How Brushless DC Motor Technology Is Bound To Entirely Disrupt the Standing Desk Industry
This reviews site has been around for about as long as standing desks have been available to the online consumer. Over that course of time, we’ve seen a lot of new technologies trickle down from the high-end “commercial contract” furniture business—which caters exclusively to large corporate buyers—to products that the average consumer can buy. And often dropping dramatically in price as they do so. Features like dual synchronized motors, collision and tilt detection, and more recently, Bluetooth sync and smartphone apps all appeared in far more costly commercial-grade standing desks before they trickled down to the products that a consumer or small business can affordably buy online.
In this article, we’re going to trace the development of inline brushless DC motor linear actuators (i.e. the lifting columns of a standing desk), the latest technology to become available to everyday standing desk buyers. Suddenly more affordable than ever, this is an exciting new alternative to the traditional, brushed-motor, “90-degree” lifting leg designs you’ll find on 99% of standing desks today.
A New Strategic Threat To Commodity-Grade Lifting Base Platforms
There are many ways to stratify the hundreds of standing desk models on the market today besides price range, but a fundamental bifurcation is “commodity-grade” versus “premium-grade,” a.k.a. “commercial-grade” models. Over 90% of standing desks sold online are commodity-grade, the vast majority of them purchased through Amazon. They are almost entirely produced in China and their designs are focused first and foremost on cost reduction, not on reliability or durability. The high-end desks that are built on American or European-made linear actuator componentry are naturally in the minority and remain the best that money can buy. You also won’t find most of those using Amazon as a sales channel as they’ll never “rank” in Amazon search results over the commodity-grade brands.
Where inline brushless motor technology is now creating a tectonic shift in the standing desk market is in outperforming commodity-grade height-adjustable desks for a much smaller premium in price than the high-end alternatives that exist today–all of which use premium quality brushed motors that add hundreds of dollars to the cost of a good standing desk. This new brushless technology will give popular online brands like Uplift, Fully, Flexispot and Autonomous—which are all built on commodity-grade lifting bases—a serious run for the money.
Prior to 2022, brushless DC motors and inline motor lifting columns were chiefly found on relatively costly standing desks that were only available to bulk volume “commercial contract”’ office furniture buyers, not to the online buyer looking to buy something for their home office or small to medium-sized business. In fact, there is only one cutting-edge OEM manufacturer of these newfangled drive systems for use in standing desks so far, an Austria-based company named LogicData.
Historically, LogicData was the largest supplier of controller electronics to the world’s standing desk manufacturers. Over time they lost a lot of business as their OEM customers created their own proprietary controller electronics in order to reduce their manufacturing costs. To mitigate their shrinking market, in 2021 LogicData pivoted to also become a full-fledged OEM manufacturer of complete lifting base frame sets. In effect, this placed them in direct competition with some of their own customers, so this was a bold, but highly necessary move.
And now we’re starting to see the first complete standing desk products come to market based on this new linear actuator technology. Not surprisingly, the first major digitally-native brand to bring the LogicData technology to market is iMovR, which has had a long history of innovation firsts in the standing desk industry (e.g. the first standing desks with Bluetooth, the only desks with SteadyType keyboard trays, the first enterprise-class treadmill desk, and still the only desks featuring advanced 3D-laminated desktop surfaces).
While iMovR’s Lander Desk is categorically the most tech-forward, premium-grade line of standing desks in the market today—based on state-of-the-art, brushed DC motor actuators made in the USA by Linak—the fact that they selected LogicData’s brushless inline-motor actuators for their new Jaxson Desk line that is set to launch in May 2022 speaks volumes.
LogicData’s remarkable recent move into this space brought a previously ultra-premium technology down to a price point that is actually competitive with the commodity-grade standing desk imports from China. Of course, all the supply chain woes of the pandemic economy have helped this European import tilt the playing field away from its historical Chinese competitors.
Ironically, in 2021 LogicData was acquired by the largest Chinese producer of commodity-grade bases, Jiecang. We are told by senior company executives that there is no intention of blending these two completely separate engineering and manufacturing organizations. Jiecang remains dedicated to dominating the low end of the market by supplying brands like Uplift and Fully, while LogicData received a large capital infusion allowing it to vertically integrate more of its suppliers in Europe and become a much more prominent premium lifting base manufacturer in their own right.
While technologically speaking, brushless motor lifting columns are definitely “premium,” when accounting for the impact of high government tariffs and soaring deep ocean freight costs for products coming out of China these days, the pricing of the Jaxson desks is remarkably competitive with popular Jiecang-based, commodity-grade standing desks like UpLift’s V2 and Fully’s Jarvis. That premium is very small compared to the full step-up to something like iMovR’s Lander line.
LogicData manufactures components for these high-performance lifting bases in Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic. To supply and support their North American OEM customers they’ve significantly expanded their US headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan (conveniently just down the street from iMovR’s highly-automated 3D lamination plant). As such, they are not burdened by the 25% Chinese tariffs. And while deep ocean freight costs have skyrocketed worldwide, the Atlantic crossing isn’t nearly as impacted and delayed as Pacific crossings between China and the west coast.
The Landscape of Brushed DC Motors Used in the Standing Desks of Today
Before explaining the advantages of going brushless, let’s just cover the basics of what 99+% of standing desks have been built with since the inception of the industry: the conventional “brushed” DC motor.
