The trend for miniaturisation continues to be relevant as many industries are driven to reducing weights and footprints to save space and improve user experience. Modern surgical tools, for example, are being made smaller and lighter to improve precision while enhancing user comfort and safety.

Here, William Mason, managing director of motor and drive specialist maxon UK and Ireland, discuss how small motors are driving innovation across maxon’s fastest growing sectors: medical, intralogistics and aviation.

William Mason


Medical devices vary greatly in size and weight, from active implants, weighing between 20 and 50 grams, to larger, heavier surgical tools. Because of this, each device will have its own motor requirements.

For example, active implants must withstand the high salt concentrations inside the human body. Meanwhile, surgical tools need motors with high-power densities and without gears, to limit vibration and noise.

Despite these differences, one thing remains the same: the need for small motors. In fact, it is now possible to manufacture motor controllers smaller than a postage stamp, adding extra control modules where necessary to enhance the capabilities and precision.

In something as small as an active implant, reducing weight seems obvious because the device is embedded somewhere in the body. But, for something bigger like a surgical drill, miniaturisation is just as important.

This was apparent when maxon supplied a configurable DCX direct drive to a Dublin-based hair replacement clinic who wanted to create a hair follicle extractor drill to replace its existing bulky and cumbersome device.

Because hair replacement procedures can take between three and four hours, depending on how many hairs are grafted, a lightweight device was needed to reduce user fatigue and optimise precision. The resulting drill offered high power density and torque in a compact footprint, the nose measuring just 0.8 millimetres in width.

This is just one example of miniature motors making room for smaller devices. The same applies to intralogistics.

Intralogistics and automated warehousing

In 2018, British online-supermarket Ocado became fully automated, processing more than 3.5 million items every week. To make space for more inventory, companies like Ocado are adopting compact technologies like autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).

These vehicles must be ergonomically designed to fit through tight spaces, as well as being able to move vertically to reach high-storage racks. However, it is difficult to have a compact AGV if the motor is bulky, therefore it is essential to choose miniature motorisation.

A solution for AGVs is the IDX range of compact and modular motors. The IDX drive is highly dynamic, housed in IP-65-protected casing and has a reduced footprint of between 53 and 77 millimetres. What’s more, these motors can communicate simultaneously on Internet of Things (IoT) networks, so that control over a whole fleet of AGVs and AMRs can be programmed remotely.


Finally, aviation miniaturisation is less about saving space, and more about reducing weight.

It’s estimated that fuel demands from aviation could increase by between 1.9 and 2.6 per cent every year until 2025. However, because it’s a highly regulated industry, aircraft manufacturers are slow to adopt new technologies due to the stringent safety requirements that must be met.

To reduce fuel consumption, in the coming years we can expect to see more hydraulic systems, which are currently most used for flight control, being switched to electromechanical (EMA) actuation.

A report by Fortune Business Insights reinforces this, suggesting that the EMA segment is expected to be the fastest growing segment for actuators due to an increase in more electric aircrafts and to reduce fuel consumption. Inside the cabin, similar changes could also be made, with seat actuators being swapped for smaller motors to further reduce mass.

It’s safe to say that the need for smaller motors will increase substantially as companies across medical, intralogistics and aviation continue miniaturise their designs. With 60-years’ experience and global R+D capacity, maxon is well positioned to provide specialist, lightweight motors to be integrated into small devices.

Find out more about maxon’s products for medical technology on our website or read about how maxon motors were recently used in a surgical tool to harvest hair follicles for transplanting.