Planar Motor Incorporated (PMI) has established itself as a global leader in producing magnetically levitated planar motors after less than a decade in business. Founded in 2016 in Richmond, British Columbia, the company now serves an international clientele with a presence in North America, Europe, and Asia. OEM Magazine sat down with Kevin Xiao, Vice President, to introduce one of PMMI’s newest members.
Can you provide a brief history of PMI?
Founded in 2016 by experts in factory automation with a deep understanding of linear independent cart technology (e.g., ATS SuperTrak), Planar Motor Incorporated (PMI) company’s origins stem from a simple question, “What if we could move in two dimensions and add buffers and diverters with a few lines of code?” This initial concept sparked a multidecade development journey, ultimately resulting in the commercial release of Planar Motor Inc.’s first product in 2017. The product is a system with any number of magnetically levitated movers, each with six degrees of freedom, but primarily in the XY plane, hence the name “Planar Motor.” Since its introduction, the company has been dedicated to increasing market awareness and collaborating closely with customers to integrate this product into packaging machines. Planar Motor products are ideal for applications requiring high cleanliness, such as food, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical manufacturing, as well as industries with harsh environments, such as those that require water and dustproofing.
What sets your company apart in the industry?
One key factor that sets Planar Motors apart in the industry is its products: A Planar Motor System comprises one or more XBots (movers) and a stationary surface made up of modular Flyways (stators). Each XBot is independently controlled and suspended with the ability to operate 6 degrees-of-freedom. Planar Motors offers unique advantages in various applications as they provide precise, maintenance-free, intelligent, and efficient motion control solutions that enhance the performance of our customers' processes. Our customers' machines showcase the system’s flexibility by enabling input and output configurations through parameter adjustments. Planar Motors are also fully reconfigurable and occupy only a fraction of the space required by traditional machines, optimizing workspace efficiency. As a relatively new product type, close collaboration with customers is essential to us. Customer suggestions are valued, and new features are continually incorporated with free support provided. Ultimately, the customer's success is intrinsically linked with Planar Motor Inc., forging a mutually beneficial partnership.
What went into the decision to join PMMI?
We recognized that PACK EXPO is North America's most comprehensive packaging and processing show. Planar Motor technology’s main application is in the assembly and packaging machine industry. Since 2018, we have been exhibiting at PACK EXPO, and each show has been very fruitful. We realized we could use PMMI’s many offerings to enhance our presence in trade shows and across the manufacturing supply chain.
What’s your approach to new product development? How do you come up with ideas for new machines and market-test them?
Our team of engineers and designers is encouraged to innovate, which lets product development naturally grow out of our current needs and challenges. Customers always want to experiment, which allows the whole product development process to happen organically. Customers provide valuable feedback during their machine development process, which we incorporate into the next design, so it is continuously improving.
How has your product line broadened over the years?
We have expanded into hygienic versions of our products and are planning some inspiring new products we aren’t prepared to disclose yet but will in the near future.
Where do you find most of your employees? What sort of background or specific talents/skills do you look for?
We recruit both new graduates and experienced talents from the job market. We look for motivated self-starters who are not necessarily the most experienced but are willing to do the work to help solve any challenges.
Why do employees love working for your company?
Our employees enjoy working and growing at a fast-expanding, innovative company. They appreciate exploiting their unique skill sets and utilizing co-workers’ unique skills to overcome any challenges they may face.
How do you balance standardized machine configurations with those requiring customization?
Our systems are made of identical modular Flyways (stators), and we have a variety of standard mover sizes available. The only customization required is the mounting plate (done by our customers) and the programming.
Are you incorporating lean manufacturing? If so, please give some examples.
We use Kanban systems, and all our employees are familiar with most processes, giving them meaningful input for improvements. We also pull from our customers’ needs to provide the best products.
Once a customer issues a P.O., what happens next? What can they expect?
In a formal P.O., the customer provides a reference to the relevant quotation. We will issue a sales confirmation based on the P.O. and our previous quotation. Production and shipping will be arranged accordingly. Once the product arrives, we work with our customers to develop their machine concept together. We can help as much or as little as the customer prefers.
What’s the process for Factory Acceptance Tests?
We are flexible in offering virtual and onsite inspections to our customers. Our systems seamlessly go from a simulation to reality, which, coupled with our strict QC/QA procedures, ensures that our customers receive problem-free, easily installed products.
How do you handle field service and training? Do you have dedicated training personnel, or do Service Technicians typically conduct training?
We don’t treat our product like a commodity; every customer is like a partner. Before our solution is provided to a customer, our experienced engineers provide any needed training. Our system is relatively straightforward and can be done in less than a day. We understand machine building is a long process, and we are ready to support customers throughout the process. The process does not end at product delivery. That’s just the beginning as we work together to develop a machine.
Are members of your field service/training personnel multilingual?
Yes. We have personnel fluent in many languages including Chinese, Korean, German, Japanese, French, and Farsi.
Do you have any plans for facility expansion or new operations?
Our facility will be expanded to 24,000 ft2 next year, growing by over 40 percent.