The latest buzzword used within colleges and among many industry leaders is “mechatronics.” If one consults Wikipedia, the definition provided there is: “Mechatronics is a design process that includes a combination of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, control engineering, and computer engineering. Mechatronics is a multidisciplinary field of engineering; that is to say, it rejects splitting engineering into separate disciplines. Originally, mechatronics just included the combination of mechanics and electronics, hence the word [itself] is a combination of mechanics and electronics; however, as technical systems have become more and more complex, the word has been ‘updated’ during recent years to include more technical areas.”
Given that Wikipedia is not a traditional encyclopedia, this source seems the perfect place to attempt to define this new and changing term. Mechatronics, as it is evolving, includes not only mechanics and electronics, but also such various disciplines as fluid power, control theory, and computer science.
Mr. Tetsuro Mori, a senior engineer at the Japanese company Yaskawa in 1969, came up with the original term “mechatronics.” He got the idea from combining the technologies that had been utilized in industrial robots. This included using mechanics, electronics, and computing to accomplish the robots’ day-to-day jobs.
Engineering cybernetics deals with questions of controls engineering within the mechatronic systems. This application of controls leads to collaboration, and most mechatronics modules are designed to perform the production goals, incorporate machine flexibility, and provide agile manufacturing properties within overall manufacturing systems. Thus, the application of mechatronics leads to what is known as “machine control architecture.”
Applications for implementing mechatronics in industry are many: automotive manufacturing, robotics, motion control, systems integration, intelligent control, systems modeling and design, vibration and noise control, packaging, medical technology, and servo-mechanics. These are just a few examples of where mechatronics can be used. Mechatronic systems may provide a complete production system or may only provide sub-components of that production system.
Students graduating with degrees in this area of study can select from a wide spectrum of industries for career choices. These engineers can choose either small or large companies, primary manufacturers, OEMs, or end users, and they may use their interdisciplinary backgrounds in mechanical, electrical, fluid power (hydraulics and pneumatics), computers, microcontrollers, programmable logic controllers, programming, industrial sensors, electrical drives, and engineering functions. The combination of system technologies and the interdisciplinary approach gives the students a broader vision and understanding of the entire production process.
Mechatronics is yet another avenue for students to gain the theoretical concepts coupled with hands-on applications for current and future global manufacturing arenas. These students can become qualified engineers, technicians, or mechanics—there is a widespread need for interdisciplinary understanding at all levels of industry. Now is the time to apply at your local community college or university for a rewarding future. Good Luck!
Editor’s Note: If you are an instructor at an educational institution or an industry professional involved in mechatronics, we invite you to contribute technical articles to our publication about this growing field. Please contact Kristine Coblitz at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
By Jimmy Simpson, CFPAI, AJPP, Chairman of Fluid Power Education Foundation (FPEF) and Adjunct Fluid Power Instructor at Northwest State Community College
This November, the three leading fluid power organizations—The International Fluid Power Society (IFPS), the FPDA Motion and Control Network (FPDA), and the National Fluid Power Association (NFPA)—will once again embark on a mission of education and training to ensure fluid power is a more competitive and logical technology choice now and for the future. Based on industry feedback from the last two conferences, the curriculum development team (led by Jon Jensen, CFPAI, SMC Corp. of America; Pat Maluso, CPFAI, Western Hydrostatics; Rance Herren, CFPAI, National Oilwell Varco; and Mark Perry, CFPHS, Fitzsimmons Hydraulics) secured top-notch speakers for this year’s topics.
The Fluid Power Systems Conference (formerly known as the Energy Efficient Hydraulic and Pneumatic Conference) is being held from November 19-21, 2013 at the Doubletree Hotel in Rosemont, Ill. This successful conference will provide a dynamic, interactive environment where industry engineers and technicians can learn design concepts critical to developing efficient fluid power systems along with the diagnostic and maintenance techniques essential to keeping those systems operating at peak efficiency.
With fluid power used in dozens of industries and hundreds of applications to precisely control movement of machinery and material, the conference will provide an optimum setting to fortify the professional’s skill set. Included in this powerhouse symposium will be hands-on instruction, facilitated roundtables, and networking events designed to augment the participants’ knowledge base of the newest, cutting-edge developments in energy-efficient and reliable hydraulics and pneumatics.
