Chandler, AZ--Mechatronics--the conversion of traditional mechanical designs to digital- and analog-based microcontroller systems--isn't a fad. It's here to stay.
Microchip Technology, the world's number two maker of 8-bit microcontrollers according to Dataquest, has developed the Mechatronics PowerPak to help mechanical engineers make this transition as painlessly as possible. The free kit includes a microcontroller primer, reference designs, and other support material to show engineers the basics and benefits of converting designs to electronics-based systems.
"There's a lot of resistance from mechanical engineers on learning digital technology," says Virginia Polytechnic Professor John S. Bay, who teaches a mechatronics course that attracts many working engineers. "The reality is using electronics in mechanical systems is coming, and you're going to need it to survive."
Mechanical applications traditionally use components such as timers, switches, counters, relays, discrete logic, and speed governors. For high-volume applications and end products that require upgrades or new features, a microcontroller can easily take over these mechanical functions.
Microcontroller-based systems are also taking over mechanical sensor functions. Ultrasound can remotely measure flow through a pipe or test materials for cracks. Infrared components can remotely make temperature measurements.
Growing markets for mechatronics include appliances and other consumer applications as well as factory-floor systems, which are moving from central processing units to distributed intelligence.