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.
Agreed with many of the comments, I'm a Mechanical Engineer, but had this been offered back in the day I would have taken it instead. Not sure about the reference to (12) Universities offering the program, I logged onto the same site, and searched for Mechatronics Degrees at the Bachelor's level, and it spit out (7). None were Marquette University of Milwaukee, who of course has one of the pre-eminent college professors in the field in Dr. Kevin C. Craig (who writes a great column for Design News). Sure wish he taught at the University of Wisconsin instead !
I've just completed the design of four modular experiments for graduate mechatronics eduation, as part of my masters degree in mechanical engineer with a controls/mechatronics focus. I've also researched the current state of mechatronics education.
To my knowledge Chico State in California had the only accreditied BS Mechatronic program in 2010. However, several other university in the U.S. are expecting their ABET accrediation by the end of 2011. I suspect as more U.S. universities follow suit, ABET will provided updated information on Mechatronic Engineering programs. Internationally, Austrailia and Great Britian have nearly two dozen accredited BS in Mechatronic programs.
After reaseraching this topic for the past 18 months, I would firmly say that accreditied programs are needed. Two or three courses at the end of a Mechanical or Electrical engineering program is pathetic. I speak from both experience and collecting data from other students, as well as being very observant of what skills industry is looking for from incoming engineers.
Mechanical engineers are lacking software and electrical engineering prowess, meanwhile, electrical and software engineers are short on mechanical and machine design powess. I'm sure engineering managers would enjoy having engineers that can coordinate and develop truely integrated systems and assist in removing communication barriers.
Finally, all focused diciplines are weak on cross-dicipline system modeling. This is a systemic issue with how engineering is being taught. For example, mechanical engineers learn circuit analysis, but stop a class or two short of being able to design practical protype circuits, let alone simulate the performance of an integrated electromechanical system. However, they have more than enough math ability to accoplish this taks, its simply never taught.
In the end, there is only one way to detemine if Mechatronics Degrees make sense. Develop the programs, offer them to incoming freshment, and see how industry reponds with hiring! Everything else is empty words and speculation.
A degree in mechatronics would indeed have a good value if the study included the modeling and multiphysics simulations that I see as the definitive part of mechatronics. That is the part that seems to be new, since having a well rounded engineering education, as opposed to a very narrow specialization, is not a new concept. The ability to create the entire mathmatical model, from inertia and friction through electomagnetic forces, and including the control systems transfer functions, is indeed an incredibly valuable thing. That skill and the methods of modeling would be a large part of a valuable mechatronics course of study.
My guess is that not all of the programs are that thorough, and that they are not all equal. It could certainly be a useful discussion to define what would be included in such a program. My guess is that it would wind up being a six year degree.
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