The concept of mechatronics has long been associated with the robotics industry. The term was coined in 1971 by Tetsuro Mori, an engineer at robotics company, Yaskawa Electric Corp. He combined the words "mechanical" and "electronic" to describe the electronic control systems that Yaskawa was building for mechanical factory equipment. The term now describes an emerging engineering discipline that includes a coherent background in systems design as well as mechanics and electronics.
The term is now common in many university engineering departments, with many colleges issuing degrees in mechatronic engineering. “Mechatronics is what computer engineering was 15 years ago. People are talking about it and realizing its value of this field of engineering,” said Jim Devaprasad, professor in the School of Engineering and Technology at Lake Superior State University. “Mechatronics encompasses mechanical, electrical, and some manufacturing all put together.”
Devaprasad noted that mechatronics is beginning to replace the more amorphous term “systems engineering.” “In the past we referenced this collection of disciplines as systems engineering, but the term mechatronics is capturing more traction now,” he said. “Now there are some programs that are beginning to appear as associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees.”
Just What Is Mechatronics?
The Association of Mechanical Engineers has embraced the concept, stating that mechatronics systems are everywhere, from computer hard drives to robotic assembly systems. They note that even consumer products combine mechanical and electronic systems now, from washing machines and coffee makers to medical devices.
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The automotive industry leans heavily on mechatronics, as well. Electronics that control mechanical systems account for much of the value of new vehicles. These systems manage everything from stability control and antilock brakes to climate control and memory-adjustment seats.
In its essence, mechatronic engineering involves creating smart machines that are aware of their surroundings and can make decisions. While this seems like the perfect definition of a robot, smart machines also involve equipment that does not look robotic yet behaves like a robot in that it can be programmed to conduct specific movements that accomplish goals. A programmed conveyor belt can be a smart programmable machine – a robot.
These smart machines are complex equipment made up of several parts: the mechanical system itself, the sensing and actuation, the control systems, and the software. Developing and operating these intelligent machines involves the full range of disciplines included in mechatronics.
What Do Mechatronic Engineers Do?
Mechatronic engineers work in all aspects of the development of the smart machine – from design and testing through to manufacture and ultimately deployment of an operation. The industries involved include robotics, medical equipment and assistive technology, human-machine interaction, manufacturing, unmanned aerial and ground vehicles, and