Imagine a missile launch,” my boss explained. “It comes out of the silo without warning, goes like a streak, and sometimes explodes on launch. We want an unmanned tracking mount that will sit close to the launch area, pick up the missile, and track it — no matter what.”
The engineering assignment was pure Mechatronics. Make the mechanical pieces strong but light enough for the accelerations and slew rates to come. Give the drives enough power, speed, and responsiveness. Make sure the sensors could pick up the bird, lock on it and follow it to the death. Fashion controls that would tie it all together and make it all work.
It was, in short, classic Mechatronics, though we never used that word. It would be two years later, in 1969, before Tetsuro Mori, a senior engineer at Yaskawa, coined it. But how the practice of Mechatronics, and the engineering disciplines it uses, have grown in the years since then.
According to Wikipedia, Mechatronics is the synergistic combination of mechanical, electronic, and software engineering. The purpose of this interdisciplinary engineering field is the study of automated machines from an engineering perspective.
The “automated machines” so created range from planetary rovers to production machines, from automotive subsystems like antilock braking to synergy drives. And yes, the roster of Mechatronics successes includes a bevy of common consumer products such as autofocus cameras, CD-players, washing machines, and hard drives for computers.
A measure of its acceptance can be inferred from the number of efforts to broaden the definition. Leading firms like National Instruments would like to see emphasis on testing as a key part of Mechatronics. Dr. Sugato Deb of NI notes that the common definition of Mechatronics does not include testing, and concludes, “Perhaps it should.”
Another area of interest is in linking hydraulic and pneumatic components into Mechatronics systems. Paolo Catterina of EUROelectronics has been using NI controls in designing a high-speed press based on a hydraulic cylinder. EUROelectronics is a machine builder that was asked to design a closed-loop hydraulic-cylinder control system for a die-casting press machine. At a recent Mechatronics event, Catterina explained. “The high-speed press moves anywhere from 0 to 10 m/s and therefore requires a high-speed control system. Position and pressure control of a hydraulic cylinder is a common application in the industrial automation field, but the precision control of such systems has traditionally presented significant challenges because of their high speeds and pressures.”
Here at Design World, we regard Mechatronics as one of the most challenging and exciting subjects we cover. We hope you’ll visit our Project Mechatronics Website, www.projectmechatronics.com, and check out our blog, our Wiki, and the rest of the coverage we offer. While you’re there, we suggest you log on and add your comments to the Wiki. We welcome your contributions to Project Mechatronics.