Machine Design
Leveraging Mechatronic Engineering

Leveraging Mechatronic Engineering

Tom Jensen is the Manager of OEM Business Development, at Lenze.

Mechatronics is the interdisciplinary collaboration of power, electronics, and mechanical systems, including embedded software and hardware — or, more simply stated, the convergence of engineering disciplines. Mechatronic engineering improves component integration that results in smaller machines that perform better and cost less to build and support.

What are the advantages of mechatronic engineering?

Mechatronics reduces inefficiencies, errors, and unnecessary costs by breaking down traditional engineering silos. At the start of a project using the mechatronic approach, electrical, mechanical, and software engineers address the actual product a customer wants. They discuss the operations needed to form and handle the product, then recommend how best to perform the operations.

Precisely designed components—motors, drives, and gearboxes—can be viewed as standardized modules fulfilling requirement for speed, torque, motion sequence, dynamics, and positioning accuracy. Engineers select the right proven modular components and software, knowing precise specifications about what each can do.

What does the design team gain?

Through collaborative mechatronic design, the entire team learns valuable insights into all three engineering disciplines. With each successive project, they become better equipped to assess engineering feasibilities relative to the other disciplines. In many cases, this lets them take it to the next level by developing new control capabilities that expand customer offerings and support new business opportunities.

What do customers gain?

They get machines and equipment constructed out of tested modular components that offer high reliability and combine several engineering requirements in one components or assembly. This usually means the finished device has a smaller footprint. The process can also yield innovative methods to accomplish machine tasks.

For example, a servo-driven belt might replace a metal cam for a loading arm. Or a frequency drive on a knee mechanism might replace hydraulics for high-speed, high-power applications. And the machines are easier to support because fully integrated modules don’t require separate software.

How does a company build a productive mechatronic engineering team?

Mechatronics is a relatively new concept, so it can be challenging to find engineers with solid educations or experiences in several engineering fields. A number of prominent engineering colleges offer courses in mechatronics, yet the term does not yet identify prospective candidates to fill real-world positions. Instead, firms continue to hire mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, and programmers as separate entities. Therefore, the best plan to secure qualified mechatronic engineers is to create in-house resources.

Bear in mind that engineers must also stay abreast of current technologies. There is a near-constant stream of mechatronic innovation, some of which can vastly improve the machine design process and product. As an example, some vendors offer software that combines panel layout with drive sizing and cam design.

What can upper management do?

Businesses under constant pressure to design and deliver machines don’t always make time for engineers to collaborate or innovate. So the mechatronic approach requires top-down leadership to schedule time to make R&D a priority. A simple, yet effective, entry ramp can be reworking an old design using the cross-discipline approach.

When the team achieves specific benchmarks, such as a percentage improvement in reliability or energy efficiency, it should be rewarded so team members realize the importance of continuous improvement via collaboration. There must also be a plan to provide up-to-date and detailed project information to each engineer on the team.

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