Just as Computer Aided Design, CAD, has revolutionized the design process, it is growing in capability and impacting many other arenas of engineering. The first major extensions to CAD were integration of Finite Element Analysis, the ability to analyze loads on the parts being created. And certainly, if the design software can model the complex aspects of loading, then animation of part motion can’t be a far reach. And that’s the case today.
Solidworks and Autodesk, among others, offer motion animation capabilities to detect interference and verify functionality of the basic mechanical design. These features offer great facility to the designer to resolve issues early in the design process before the more costly aspect of hardware fabrication begins.
The next important layers of any design cycle are simulation and analysis. Tools have been emerging for some time both separately and in tandem with the mechanical design software to provide this functionality. Simulation requires that the designer can input velocity displacement profiles which, in the mechatronics context, provides the basis for torque, acceleration force, duty cycle, power supply requirements, and a host of other information can be calculated directly from the simulation environment.
This gives rise to the best part of the whole situation; you can analyze the information. No hardware needed! So it becomes possible to do a series of iterations as “What If’s” to explore various options in the construction of the project that can lead to results that might not have been anticipated in the original design. Personally, I think this is where the fun is. And once again, no hardware needed.
This is also a bit tricky since there aren’t very good rules for what you do next. So, to a certain extent, you have to be creative as you go. The bad news is that the universe that we are dabbling in is very complex, dozens of variables and tradeoffs that have to be explored. So it can be rough going because each applications has its own unique features and considerations.
The fields of application have been extremely broad. Simulation and analysis of electronics has been with us for a long time. The complexities of modern semiconductors would be impossible without software tools. But the emergence of comparable tools for mechanical analysis is relatively recent and vendors are ramping up capabilities and features to support the mechatronics community. These advances are sure to revolutionize the performance of OEMs the world over.
Some of our best work is still before us.