It is relatively easy to build linear actuators using brushed DC motors; both their design and construction are simple. Because they don’t require extra circuitry for control, they’re easier and cheaper to manufacture. To nerd out for a moment, they feature a “constant stator field,” which means that these motors respond very quickly to voltage changes. They have good torque (twisting force on the shaft) at low speeds, but that torque diminishes at higher motor speeds. We see this when we load up lower-quality Chinese-made standing desks in the test lab even well within their published maximum lift capacity specifications.
From a reliability and durability standpoint, carbon commutator brushes are the most significant disadvantage of brushed motors. Because of continuous friction against the armature, those brushes wear down with use. Once they wear down to the point that they fail to conduct electricity to the motor, the entire lifting column needs to be replaced. Brushed motors have more parts, like the electromagnetic armature and the brushes, making them larger than brushless motors.
Premium quality linear actuators like those made by Linak have exceptionally low field failure rates as compared to commodity-grade standing desks (that’s what you’re paying the premium price for), but wear and tear can result in diminishing performance on all brushed motor mechanisms.
Brushed motors also have a tendency to lose their magnetic properties over time, reducing their power efficiency, though this will take many years to manifest in something like a standing desk application. More relevantly, brushes can generate a lot more “electrical noise” as they wear down, degrading the functionality of anti-collision detection circuitry and making the legs noisier when they move up and down. This is something we do, again, commonly see happen relatively quickly with commodity-grade, Chinese-made standing desks.
To the average consumer, however, probably the most noticeable difference between brushed and brushless DC motors is their noise signature. This is particularly the case with commodity-grade standing desks. Brushed motors are generally louder because there is arcing across the brushes that creates electrical and magnetic interference, in addition to the physical contact between the brushes and the armature. (Again, we have to point out that this is not the case with premium lifting columns like those made by Linak, which are known for their low noise signatures and super-high reliability.)
Brushless motors hold a constant drive speed regardless of the load on the desk, as compared to lower-quality brushed motor lifting columns that get noisier as the load increases (something we’ve seen consistently over the years with Jiecang bases, for example). As load increases on these cheaper bases, the groaning from the motors also illustrates their fundamental difficulty in maintaining a smooth, constant drive speed.
So, when it comes to how the ear perceives the difference between brushed and brushless motor drives, there is a noticeable difference. Brushless standing desks are quieter than commodity-grade units containing brushed motors, and neither their noise level or the transit speed of their lifting columns change as load increases on the desk. They are, however, still louder than premium-grade brushed-motor units made by Linak (e.g. in the iMovR Lander and Lander Lite desks), which also maintain perfect torque regardless of load. The attention Linak pays to the brush composition, the springs holding the brush to the commutator, the materials technology used in the “glides”, the tolerances of the commutator contacts and the overall tight manufacturing tolerances ensure high quality–but this quality does add to the cost.
The Advantages of Going Brushless
As the name implies, brushless motors have no brushes to conduct the electricity that creates the dynamic magnetic field that turns the motor shaft. To get nerdy again for a moment, that field is instead formed by placing permanent magnets on the armature and moving the electromagnets to the stator.
The result is a higher power density for the size of the motors, meaning they can be smaller and more discreetly hidden “inline” (at the top of the spindle inside the lifting columns, as compared to brushed motors that require a motor housing typically mounted at a 90-degree angle to the spindle). This results in a much sleeker-looking leg and fewer mechanical parts to wear out and potentially fail.
Brushless motors have an easier time maintaining or increasing the torque at various speeds, and generally have greater mechanical power with less electrical power energizing the motor. Since there are no brushes, there are fewer parts to wear out, and maintenance issues drop to near zero. While circuit boards can still fail, brushless-motor lifting columns will surely outlast any commodity-grade brushed motor mechanism you’ll find on a cheap import, for a relatively small price increment as compared to desks build with super-premium componentry like Linak’s.
Specifically analyzing the LogicData actuators that iMovR has started using in their new Jaxson standing desk line, there are some other notable advantages. The inline motors are remarkably small for the amount of power they deliver, making the legs a little thinner while maintaining the same excellent stability as iMovR’s more premium-priced Lander line based on Linak componentry. The “glides” between the telescoping segments of the lifting columns are completely hidden; this makes for a very clean look that home office users in particular will appreciate. The anti-collision circuitry is impressively consistent, due to the elimination of any electrical noise caused by arcing across the brushes.
Given that more than 90% of the standing desks sold online today are built on Chinese-made, commodity-grade lifting bases, the introduction of inline brushless DC motor actuators has the potential to truly disrupt the market. While priced slightly higher than desks sold by the mainstream brands like Uplift, Fully, Flexispot and Autonomous, new desks now available with brushless technology are significantly less expensive than premium brands built on American-made linear actuator technology like Linak’s. And they still offer all the designed state-of-the-art features like collision detection, Bluetooth sync and extremely good stability.
For now, the first standing desks featuring inline DC brushless motors is iMovR’s new Jaxson line, but we expect to see more manufacturers eventually get on board as LogicData finds more OEM customers for their new technology. Stay tuned to further industry developments by subscribing to our free newsletter.