It seems as if one of the “new” buzzwords in the industrial controls arena is mechatronics. What was for years, motion control, was reinvented as mechatronics for a variety of reasons. In part, the motion control term didn’t communicate the mechanical nature of the problem. And that is a very important distinction to consider. Good motion control solutions come from good mechanical design. It is almost impossible to fix a mechanical design with high performance motion control hardware. But an elegant mechanical solution with good motion control technology is a beautiful thing indeed.
So the new definition helps to make some important distinctions. I think it also suggests the possibility of integrating pneumatic and hydraulic technology as well. I have worked on solutions that incorporate air or hydraulic, and the neat thing is that through the electronic or electrical control systems, these technologies can be seamlessly integrated into one working solution leveraging the best solution for each part of the process.
But somehow the more we try to define, the harder it is to put a fence on what field of endeavor we are in. Its fairly easy to identify mechatronics when looking at a robot or a machine tool. Specialty machinery in all the major fields, medical packaging, food industry applications, large data storage systems, are all identifiable as applications of mechatronics.
But what about engineering a better clothes washer, dishwasher, refrigerator? Does the definition fit? Yes. Its all about engineering better mechanical solutions and building better electrical and electronic controls to enhance the performance. The biggest difference being that once a solution is arrived at, it has to be produced in hundreds of thousands of systems.
Most CD and DVD players have a mechatronic solution for loading the disk, a spindle drive to spin the disk and a mechanism to move the read head across the tracks of the platter to read the information and controls to coordinate all those activities. Audio or video.
The electric car? Mechatronic? You bet! The design challenge is to find the maximum driving range based on the efficiency tradeoff of a 2 speed load requirement. High torque at low motor rpm to start the vehicle and low torque and high rpm to run the vehicle at highway speed. The big difference is this is a portable system, so the power source has to go with you. Batteries? Well, the Tesla roadster with over 7,000 lithium cells has the situation under control, but don’t try this with lead acid. GM tried it with the EV-1 and it took 1500 lbs of batteries to make it work.
Wind Power? Mechatronic. Find the ideal turbine or blade configuration to turn a gear train that spins an electric generator. The lower the minimum wind speed that the system will operate at and the higher the efficiency, the more energy that can be harvested from the wind.
So in addition to all buzz about mechatronics’ contribution to industry, there are emerging markets and applications that will make a difference in our energy consumption patterns, national security interests and improve our environment. All at the same time.
Makes this mechatronics stuff downright appealing. Al Gore notwithstanding.