Mechatronics: The Soul of Systems Design

January 24, 2007

3 Min Read
Mechatronics: The Soul of Systems Design

When today’s engineers launch a new design project, chances are that implementing mechatronics’ principles will be a prime consideration.

That’s clear from a new survey of readers from Design News, EDN and Control Engineering by the Boston Division research department of Reed Business Information. Responses from 1,039 engineers revealed that about 75 percent are involved in designs that integrate mechanical or fluid power components with electronic controls, while nearly 50 percent design and implement control systems for mechatronics’ systems.

Another 10 percent of respondents noted that, while they aren’t currently involved in mechatronics’ applications, they expect to be taking on such projects in the next 18 months. Moreover, 70 percent of those already employing mechatronics predict that the number of projects involving mechatronics will be increasing over the next three years.

The kinds of designs being developed by survey respondents show the rich variety of applications where mechatronics plays a leading role. To cite a sampling:

  • A test rig for measuring friction on aircraft brake pads.

  • Electronically controlled car accessories for disabled drivers.

  • System for measuring the tilt of microwave communication towers.

  • Cinema lens mount with automated focus and X/Y adjustment.

  • Controls for the propulsion system on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

  • Assembly machine with 14 axes of motion and vision sensors.

  • Remotely controlled underwater vehicle for oil rig inspection.

  • Automated system to dispense pharmaceuticals.

The survey shows that the average engineer works on just over five design projects a year (5.23), and more than three of these incorporate mechatronics. A large percentage of engineers also specify, buy or approve a wide range of components and design tools for these projects. To cite just a few product categories: motors and drives (81 percent of respondents), actuators (73 percent), embedded controls (67 percent), 3D CAD modeling software (57 percent), Simulation software (52 percent).

Among the chief benefits that engineers associate with mechatronics, “increased functionality” tops the list, with 79 percent of respondents citing that payoff. Other dominant benefits include: “better overall performance” (78 percent), “higher quality/reliability” (68 percent), “lower costs” (42 percent) and “parts reduction/more compact size” (41 percent).

The survey also revealed important information about the makeup and dynamics of engineering teams that are tackling mechatronics’ projects, as well as the key challenges they face in implementing new technologies. For example, the predominant engineering discipline of team leaders on such projects is electrical/electronics, closely followed by mechanical. Even so, when it comes to making decisions on components and systems for such project, 63 percentof respondents said it was a “team approach.”

As for the biggest challenges that must be overcome to achieve successful mechatronics designs, engineers singled out these factors as the most significant:

  • Understanding all the technologies that must work together (63 percent).

  • Integrating all of the components into a system (56 percent).

  • Keeping project costs under control (52 percent).

  • Meeting tight deadlines for development (51 percent).

With more and more projects involving mechatronics, the survey clearly underscores the vital role that this engineering discipline plays in the everyday lives of engineers. When asked to judge the importance of improving their skills in mechatronics’ design to their career advancement, 94 percent of respondents rated those skills as either “very important” or “important.”

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