How do I support mechatronic engineers?
Finding engineers that have a good understanding of all three engineering disciplines can be challenging because the concept is relatively new. While there are many colleges that have had variations of the mechatronics concept in their curriculum for years, they aren’t necessarily using the moniker needed to quickly identify mechatronic engineers. Furthermore, when engineers are hired, it’s common to hire mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, and programmers.
Machine automation applications demand high-performing, simple-to-use, maintenance-free technologies. Successful motor drive integration depends on a high-performing design environment that brings together powerful engineering tools and experienced applications engineers. (Source: Lenze Americas)
Therefore, the best plan to secure mechatronic engineers is to create an effective engineering program. Here are a few strategies that can help provide the structure needed for mechatronic experts:
Start at the top. Plan time into the schedule for research and development. Start by reworking an old design using a cross discipline approach. Businesses that are under constant pressure to get machines out the door will not have the time to let their engineers collaborate and grow mechatronic concepts.
Stay current. Always stay abreast on the latest technology and trends. There is a constant stream of innovation provided by the market that can improve the way you build machines. For example, many vendors now have software that combine panel layout with drive sizing and cam design. Motor-mounted drives can eliminate electrical cabinets, which have an impact on the mechanical design of a machine.
Set goals and reward. When you set the scope of a mechatronics effort, make sure there is an achievable goal, such as 20 percent parts reduction, reliability, etc. Your sales team can share these goals with customers. And, the effort should be rewarded in order for the engineering team to realize the importance of the goal.
Cross train. Make sure a plan is in place to provide all of the detailed project information to the mechatronics engineers. A mechanical engineer that understands the potential of a control system will be more likely to simplify mechanical solutions. An electrical engineer that understands the “five simple machines” of physics will be more open to apply an open loop system, or a smaller controller. A software engineer that understands “three sides of control” can synchronize the motion of a machine to guarantee that product is safely moved through the machine.
Support change. Like mechatronics, innovation is the combining of common elements to create something new. What is a smartphone? It is a phone, camera, MP3 player, and a touchscreen combined in one. And it’s based on a CPU technology, so it’s capable of so much more. The same holds true for a machine. You have HMI, logic, and motion on one touch panel; you’ve replaced servos with IP65 closed loop induction motor modules for cost savings and better inertia matching. Mechatronic engineers know that they’re a step away from tool-less changeover and data collection.
While I found the concepts introduced in this article very interesting, I struggled throughout as well. By placing the enineering burden from three major disciplines on one person without the benefit of additional perspectives that come from having a team is not a direction that I would normally pursue. Most folks recognize the value of interacting with their colleagues that specialize in other areas. Whenever I would build a test set, building a test fixture was a very important part of the design. Having very limited mechanical engineering ability, I consulted with the guys that had that expertise...and through our collaboration an effective test fixture design would emerge. I would respectfully disagree with the scenario of a very unintelligent design that did not work well because it was built by three different engineers with differing fields of expertise.
It seems to me that in order to educate a mechatronics engineer would also take an even more intensive education with a much more expanded degree plan - something a lot of folks would not be able to afford time-wise or financially - but if they didn't get a good education they would be a "jack of all trades and master of none" which might do well for home projects but not for industry.
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