I'm down with this idea, Jon. As I noted in "Are You an Interdisciplinary Engineer?," narrow specialists are on the wane. They're being replaced by generalist engineers who can work comfortably across the boundaries of hardware, software, and embedded. The rise of a Mechantronics degree reflects this reality.
I think even if universities and colleges don't formally label a program as a mechatronics degree, you're going to see a lot more university curriculum reflect the new (and not so new) reality of what Alex has aptly labeled "an interdisciplinary world."
Regardless of the degree name, the multidisciplinary person will be more useful than the specialist in many areas. It's similar to job descriptions. There are several main jobs listed, but they always seem to end with the phrase "other duties as assigned." Starting from the basics and moving toward the specifics is a proven methodology. As when building a house, the general contractor is running the show. There may be specialists to dig foundations, lay block, pour concrete, frame, glaze, finish sheetrock, install plumbing, run wiring, and shingle the roof, but the general ties it all together.
I also like the idea, given the move to interdisciplinary engineering. I think the combined title, rather than a major in one and a minor in the other, more clearly demonstrates that the engineer is multi-discipline instead of being seen a a ME who happened to have taken some EE courses.
In my field (materials), we have already seen this type of shift towards a more interdisciplinary approach. In a matter of a few years, the name of my university department changed from Metallurgical Engineering (until 1999), to Metallurgical and Materials Engineering (from 1999 to 2004), to Materials Science and Engineering (from 2004 to now).
Of course, there are still schools which offer traditional Metallurgical Engineering programs, as well as Ceramics Engineering, Plastics Engineering, Composite Engineering, etc. I think there is a value to this level of specialization. However, for many jobs, it is important to have a strong level of familiarity with a wide variety of materials. This is why many schools have moved towards an integrated approach.
I do not have a Mechatronics degree, but it is common in daily work life to be called into action for both mechanical and electronic items. The fewer engineers that are employed at a certain location. The more hats that are worn by each engineer. As an engineer, it is important to learn and adapt to your surroundings and how you can best benefit your company. If universities can start graduating students that are already cross trained through the Mechatronics cirriculum, the in-field learning curve will be reduced, and these graduates will be able to make an immediate impact in the industry.
If there had been a mechatronics degree program in school, I would have taken it.
The cirrucilum for the first 2 years would be the same as an EE or ME. Then after that, subjects that relate to: pneumatics, stepper motors, servo motors, motion control, stress and dynamics as it relates to robotics, control systems, ladder code, sensors, safety, communications, HMI's, basic wiring etc...
It should also be taught by a professor with extensive applied knowledge and a track record of sucessful projects...
I'm a mechatronics engineer, got my Degree from an Egyptian Institute, I studied mechanics courses, also got some courses for programming microcontrollers, PLCs, also studied a lot of electronics courses, this made me unique in my work, I can work with mechanical systems, work with electronic systems, which gave me the opportunity to become (in my young age) "Manager of Maintenance Dept."
I do beleive it is the mechatronics era, you don't see now a mechanical system without an electronic control, whether it is controlled by a microcontroller, a PLC or even just an ordinary electronic circuit, but you need to know both mechanics and electronics
I personably know of a number of engineers who work in the classical ME, EE and SW disciplines. However, I encounter them less frequently all the time.
In the organizations I've been in cross-discipline expertise is virtually required to be competitive, particularly in smaller scale organizations.
I'm not sure a specific Mechatronics program is needed, but some sort of class work covering mechatronics should be made available to students in the undergraduate curricula. It would certainly lessen my workload in getting interns and new graduates up to speed on the programs I put them on.
Fifty-six-year-old Pasquale Russo has been doing metalwork for more than 30 years in a tiny southern Italy village. Many craftsmen like him brought with them fabrication skills when they came from the Old World to America.
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