Is All Engineering Mechatronics Now?

Today’s engineer is expected to understand both mechanical and electronic engineering principles.

The term mechatronics is getting wide use, but there is confusion about what it means exactly. The discipline is widely associated with robotics, as the design, build and deployment of robots requires the cross disciplines of mechanical engineering and electrical engineering.

mechatronics, mechanical engineering, engineering, education, electrical engineering, electronicsThe term mechatronics was partly popularized to replace robotics engineering. In the late 1970s, when robotics was going gangbusters, universities across the Midwest were cranking out graduates with robotics engineering degrees. That was fine and good until the robotics boom lost its luster in the 1980s. At the same time, Japanese companies started buying up robot manufacturers. Engineers with a robotics engineering degree were suddenly out in the cold. The universities teaching robotics gave the study a new name: mechatronics.

The Etymology of Mechatronics

Some say the word mechatronics was coined by the Japanese engineer Ko Kikuchi in 1969. Kikuchi was working for Yaskawa Electric Corp. at the time. Others attribute the origin to Tetsuro Mori, also an engineer at Yaskawa. The company registered mechatronics as trademark in Japan in 1971. Soon afterward, the company released the right to use the word to public. Whoever coined it, mechatronics a combination of the terms mechanical and electronics. Even more than the disciplines of mechanical and electronics, the study of mechatronics now usually includes computer science and systems engineering.

 

 

Mechatronics has expanded as more consumer and industrial products started including advanced electronics. Cars now include electronic systems that are intrinsic to the mechanical function in the vehicle. This melding of electronic and mechanical systems will become even more pronounced as autonomous and all-electric vehicles proliferate. Mechanical engineers are well aware they are expected to have more than a cursory familiarity with electronics.

Most of the top engineering schools offer bachelor’s degrees in mechatronics. Some also offer associate’s and master’s degrees in mechatronics.

Design News Webinar on Mechatronics.

To help explore the applications and education opportunities for mechatronics, Design News will present the one-hour webinar, Mechatronics in Robotics: The New Multi-Purpose Engineering Discipline, at 2:00 pm Eastern time on September 28. Registration is free.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

Image courtesy of Florida State University

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