Motor Design Ltd is proud to celebrate twenty years of developing Motor-CAD software and supporting design engineers worldwide to push the boundaries of electric motor design.
Dr David Staton founded MDL in 1999 with an ambition to develop a design tool that would enable engineers to meet growing demand for high power density electric machines which operate close to the physical limits. Twenty years later and MDL’s software, Motor-CAD, has become the market-leading dedicated electric motor design tool and is used by design engineers in nearly 500 organisations worldwide.
As part of our 20th Anniversary celebrations, we interviewed MDL founder Dr David Staton to find out what inspired him to develop Motor-CAD software and how the software has changed over the past two decades:
What inspired you to set up Motor Design Ltd?
DS: I had always been interested in setting up a company. Having worked at SPEED Laboratory, where we developed software to make it easy for people to do electromagnetics, I could see there was an opportunity to develop software to make the thermal analysis of electrical machines easier. So, I set up Motor Design Ltd and began to develop Motor-CAD software.
How has Motor-CAD evolved over the past twenty years?
DS: At first Motor-CAD was just thermal (Therm), then we started to develop the Lab and EMag modules in parallel. We released the new mechanical (Mech) module this year, as part of Motor-CAD version 12.
The multi-physics aspect of the software is important because the thermal depends on the electromagnetics and the electromagnetics depends on the thermal, so you need the ability to do both at the same time ideally. Now with the complex structures that people are using, especially the rotor, the electromagnetics also depends on the mechanical. Then the Lab module comes in because you are not wanting to operate at one particular point, you have lots of torques and speeds you are wanting to work at. So everything depends on everything else in some respects, because when you are doing fast initial sizing and quick design, you can’t just ignore something and hope it is going to be all right later — your design might be completely wrong and then you have to redo it. You might as well do as much as you can, all at the same time.
The problem becomes that people usually only have expertise in one of those aspects, so you need to make the software intuitive enough that they can go into a physics that they haven’t studied in the past. The physics can be difficult to understand in the terminology of the expert, but can usually be simplified down. For example, in electromagnetics there are Maxwell’s equations which you can simplify to much more understandable notation, but in thermal you have got Navier-Stokes equations and you have got correlations based on dimensionless numbers and interface gaps based upon some expert numbers, which are in units that are very difficult to visualise. All these different physics can be simplified down into something more understandable. Even though Motor-CAD uses the complicated physics and equations in the background a typical user is not required to have a deep understanding of these. The software enables them to work at a higher level and they can use it to make good decisions.
What changes have you seen in the motor design industry over the last two decades?
DS: With electrification we have a vast number of customers in the automotive industry and we are starting to see a lot of new users in aerospace too. A lot of aerospace companies already use Motor-CAD because there have always been electric motors on planes that needed to be modelled thermally, but now they are going into electrification of aircraft, which is exciting to see. In aerospace especially there is a requirement for a very efficient motor with high torque or power density. Development cycles are also reducing and you need to be able to do designs quickly and with certainty that you are not going to have a problem further down the line. So simulation and design is even more important than it was in the past.
What’s next for Motor-CAD?
DS: We are working on E-Mobility in a big way and developing more integration of the different physics as they become more important for motors. We will continue to work with customers to put in features that they require and improve our links to other software, like our links to ANSYS tools. We are always talking to our customers, doing training with customers and working on designs for customers. That really pushes the software forwards and if we can help users do anything more efficiently by putting new features in Motor-CAD then that is what we are interested in doing.
Dr. David Staton received his PhD in the development of computer aided design tools for electric machines from the University of Sheffield in 1988. Between 1988-1998, Dave continued his work in CAD tools for electric machine design with Thorn EMI, the SPEED laboratory at Glasgow University and Control Techniques. In 1999, Dave founded Motor Design Ltd (MDL) with an ambition to develop Motor-CAD, an advanced design tool for the thermal analysis of electric machines. Since then Motor-CAD has been expanded to include electromagnetic and mechanical analysis and it has become the market-leading dedicated electric motor design tool.
Motor Design Ltd has grown into a successful company with over 30 employees which works at the cutting edge of research into the design, analysis and optimisation of electric machines. MDL’s software, Motor-CAD, is used worldwide in a wide range of sectors including automotive, aerospace, rail, renewables and industrial. A significant proportion of the electric machines used worldwide have been developed using Motor-CAD. Dave has continued to support research throughout his career and has published over 100 academic papers.