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Inside Dyson's innovative approach to Engineering and automated manufacturing

One motor to rule them all. Take a look at how Dyson builds the motor that powers its intelligent vacuum cleaners.

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Highlights

  • Dyson's advanced manufacturing facility produces one motor every 2.6 seconds.

  • The new digital motor uses ceramic shaft and spins at 1,25,000 rpm.

  • Dyson is also working on an electric car that is expected to arrive in 2020.

“As engineers we have to see beyond existing technology and ‘is there a better way?’” That quote by James Dyson is the second thing you’ll see once your enter Dyson’s Technology Centre in Singapore. The first, is a dissected view of three key products: Dyson V10 vacuum cleaner, the Pure Cool Air Purifier and Supersonic Hair Dryer.

I had the opportunity to explore the advanced manufacturing facility and technology centre of the company in Singapore, a few weeks ago. And it was evident from the word go, that everyone at Dyson speaks one unified language – engineering.

It all starts with James Dyson

Components of a Dyson Digital Motor

Inside Dyson, James is nothing short of a demigod. I couldn’t stop myself but draw similarities to a number of other such great personalities who have contributed to the world of technology. He is widely known as the inventor of Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner. The story behind his invention goes something like this. Young Dyson was frustrated with the loss of suction power in his vacuum cleaner, once the dust bag was clogged. The engineer that he is, Dyson decided to fix it even before the original manufacturer intended to notice the fundamental flaw.

Instead of relying on conventional motor-based suction mechanism, Dyson built his idea of vacuum cleaner around cyclonic separation. The technology eliminates the need for a filter to remove particulate matter and instead relies on vortex separation. Cyclones, basically a cylinder-shaped structure, are used to establish a high speed rotating airflow that can exit the channel in a straight stream. The design allowed Dyson to get rid of the dust bag and use centrifugal force to separate dust from air.

Dyson created the first vacuum cleaner based on his patented technology but no distributor came forward to carry the product in the UK. After distributing his first vacuum cleaner in Japan, Dyson decided to start his own research center and factory in 1993.

Engineering a Dyson digital motor

Dyson engineer explains the working of new digital motor

It took Dyson five years to develop the motor that sits at the heart of the new Dyson Cyclone V10 Absolute Pro. The company says it began work on the new digital motor five years ahead of launching the Dyson V10 and the product idea came together in three years. This is in stark contrast to a traditional work approach where the product would have been contemplated by a set of designers, put together in the form of prototype models and then engineers set upon to build them. One of the engineer, who worked on the new Dyson digital motor, said the company would have abandoned Dyson V10 if it failed to make the motor in the first place.

Dyson refers to the motors used in its products as a digital motor. The company says it calls its motor as a digital device as opposed to an analog device because of chips that record constant data about the motor and ensures efficiency over a long period of time. The digital motor that powers the Dyson Cyclone V10 Absolute Pro spins at a jaw dropping 1,25,000 revolutions per minute.

In engineering terms, a motor can be broken down into components like a rotor, shaft and a lot of copper wires. One of the most important element with any motor is the frame of the assembled motor and winding. A little difference in tension of these copper wires can lead to significant attrition in the performance of the motor. In reduce to such errors, Dyson has built a state-of-the-art assembly unit in Singapore, where its digital motors are being built. The factory is completely automated and works with little help from human operators. The production floor comprises of four assembly lines which have more than 300 autonomous robots in operation. These automated lines are capable of producing a Dyson Digital Motor every 2.6 seconds.

The assembly process starts with the ceramic shaft, which is the newest component in the new motor and is responsible for the gain in peak performance. The shaft basically acts as the axis around which the rotor turns. Once the rotor and shaft are assembled, the part is sent to the rotor assembly section, where the rotor is tested for balance. The balance of the assembled rotor is tested against a standard plane by an autonomous robot that further eliminates discrepancy between shaft and rotor configuration.

The next process in the assembly is winding where a 0.63mm copper wire is wrapped around a stator under a specific tension. This is the trickiest part since a minor change in tension could snap the wire. The engineers at Dyson explain that whenever a wire snaps because of change in tension, they change the whole spool of wire to ensure that the entire batch is tested for irrationality. Once the wire is wound around a stator, the rotor assembly goes into the frame with the terminals and a glue is dispersed through a 1mm hole using automated machines. The next stage involves advanced 6-axis robot that puts stator into the frame. There are four different robots that can run continuously for up to four hours. Once the process is completed, each motor goes for an end of line testing where these motors are tested for air watts, power and speed.

The whole autonomous system runs on a cloud-based system that allows the global engineering and operations team to refer to same data and alerts engineers in case of an issue.

