Though mechatronics promises more efficient machines at a
lower cost, following the mechatronics' approach of integrated design
has been challenging for most machine builders. The premise of
mechatronics is based on the ability of mechanical, electrical, control
design and embedded programming engineers to collaborate their design
efforts. However, collaboration requires them to share and validate
design ideas and effectively sharing ideas requires design tool
integration. This dilemma has kept most machine builders away from
following the mechatronics' design approach.
Fortunately, design tool vendors are now helping to overcome this
dilemma by providing integration between their software packages. This
is allowing machine builders to follow the mechatronics' approach while
continuing to use the best-in-class design software for different
design disciplines. An example of design tool integration that is
enabling mechatronics is the pioneer interfaces National Instruments
and SolidWorks jointly developed to integrate their control design and
mechanical design software packages.
The NI LabVIEW-SolidWorks
interface, which is in its pioneer stage, enables quick development of
complex multi-axis motion profiles and allows designers to simulate
them on a 3-D CAD model of the machine. The leading machine builders
who have tried the toolkit benefited from lowered design risk and cost.
The LabVIEW-SolidWorks interface enabled them to virtually plan motion
trajectories, detect collisions, estimate machine cycle time and size
motors, drives and mechanical transmissions.
"As a custom design house, our machines have to be right the first time
we build them. Any design changes late in the design process can mean a
transition from profit to loss. Using the LabVIEW-SolidWorks interface
significantly reduced this risk for us by streamlining the design
process," says Mark Ganninger, president, Design and Assembly Concepts.
Using the LabVIEW-SolidWorks interface allows machine designers to:
• Virtually plan motion trajectories. LabVIEW
enables the virtual design of complex motion profiles containing a
series of sequential or concurrent move operations composed of 2-D
straight-line moves, contoured moves and arc moves. For each move
machine designers can specify trapezoidal or S-curve profiles and apply
velocity, acceleration, deceleration and jerk constraints. Each axis of
motion in LabVIEW can then be mapped to a joint of the 3-D CAD model of
the machine designed in SolidWorks. Finally, the motion profile
designed in LabVIEW can be simulated on the CAD model.
By animating their 3-D machine models designers can quickly evaluate
the feasibility of the overall conceptual design for the machine very
early in the machine design process. This fosters better communication
with customers and between design team members and helps to close the
loop on the design requirements, must-have features and engineering
trade-offs. Visualization can also be used as a pre-sales tool when
bidding on a project, since it enables machine designers to show a
working simulation of the machine to potential customers before
building a physical prototype.
• Virtually detect collisions. The collision
detection feature in SolidWorks enables validation of the motion
profiles on a 3-D CAD model before implementing them on the real
machine. Machine designers can check for interferences, evaluate the
need for interlock control logic to prevent collisions, optimize motion
profiles to minimize unnecessary dead time and safely test new control
system logic without the risk of damaging the physical machine. After
the machine has been designed, prototyped and deployed to the field,
collision detection can also be used to validate new motion profiles
before downloading them to machines operating at a customer site;
reducing the risk of unplanned downtime due to programming mistakes.
• Perform throughput time studies. By validating
motion system design using a simulation that includes the actual motion
profile constraints and the mechanical dynamics of the machine such as
mass and friction, designers can better estimate the cycle time
throughput of their machines. LabVIEW indicates the profile duration,
in seconds, for the motion profile at the end of the simulation.
• Size motors, drives and transmissions. Motor
torque and velocity requirements depend on the acceleration
characteristics of your motion profile and the mechanical dynamics of
the payload and transmission components such as lead screws. Using the
LabVIEW-SolidWorks interface, machine designers can calculate the
required motor torque and velocity charts for their motion profiles.
SolidWorks simulations account for mechanical dynamic effects such as
payload mass, friction and gravity; enabling designers to validate the
feasibility of their motion profile velocity and acceleration
constraints and make more prudent design trade-offs when selecting
coupled electrical and mechanical components.
By using integrated machine design tools, designers can follow the
mechatronics design methodology of sharing and validating ideas early
in the machine design process, which lowers the cost and of machine
Using wireless chips and accessories, engineers can now extract data from the unlikeliest of places -- pumps, motors, bridges, conveyors, refineries, cooling towers, parking garages, down-hole drills and just about anything else that can benefit from monitoring.
With strong marketplace demand for qualified engineers across the board that currently outstrips the available supply, there may never be a better time for engineers and project managers to advance their careers and salaries. Whether those moves are successful in the short-term and long-term is likely to depend on how the transition from one job to the next is handled.
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