Among the thousands of definitions of Mechatronics, we find the terms synergistic, interdisciplinary, flexible, and robust repeated frequently. Thus, the synergistic application of interdisciplinary engineering fields for the creation and development of robust, flexible products and processes is as good a definition as any. One of the better definitions, however, is that mechatronics stands simply for the execution of good design practices, regardless of which engineering disciplines are involved.
What started out as a merging of mechanics, software, and electronics has evolved to include other technologies and practices that help in the design of better products. For example, in the 1970s, the field of mechatronics focused on applying servo technology to the betterment of products and processes. In the 1980s, engineers added information technology. In the 1990s, the field expanded yet again to include communications.
Today, forward thinking engineers use the mechatronic approach to move away from traditional sequential design processes toward interdisciplinary processes that include assembly and manufacturing. Noted Dr. Kevin Craig, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute in a paper, “Mechatronics … demands horizontal integration among the various engineering disciplines as well as vertical integration between design and manufacturing. … Mechatronics increasingly depends on the design teams ability to communicate, collaborate, and integrate.”
Popular in Europe, the practice of applying mechatronic principles is gaining ground in the U.S. To continue forward, certain skills viewed as weak here in the States need strengthening. For example, control knowledge still tends to be relegated to “specialists” rather than learned by all. The ability to handle physical and mathematical modeling could be stronger as well. Also the need for knowledge on hydraulics and pneumatics is growing as mechanical and fluid components increasingly integrate with electronic controls.
Throughout the pages in this special section, and in subsequent special editions, we will highlight the successes and challenges of various mechatronics projects, plus provide discourse on the integration, communication, and collaboration challenges faced in product and process design.