Mechatronics - Engineering the future
Mechatronics, IoT, and Industry 4.0
Mechatronics is a term which is popping up frequently these days, by the way, it’s not new. If we recognise the first reference to it, when Japanese engineer Ko Kikuchi combined the words mechanical and electronics in 1969 then it’s been around 47 odd years.
In the UK the first MEng course in Mechatronics was established in 1985 and 3 years later in 1988 the first graduates appeared.
Multi-discipline approach for Mechatronics
So what is Mechatronics and why is it of significant importance now? Well actually it’s always been important but with IoT and the Industry 4.0 movement it’s now a go to term which captures all.
Mechatronics brings together an integrated approach to engineering which involves electronics, mechanical and computing disciplines. Most production and manufacturing facilities will employ a high degree of Mechatronics. The division between electronics and mechanical engineering is now more blurred, the outcome off this is a more integrated approach to engineering in general.
With the advent of Raspberry Pi and Arduino more people are learning to code and looking at wider applications through the open source approach than ever before. Go to any Maker Fair, Fab Lab and Hacker Event and you will see Mechatronics in action.
So what is the scale of Mechatronics?
Well think about motor control, from large 3 phase inverters to small micro-processor control boards and you can see the scope of Mechatronics, even in this technology field it’s large. Now consider all the machine tools, such as laser cutters, pressing and punching tools, mix this together with packaging and conveyor systems and you can see that it’s huge, now add the IoT equation to the mix and we have something which is truly massive.
This is great news if you specialise as a Mechatronics Engineer, you are very employable and more in demand than ever before, seriously, if you want a career in engineering it’s worth considering Mechatronics. For here the field is open for Robotics, Aerospace, Motion Control, and whole host of engineering possibilities.
I read somewhere that the advent of IoT and Industry 4.0 could actually see the demise of Mechatronic Engineers. I’m not buying that train of thought at all, rather the opposite in fact, for me it’s the next step in the evolution of Mechatronics. Moving forward it won't be long before we are including Augmented Reality as a major part of the engineering mix (topic for another day).
Let me quantify the greater need for Mechatronic Engineers by highlighting the basic requirements of IoT, DATA.
Data is King in modern manufacturing
No big surprise here that the key to IoT is data, but consider how that data is gathered. First of all which data point’s do you need to measure to give a logical coherent output. What do you do with that data once you have it, how do you process it to make sense of it. The reason for all this data is to build efficiencies and cost saving into the system, this plays perfectly into the multi-discipline world of mechatronics.
This might sound too simplistic but who better than a mechatronics engineer to help companies remain competitive in an ever increasing environment where every second counts and inefficiencies cost millions. Asset management is reliant on great system integration and communication between processes. In industrial environments this can lead to a reduction in un-planned maintenance, with orders on specific products being placed before breakdown occurs. In manufacturing, parts are available on assembly lines just as you need them.
Someone asked me recently to sum up Automation, what is it? Now, how do you answer that? It’s not easy to explain, but for me, its control, move, measure and react, or, applications (electronics, electrical, mechanical and software IT), control and analysis, you may explain it differently. But however you may define it you can bet at its heart there is Mechatronics.
Basically if you are capable across these fields, then you are on the road to being a Mechatronics Engineer.
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