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Needed Now: Engineering 'Synergists'

Why don't more engineers adopt mechatronics' design?

The biggest hurdles are lack of training and experience in one or more engineering disciplines. Electrical engineers aren't comfortable with mechanical design. Mechanical engineers aren't comfortable with embedded computers. Some computer specialists aren't at ease with controls and so on. Until a larger population of synergists is available, mechatronics will struggle to find acceptance.

How much progress is there in developing easy-to-use tools for mechatronics?

There are a number of very good tools available for software development, control modeling, electrical design and mechanical design. Tools such as LabVIEW, MATLAB, C, Pro/E and various flavors of spice are well-established. They also are becoming easier for the novice to use, but there is still a wide gap between having a useful collection of tools and an all-in-one expert design system that can optimize a complete design. These tools also are not the final solution. We still need engineers to be trained in all four disciplines — mechanics, electronics, controls and computers.

What must component suppliers do to make products easier to integrate into mechatronics' systems?

Every engineer isn't an expert in motors, sensors, microcontrollers, analog design and controls. Most engineers are experts in one or two of these areas and need help from their suppliers on other technologies. This trend is turning suppliers into design houses, since customers now require not only a good product, but the necessary design support.

How has Microchip positioned its product line to serve mechatronics' applications?

Our products are used in a wide variety of applications, so we've had to significantly expand our design assistance. 1396927554

This includes reference designs covering everything from intelligent power supplies to motor drive and sensor interface. We've created specialized groups that concentrate on specific markets and also provide information on EMI/RFI/ESD testing, advice on PWB layout and code for specific controls/interfaces.

How do key Microchip products help solve mechatronics' challenges?

One example of Microchip's efforts to integrate microcontrollers into mechatronic applications exists in the expansion of our Pulse Width Modulation (CCP) peripheral to include both a variety of different half and full H-bridge drive options, as well as the new analog voltage comparator auto-shutdown feature. These features significantly simplify the design of motor and actuator drives by eliminating the need for complex external drive circuits. The logic for direction, speed and over-current control are all built into the peripheral, so only simple MOSFET drivers and MOSFETs are required.

We also have expanded our input capability to include new modes in our voltage-comparator module. While this may not sound like much, you have to remember that the new SR latch modes basically create a 555 timer on chip. The 555 option opens up a wealth of existing sensor conversion circuits for inductive, capacitive and resistive sensors, in addition to all the pulse- and frequency-measurement options available through our timer modules.

Moving into the higher performance microcontrollers, we have 16-bit microcontrollers with DSP-based instruction sets. This fusion of the microcontroller's low-level controls with the power of DSP algorithms opens up a wide variety of software-feedback controls requiring higher processor horsepower. Even our 32-bit parts show their microcontroller lineage, in the form of control-friendly peripherals.

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