Aerospace, Military & Defence

Precision micromotors in defence electronics

In medieval times, castles were built with a number of defence systems to protect inhabitants, such as moats, draw bridges and tower lookout points. Security measures have since progressed, and advancements in technology have allowed the development of electronic defence and intelligence systems. Here, Stewart Goulding, managing director at precision drive system supplier, Electro Mechanical Systems Ltd, explains how precision micromotors are aiding the advancement of defence electronics


he defence sector is a valuable contributor to the UK economy, providing a large number of jobs and investing in a number of UK industries. However the relationship is mutualistic, with advancements in industry benefitting the defence sector. In particular, powering electronic defence equipment, such as breathing apparatus and remotely operated vehicles, with high precision motors aids the sector’s success.

Remotely operated vehicles Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are used to carry out dangerous tasks or activities in hazardous environments. On land, ROVs may carry out missions such as exploration, mine reconnaissance or even explosive ordnance disposal (EOD).

ROVs can also be used in underwater environments to eliminate the need to endanger a diver or to reach areas that are difficult to access. Underwater, ROVs may carry out additional tasks, such as hull inspections and retrieval of lost equipment. ROVs feature robotic arms to hold equipment and handle explosives, and possess a rotating camera for the operator to see the surrounding environment and the task being performed. Using a compact, highly efficient yet powerful ironless rotor motor allows precise and agile movements of the arms and camera, while adding minimal weight to the vehicle.

A lower weight allows the vehicle to move through water or across rough terrain with ease and in combination with the high efficiency reduces load on the onboard battery, which in turn increases the usable operating time of the vehicle.

Detection systems

Optical imaging systems are used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) applications. The high-resolution images and videos, along with spectral data, can be used to detect targets and threats. The optical imaging systems require motors for zoom, focus, pan and tilt functions.

Equipment that uses powerful, precise and compact motors will be able to perform quick and accurate camera movements, ensuring an image or video of a fast moving subject such as an aircraft or ground vehicle can be captured without adding significant bulk or mass to the camera system.

Radar systems are also used to monitor the surrounding environment, using radio waves to determine the range, angle and velocity of moving objects or learn about the surrounding terrain. They can be used to detect aircraft, motor vehicles, ships, guided missiles and weather formations. Early detection provides time for preparation, whether that’s sheltering from a storm or using a smart sensor to redirect an oncoming missile.

Radars consist of many rotating components and a moveable dish to detect signals from all angles. They therefore require high torque motors to power fast and responsive movements. The motors must also be durable to ensure they can withstand being exposed to extreme outdoor conditions. A motor fault or failure could result in missed signals, which may have fatal consequences.

Wearable equipment

Defence personnel who are working in the field may encounter environments with air that has been contaminated with dangerous gases or biological toxins. A powered air- purifying respirator (PAPR) filters a portion of the surrounding air to remove hazards and then delivers the clean air to the user. It’s important that the motors used to power the filtering process are reliable, as a fault or failure could be life threatening. Engineers designing a PAPR should choose motors that are trustworthy and efficient to ensure high performance filtering when equipment is worn for a long period of time. As the sole UK supplier of FAULHABER motors, EMS Ltd already supplies ironless rotor motors extensively into this field. The new FAULHABER flat BLDC BXT series with innovative winding technology, very high torque and compact design, makes this series an ideal candidate for PAPRs.

Another potential example of wearable electronic defence equipment is powered exoskeletons. Exoskeletons are wearable suits powered by a combination of electric motors, levers, hydraulics and pneumatics, which assist limb movement. Sensors are installed into the suit to record the movements of the user, with the information collected being fed to the electric motors that power the movements. Applications of exoskeletons in the defence sector are still in the development stage but are being trailed out in a number of nations. Defence exoskeleton prototypes are showing the potential to allow users to go beyond their physical capability, performing with higher strength and endurance.

Exoskeletons may also protect the wearer from physical strain, which is a common problem in the defence sector. These qualities may help with tasks in the defence sector such as long-distance trekking, but the full potential of using these exoskeletons in a combat sense is not yet certain.

The motors in these suits used must be lightweight to allow quick and agile movements, and powerful to propel limps forward. The motors must also have high precision to work to together to create synchronised movements.

Moats and walls may have protected populations in medieval times, but the increasing complexity of global safety threats calls for more sophisticated defence technology. Electronic defence equipment designed with durable, precision motors perform with accuracy and reliability, helping to keep defence personnel and public citizens safe.

Components in Electronics July/August 2020 17

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