Highlighting the conference’s agenda will be the keynote lecture by Gary W. Rogers, president and CEO of FEV, Inc. Mr. Rogers currently sits on the National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) Board on Energy and Environmental Systems and on the Medium and Heavy-Duty Truck CO2 and Fuel Economy Phase 2 committee for the NAS. His address, “Reducing Energy and Expenses Utilizing Hydraulic Hybrid Waste Trucks, Transit Buses, and Delivery Vehicles,” will focus on the state of development of hydraulic hybrid systems with respect to commercial vehicles, including factors such as efficiency, commonality of infrastructure, and the total cost of ownership. The technology will be paralleled to hybrid electric and CNG-fueled alternatives.
The Fluid Power Systems Conference is your vehicle to enhancing your educational prowess, both for yourself and your organization. The key to maximizing gains from this three-day program is taking advantage of each instructional opportunity available. In today’s competitive marketplace, success depends on persuading potential customers that your company is the business of choice. How effectively and cost-efficiently you provide the positive-end results clients want depends on a vast array of expertise, good references, and rock-solid reputation.
Make the most of your experience at the conference, and if you have not already done so, consider certification in your respective discipline. This will reflect your dedication to the highest standards in the fluid power industry while acting as a conduit of satisfaction to customers, ensuring improved safety, reliability, and greater efficiency.
A host of educational opportunities are at your fingertips within the conference; don’t pass up this chance. For complete details and to register for the conference, go to www.ifps.org.
Donna Pollander, ACA, IFPS Executive Director
Certification adds a third dimension to your portfolio; education and experience are the other two.
In baseball, we look for a player with the complete package—one who can throw, bat, catch, run, and be smart enough to make the many quick decisions that inevitably impact the outcome of a game. Certification in our industry mimics this complete package. It lets people know that you have, in addition to experience and education, specialization in fluid power and that you have taken the time to document your expertise. It lets the world know you are a critical member of the “team.”
Fluid power has had many innovations since the 1980s. Probably the most significant is proportional controls. Fast forward 30 years and all of a sudden we are dealing with programmable logic controllers, motion controllers, analog and digital drivers, load cells, linear variable displacement transducers (LVDT), proportional integral derivative (PID) controllers—the list goes on and on. These innovative technologies require in-depth knowledge of electronics in addition to basic hydraulics.
Fluid power isn’t just for log splitting anymore. In addition to electronics, advances in proportional valve technology and servo valve technology have allowed fluid power to reach into applications that used to be reserved for the electromechanical industry. Again, applying these valves requires knowledge of frequency response technology and closed-loop controls. Certification is a key way of keeping up with this technology and letting your industry know that you have the fundamental knowledge necessary to apply it.
When I first heard of fluid power certification in the early 90s, I was very interested. I saw it as a way to achieve a higher level of accomplishment. Monetary gain was not the main motive. For me, it was more about pride and bragging rights. Since then, I have had many discussions with colleagues about the benefits of being certified. It’s funny how almost everybody who isn’t certified doesn’t feel the need to certify, whereas those who are certified are always looking for new certifications to add to their portfolios and other ways of growing professionally.
Recently, a group of young engineers that I work with decided to take the certification test. They were also joined by a few senior engineers motivated by the younger group. I met with them several times when they were preparing for the test. I reminded them that taking the test is not like running a race—it’s more like achieving a goal. So, if you don’t pass the first time, there’s no shame in going back and taking the test again and again. And again, until you pass. Afterward, while they all agreed that taking the test was no walk in the park, most of them passed the test. The one thing that impressed me the most was that one of the fellows who didn’t pass the test went ahead and re-took the test almost immediately. And he passed it. I don’t know who was more proud.
At the end of the day, it’s really up to us—on an individual level—to take the next step. If you haven’t gotten your certification, look into it. Get started by preparing to take the test. Don’t assume that just because you’ve been in fluid power for years you’re going to breeze through the test. It takes hard work and substantial preparation. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and the rewards of getting certified are real. You probably won’t become the next CEO of your company, but the CEO will surely look at you differently. So, too, will your customers and colleagues see you in a different professional light.
For those of you who have been certified, I urge you to promote the certification process as a positive experience for both the employer and the employee—not as a competitive challenge. This will simply drive people away.
As the industry continues to move forward in areas like energy recovery, energy-efficient systems, alternative energy, smart components, etc., the certification process will become increasingly beneficial and integral to our professional growth. With all of these fast-paced developments, I ask: Can you really afford not to be certified?
About the Author: Bert Martinez, CFPE, CMfgE, has 44 years of experience in hydraulic cartridge valves, integrated circuits, and electrohydraulics. He currently works in marketing/engineering for Sun Hydraulics.