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-- Case Study --

Driving ground-breaking efficient electric motor concept forward

The Smart Actuator Company Ltd has been manufacturing and selling smart actuation solutions for customers in a range of sectors, from water treatment plants to food processing. They have been operating since 2011 from their site in Malvern, Worcestershire.

The Challenge

Managing Director of The Smart Actuator Company, James O’Donnell, and his team began to see a trend among their customers, towards using digital technology to link their factory processes. They wanted to develop an actuator solution that could be operated and maintained remotely via an app.

James said: “We wanted to stay ahead of the curve, but we also knew our customers wouldn’t necessarily pay more for the sort of smart solution we were looking at. I took on the challenge of reducing the manufacturing cost of the actuator product so we could keep our prices competitive.”

After some testing, James came up with a highly efficient electric motor concept that could deliver the same power at a fraction of the energy consumption. Not only that, but smaller motors and high performance, self-lubricating plastic materials in the gearing meant it was cheaper and lighter to manufacture than existing motor-driven designs.

James and Production Director Jerry Brown, scoured the internet and existing patents and discovered that, while there was academic research in this area, no one had ever been able to show this technology working in practice. It was this that prompted them to form a separate company, Rift Technology Ltd, to hold the patents and IP for the efficient motor technology, and also to look at potential wider applications for the motor.

James reflected: “We pitched the idea to some of the big car manufacturers, and they would say ‘it’s a great concept, but how are you going to get it to manufacturing readiness?’. So that’s why we came to WMG, and participated in Niche Vehicle Network and Advanced Propulsion Centre initiatives, to work to get the technology ready for that market”.

The Solution

James and the team approached our SME Group to help them develop a plastic casing for the motor on a prototype electric vehicle. Our materials experts quickly understood their needs, and used our 3D printing capabilities to design and produce the bespoke container to a short deadline.

Due to our extensive networks of academic experts, we were also able to put James and Jerry in touch with Professor Dave Greenwood, Professor of Advanced Propulsion Systems at WMG, who further considered the technology. Professor Greenwood recommended a UK manufacturing partner to help the company get their automotive motor production-ready.

Professor Greenwood said: “As adoption of electric vehicles increases, we’re going to see demand for this type of efficient electric motor technology really take off. WMG’s network means we’re in a great position to connect UK companies together to help them accelerate their product to the market. I’m pleased that WMG had the opportunity to support this emerging technology and help the company get closer to manufacturing readiness.”

James added: “We now have a manufacturing partner on the South Coast, they already make millions of electric motors, but none like this one! We’re starting with a small motor suitable for light utility vehicles such as autonomous pods, before we scale it up to passenger vehicles.”

The Impact

As a result of getting the prototype ready and securing the manufacturing partner, Rift Technologies were awarded a £221,000 grant from the Niche Vehicle Network to bring their first small traction motor to production readiness.

Working with us helped them move the system from a laboratory validated concept to a fully validated system. The Niche Vehicle Network project will support the company through the last stages of their R&D, making sure they have proof of concept on their prototype, and are ready to draw up the designs for manufacture.

The company are already taking pre-orders from vehicle manufacturers for the efficient motor technology. James said: “Global energy saving and cost cutting for manufacturers is a critical concern today. When you consider how much of the world’s electricity is used by electric motors, circa 50%, we have calculated that RIFT design motors could eventually save the world up to 40% of its’ total electricity use. Working with WMG has helped us bring this closer to reality, and we are really excited for what the future holds.”

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