One of the core principles of mechatronics is the ability to displace mechanical components where the functionality can be replicated by a blend of software in the control system and a good hardware strategy.
The most commonly recognized application might be electronic line shafting. The mechanical problem is that mechanical loads are required to coordinate at different points in the process. The common line shaft required in water wheel powered workshops of the late 1800’s are examples where a single shaft becomes the power source for multiple machines performing different operations that are asynchronous.
While sterilizing of canned foods may be somewhat obscure, there is a large piece of equipment called a retort that brings the can and it’s contents to high enough heat to pasteurize the food. These machines are often the size of a locomotive engine because they are processing so many cans at a time.
As the massive chain winds its way through the steam vessel, each loop is being powered by a separate drive motor and gear reducer. Each drive along the vessel needs to be closely coordinated with the next one so that the chain and all it’s weight is not stretched or damaged, which can lead to a break and losing a huge load of cans. In the past, a massive line shaft was required to keep 5 or 6 drive units phase locked. The real complication is the need for large diameter hollow shaft gear reducers with massive bearings and housings.
Electronic line shafting would set up an electronic heartbeat based on a master encoder signal. All the drives would be required to follow and synchronize with the master signal. In this way, the same effect can be achieved and reduce the cost and complexity of the mechanical solution. The control system solution can be considered a simple application of electronic gearing.
There are no rules for when a mechatronic solution will be mechanical or electronic. Oddly, the mechanical solution is most often the lowest cost. A cam actuator on a variable speed motor may be less costly to implement than an electronic cam on an advanced controller platfrom. In some large machinery applications the cost of the mechanical solution is extremely high due to the fabrication costs of the components.
An interesting nuance is the humble jack screw. A jack screw is based on using a lead screw to lift heavy mechanical loads. Often there is a worm & spur gear set that is driven by an electric motor to provide a power dense input. But these systems are generally supplied without much control, and rarely with a rotary feedback device. So the common solution to load sharing 2 or 4 jack screws is to create driveshafts and joints to insure that the load is moved in relative unison.
In the age of low cost embedded controls, the humble screw jack is ripe for enhanced performance. A worthy mechatronic application if I ever heard of one.