Skip to content
July 24, 20234 min read

Electrifying Linear Motion

This is a summary from the presentation by the same title by Robert Grann, Systems Manager, and Alexander Stening, Senior Electrical Engineer at Cascade Drives, at the Future of Electrification 2023 conference. Watch the full session here:

At the Future of Electrification 2023 conference, Robert Grann and Alexander Stening from Cascade Drives delivered a presentation discussing the potential for electromechanical solutions in various industries. The presentation highlighted the benefits of replacing hydraulic systems with electromechanical systems, including increased efficiency and improved safety.

Cascade Drives specializes in supplying electromechanical technologies and subsystems for a wide range of applications, such as power steering, lifting, tilting, tipping, pumping, and crushing. “We take the next step in electrifying the future,” Grann explained during his presentation. He added that there is increasing demand for sustainable solutions in stationary equipment, which has traditionally relied on hydraulic systems. However, transitioning away from hydraulics poses challenges such as load and speed limitations. Despite these challenges, Grann emphasized that electromechanical solutions offer significant benefits such as increased efficiency, improved precision, reduced operational expenses, and decreased maintenance requirements. This makes them a viable and promising alternative to hydraulic systems.

Stening provided further insights into Cascade Drives' technology, focusing on their Cascade Drives (CD) gear system. Unlike traditional rack and pinion systems, the CD gear system utilizes multiple pinions connected to a double-sided rack. It outperforms traditional rack and pinion systems as its unique torsion and flexing properties ensure the distribution of loads, resistance to shocks, reduced backlash, and extended gear life. This design enables efficient force transmission despite its compact size and low inertia. Cascade Drives continuously refines its CD gear technology through fatigue testing and taking into account factors such as temperature and the effects of oil.

During the presentation, Grann showcased Cascade Drives’ electromechanical power steering system. It offers higher precision and improved steering speeds in comparison to hydraulic systems and can be utilized in a variety of applications. One example Grann gave was the use of Cascade Drives’ electromechanical steering assist as a drop-in solution in buses and other heavy vehicles. The system ensures precise steering control and allows for high-speed maneuverability. It works by multiplying the driver's torque based on the vehicle's speed to provide the desired steering behavior.

Another option is a center-mounted setup, which according to Grann, is becoming popular despite the challenges of transitioning from traditional hydraulics. This setup offers advantages beyond being an assist system and can be easily adapted to a steer-by-wire product with dual motors and controllers for redundancy. Additionally, Grann noted that the system’s precise control over vehicle motion makes it ideal for automation applications in the material handling industry. Cascade Drives has successfully implemented this solution in material handling applications, such as forklifts and empty container handlers, resulting in energy savings, improved lifting speeds, and reduced overall energy consumption. By replacing hydraulic systems with electromechanical systems, significant energy savings can be achieved, leading to a reduction in total vehicle energy consumption of up to 20%. Cascade Drives’ electromechanical steering systems can be used for speed or linear position control, and tailored to each customer's specific needs.

Grann highlighted functional safety requirements as a critical consideration when making the change to electromechanical systems, particularly in the material handling industry. By incorporating functional safety measures, Cascade Drives aims to provide reliable and fail-safe designs that meet industry regulations and ensure the safe operation of its products in various applications. 

Another key application discussed by Stenn during the presentation is the use of linear actuators in water jet intensifiers. This is particularly valuable for applications such as hot pressing, water jet cutting, and food processing. Linear actuators can work quickly even under high loads and operate almost continuously, resulting in energy savings of up to 40%. The ability to quickly generate high forces, even under heavy loads, enables efficient operation and optimal performance. There is also a growing interest in this application for manufacturing solid-state batteries.

During the presentation, Grann acknowledged that most current applications are drop-in replacements that do not optimize the geometries or designs. However, he believes there is the potential for further development and customization. For example, increasing stroke lengths in pumps or modifying geometries for heavy machinery like excavators and wheel loaders could lead to more efficient operation. He adds that Cascade Drives has identified several market gaps in the field of electromechanical solutions. One such gap is the need for high-voltage, low-power auxiliary drives, and 48-volt control systems. These systems can offer efficient and integrated control solutions for various applications. Additionally, there is an increasing demand for off-grid solutions utilizing battery and solar power in fixed equipment like cranes, providing flexibility and sustainability. Cascade Drives also sees a growing need for portable high-pressure pumps with low maintenance requirements.

Grann highlighted the importance of total cost of ownership calculations when considering electromechanical solutions. Although initial costs may be higher than traditional hydraulic systems, the total cost of ownership, including energy savings and reduced maintenance costs, can make electromechanical solutions a more cost-effective option in the long run.

The presentation by Robert Grann and Alexander Stening highlighted the potential for electromechanical solutions in various industries, such as water jet intensifiers and material handling equipment. By replacing traditional hydraulic systems with electromechanical systems, significant energy savings can be achieved, leading to lower energy consumption and reduced maintenance costs. While there are still challenges to be overcome, such as functional safety requirements and the need to optimize designs, Grann and Stenning believe that electromechanical solutions are the future of many industries.