Defying Conventional Wisdom

Dyson Acoustics Lab

The success of James Dyson and his company can be attributed to simple phenomenon of defying conventional wisdom. While the industry had settled around the idea of vacuum cleaners with dust bags, Dyson came along and disrupted the industry with his cyclone separation model. The company has also defied from conventional wisdom by favoring bolder colors like yellow, pink and blue on its products while the industry continues to stick with grey color. It is also visible with other products like the supersonic hair dryer and air purifier.

One of the most striking experience for me during the two day visit to Dyson’s facilities in Singapore came at the acoustics lab. The Acoustics lab located at Dyson’s technology centre in Singapore, built with an investment of £10 million houses five engineers. The team works with the primary goal of making its key products quieter and pleasant to the ears. The acoustics chamber is a conventional room with acoustic shielding and wedge shaped elements capable of eliminating reflections down to 100Hz. These foam-based wedges are made of rockwool and are surrounded by tiny microphones to absorb any kind of sound. Since all of Dyson’s products have motors and other digital components, they emit sound, which might be unpleasant for some consumers. At the acoustics lab, Dyson tests its products for different sound frequencies and reduces the sound output to minimal levels.

During the development of new Pure Cool Link Air Purifier, the engineers observed a constant whirring noise from the machine. The engineers at the acoustics lab located it to a faulty resistor. Acoustics is an important aspect at companies like Microsoft, Intel, Apple among others, who build mass market products that can fail to get critical acclaim if it produces unpleasant sound or the fan whirs at high speed. In the case of Dyson, the machines are meant to produce noise but it is only up to the company whether it wants to curtail it and make pleasant for the user. Dominic Mason, Head of Category, Environmental Control says the ideal value would be zero and it strives to limit the sound output to lowest possible value.

“We are obsessed with sound quality. Identifying frequencies annoying to the human ear and eliminating unpleasant tones are important to us. 130 dB is the maximum volume we can measure in our semi-anechoic chamber. This is equivalent to the roar of a jet engine. A layer of acoustic felt around the Dyson digital motor V10 absorbs vibrations and reduces noise making the V10 quiet to use,” Nicklaus Yu, Senior Acoustics and Vibration Engineer explained during the demonstration of new products.

Kevin Grant, Head of Floorcare at Dyson, demonstrates new V10 vacuum cleaner

Dyson says the new Cyclone V10 Absolute uses a new digital motor but the design is reminiscent to its predecessor. The company has undertaken minor changes including vertical placement of bin, which is made from polycarbonate material. The Dyson V10 also lasts up to 20 minutes longer and takes only three and a half hours for full charge. In comparison, the Dyson V8 took five hours to charge and lasted only 40 minutes. James Dyson has already confirmed that his company will only make cordless vacuum cleaners going forward and the new V10 makes that decision sound right.

“A strong performing machine starts with an efficient motor. We have been developing motor technology for more than 20 years and have invested more than £350 million into it. The motor has enabled us to fundamentally rethink an everyday product such as the vacuum cleaner and enabled us to entirely revolutionize the way people clean their homes. With more than 15 million of the fastest electric motors made each year – none touched or interfered with by any human – we will continue to disrupt existing technology,” said Kevin Grant, Head of Floorcare at Dyson.

Preparing for the future

Depending on how you see, Dyson is either about its advanced vacuum cleaners or about motor, which is at the heart of its every product. With 7,500 patents worldwide, the company remains focused on combining hardware, software and algorithms to make machines which understand their environment and how to improve it.

But its future might lie in a different segment or industry altogether. In 2015, Dyson announced acquisition Sakti3, maker of solid-state batteries and decided to forego three major patents. “At Dyson, we are also realizing ambitious plans to develop new and existing technologies such as high speed electric digital motors, solid state battery cells, vision systems, machine learning, AI,” the company spokesperson said.

Apple and Google, both tried to build their own cars as they try to dominate the autonomous electric vehicles landscape. However, they have given up on building indigenous vehicles and have started retrofitting their tech to cars from other manufacturers like Chrysler, Lexus, Volvo, Jaguar and others. Dyson, on the other hand, has confirmed that it is working on its own electric car that could debut sometime in 2020. Dyson is bringing variety of its existing teams together, who have worked on its consumer products, to build the battery-powered electric car. The company plans to invest over $3 billion in this project and has top engineers working on battery components and electric motor. Dyson knows how to design and manufacture a motor and its best use case can be seen with the electric vehicles.

Dyson executives are staying tight-lipped on the work around development of the electric car, but the project is already reported to have over 400 employees. Some employees claim that it will be very Dyson-esque, meaning different from what one would expect from a traditional road car. For privately owned Dyson, venturing into electric automobiles is a gamble, but it might emerge as the silent winner, when the world ditches gasoline and embraces electric vehicles for all sorts of commute.

  • Published Date: July 25, 2018 1:38 PM IST