Products are becoming more complex and contain ever more
electronics and software components. So mechatronics is increasing,
dramatically in importance. Today it's very difficult to think of
products with no electronics and software content. A car is often
described as a "computer on wheels," with 30 percent of its value
related to electronics and software and that percentage is growing.
Products are becoming more complex and contain
ever more electronics and software components. So mechatronics is
increasing, dramatically in importance. Today it's very difficult to
think of products with no electronics and software content. A car is
often described as a "computer on wheels," with 30 percent of its value
related to electronics and software and that percentage is growing.
Electronics and software development are driving
innovation in many products, such as driver assistance systems for
cars, intelligent GPS-based spraying systems for agricultural vehicles,
ergonomic control systems for cranes or hotel elevators with key-card
based access and control. Because of this, the ability to deeply
understand and manage the product development processes for these
integrated products will be a key requirement and competitive advantage
for PLM solutions in the future.
Just what is your definition of mechatronics?
Products across industries ranging from automotive to consumer
electronics to industrial automation include a growing number of
electronic components and are increasingly differentiated by software
features. Mechatronics describes the processes required to synchronize
these increasingly interdependent design disciplines: mechanical,
electrical, electronic and software. The terminology varies in
different industries. The automotive industry tends to use "mechatronics," while other industries use the term "electro-mechanical product development."
When you talk to OEM decision makers about implementing mechatronics, what are the main challenges they see?
They point to the problem of poorly synchronized mechanical, electrical
and software engineering processes. This leads to higher product cost,
poorer quality and lengthening product cycles. In addition, the time
spent by engineers to overcome these problems reduces their ability to
innovate. Major issues can arise from inconsistencies between
disciplines and design partners. Consider some of the things that can
go wrong on a printed circuit board:
• The PCB layout designer changes the position of a PCB mounting hole, but that change has not been recognized by manufacturing.
• The space available for a board has been modified, but not communicated to the electronics design group.
• A cable has been re-routed, with unforeseen implications for the
overall behavior of the electronics and software (lag, electro-magnetic
• The behavior of an embedded software module has been modified, but
the design team has overlooked implications for related software
modules and mechanical or electrical components.
These inconsistencies are often identified very late
in the overall process - at the prototype or even manufacturing stage.
That results in very high modification costs, potential production
delays and reduced product quality.
To what extent are engineers aware of these issues?
Engineers are clearly aware of the problems that result from poor
mechatronics design coordination. Even so, as the amount of electronics
and software components in products increases, the challenge to manage
this problem is growing, particularly in consumer electronics space.
Electronics and software companies were aware of the
challenges earlier than companies in other industries simply because of
the nature of their products. Today, the need to coordinate with
mechanical engineers is getting more important across the board.
Mechanical form factors are getting smaller and more complex. As a
result, less space is available for more sophisticated electronics,
which causes challenges in making sure it all fits together and works
within tight thermal, electromagnetic or other constraints. In more
traditional industries, such as aerospace, defense, automotive and
heavy equipment, the degree of awareness and the response to managing
the situation varies, but, overall, awareness is clearly on the rise.
How do companies typically respond to the need for greater coordination?
Many companies take first steps with electronics and software using
external service providers. Eventually, a small internal group is set
up, initially with expertise in electronics design. Over time this
group grows, adding capacity and skills. However, these teams are often
organizationally separated from the traditional mechanical engineering
team. So, there are few, if any, structures in place to really manage
the overall multi-discipline product development process.
Inefficiencies creep in as the separate organizations try to
Holistically, there is still a limited focus in
organizations to take responsibility for end-to-end product
development, starting with requirements and ending with system
integration and testing. And there is also limited ability to manage
trade-offs in the choice of implementing specific functions
mechanically or with electronics and software. Issues such as change
management and product quality begin to emerge. In this situation, it
is very important that all key players understand the potential and
capabilities of other disciplines, as well as the principles behind
What benefits can organizations realize by deploying a mechatronics-driven product development process?
Benefits will fall into four main categories - speed, quality,
innovation and increased efficiency and innovation. To be more precise,
companies will realize faster time-to-market due to modularization and
better reuse of data, as well as a reduction in late-stage changes
because of an improved understanding of system design dependencies and
linkages. There will be better supply chain integration, which enables
designers to select correct parts, reduce redundant part creation and
improve component reuse. Higher quality will result from better
coordination of data across disciplines, as well as from upfront
mathematical, thermal, structural and mechanical simulation. Still,
other benefits will come from lower IT costs and the ability to
consider the complete lifecycle of a product. Finally, companies will
realize improved revenue through early design optimization.
How will mechatronics influence product development in the future?
We have begun to see the future already. In an age where running shoes
have electronic sensors and a transmitter to link up with a pulse
monitor, electronics and software are finding their way into almost
every product. We will see ever more products communicating with the
environment around them, via sensors, the Internet or wireless
technologies. As complexity increases, it will be more important to
take a formal systems approach to design and engineering. Product
modularity and interface management will grow in importance. For
product owners, the ability to rapidly and efficiently integrate
technology and innovations from suppliers will become the key market
Our vision is the expansion of our Product Development System
to encompass all areas of product development. This includes tighter
integration of requirements management, the management of "functional"
product architecture, increased support for product modularity and data
reuse, the simulation of complete mechatronics products and the
management of design alternatives and the trade-offs between them.