My brother-in-law says “Surgeons operate, lawyers litigate.” His way of saying that we tend to deal with everything based on our areas of expertise. I plead guilty as charged, to me, everything seems to be mechatronic in nature.
Some of the most unlikely things are mechatronic. Chicken nuggets? Yup, you bet. Especially the dinosaur shaped ones. You think the chicken nuggets are randomly shaped? No way. Chicken scraps are pressed together into flat sheets and cut using a water jet. The water jet is usually mounted on an X-Y stage and able to generate unique shapes by following a programmed path. The programming also includes optimized layout of the shapes to increase the yield. Then the pieces are breaded and flash frozen on a conveyor. The pieces are counted, bagged and the bags are boxed for shipment. Every step is the product of a piece of machinery that is mechatronics based.
Even in the process industries we find very significant mechatronic content. Oil & Gas extraction is loaded with mechatronic applications. Offshore platforms use massive jack up legs that are rack and pinion mechanisms run using multiple electric motors. Every system on the platform is powered by multiple diesel powerplants generating 10’s of megawatts of electricity. A diesel gen-set is a major piece of mechatronic hardware. And there are tons more systems pumping and handling everything imaginable on the rig.
With land systems, the popular method of the day is fracking. Extracting oil and gas using fracking requires incredible hydraulic pressure generated by pumps. Pumping the water into the earth causes all sorts of stuff to be pushed into solution. The water has to be treated in order to be re-used or returned to the local sewage system.
Regardless of where the oil comes from, it has to be processed. Shale oil, natural gas and crude oil all require complex chemical processing, all of which requires major fluid handling systems. Fluid handling is all about pumps and valves. Eventually,most oil & gas products end up in a pipeline for delivery. More pumps, valves and some very exotic sensors and control software to monitor the volume of product. Pipeline transmission has evolved some amazing math in an effort to prevent leaks, and over the last 20 years, they have done a great job.
The electric motor has become the “work horse” of the modern era. Maybe the “cool factor” is only what we see that’s new and “shiney” like the coolest phone or tablet. So often we take technology for granted when we have gotten so used to it. Maybe some bright engineers will bring the cool factor to the electric motor and revolutionize the notion of work again.