Kalamazoo, MI--If anyone in America could lay claim to being called "Mr.
Motion Control," it could well be Fred Sitkins.
The Western Michigan University engineering professor has set out on a crusade to answer what he sees as a growing demand in America: broadly trained engineers skilled in motion control.
Explains Sitkins: "What you need in this important field is a jack of all trades, an engineer who can blend needed elements from a whole range of specialties, such as electronics, mechanics, fluid power, and computer science."
But people with this type of Renaissance-man knowledge are very hard to come by. Sitkins gets calls nearly every day from headhunters looking for motion control engineers.
As one of the founding members of the four-year-old American Institute of Motion Engineers (AIME), headquartered at Western Michigan, Professor Sitkins is doing all he can to meet this knowledge gap.
Now, with AIME's backing, Sitkins is designing a model university curriculum to educate a new generation of motion control engineers--people who will borrow the best from a wide range of technical disciplines. He hopes to pioneer this new motion control program this fall at Western Michigan, but he wants to see the course replicated at many other institutions.
So far Sitkins' search of U.S. academic programs has turned up not one single post secondary school program on motion control. "Using contacts made on the Internet, I've found evidence of a lot more being done in motion control education in Sweden, Germany, Australia, and the United Kingdom," says the professor, who is also an expert on such advanced manufacturing methods as EDM, lasers, and water jets.
Contacts with more than 100 motion control experts around the world are helping Sitkins build the model curriculum, which he intends to have endorsed by the Accreditation Board on Engineering and Technology. Also planned are workshops to acquaint teachers with the course outlines and study guides of this new curriculum.
As Sitkins sees it, the burst of interest in motion control accompanies the surge of investment in new technologies to boost factory productivity in the 1990s. Factories began to demand faster actuation systems, more integration of systems, greater reliability and repeatability, higher precision, and more complex solutions, such as multiple-axis systems.
Yet the kinds of motion control problems that engineers must solve go well beyond the factory floor. "We have AIME members who have problems as diverse as having to move a 50,000-lb stage set at the Metropolitan Opera to within thirty thousandths of an inch," says Sitkins. "Or they must meet highly precise motion challenges in medical applications."
Among the areas that Sitkins sees as prime targets for new motion control solutions: aircraft, appliances, copying equipment, electric cars, food processing, guided vehicles, mail-handling equipment, marine systems, packaging equipment, plastics processing, textiles, and transfer lines.
Across these fields, Sitkins points to a number of emerging trends, such as:
Faster servo loops that double or even quadruple current performance.
More RISC and DSP technology.
Improved sensors, including the ability to read and react within the controller.
Multi-axis control within one processor.
More use of vector controlled AC induction motors and switched reluctance motors.
Embedded "expert systems" for on-line monitoring of loads, feedback, vibration.
Development of motion control safety standards.
Learn more about AIME on the web: www.wmich.edu/engineer/AIME.