor and other electronics, as needed. The shaft ends inside the second chamber with a magnet attached to it. The sensor circuit board is attached to the housing and located directly above the magnet. When the steering wheel is rotated by the operator, the magnet also rotates and the moving magnetic field generates signals inside the sensor chip which are then processed for communication to the rest of the steering system.


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