The term mechatronics is a combination of ‘mechanical engineering’ and ‘electronics’, integrating the various types of engineering into one technical field of study. It encompasses more than mechanical and electrical engineering. It brings mechanical, electrical, computer and robotics engineering together to connect disparate states of design and production processes into single, streamlined mechatronic systems.
Its ultimate goal is to develop new useful products and more economical, reliable and versatile solutions. It achieves this by integrating elements of artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, telecommunications, optical engineering, and systems and controls. Some system examples that can be attributed to mechatronics include robots, air-bag systems, digital cameras and aircraft cruise controls, among others.
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The where and how of mechatronics
Mechatronics engineers’ skills are used in automotive, aerospace, aviation, manufacturing, oil and energy industries. As Industry 4.0 (fourth industrial revolution) uses cyber-physical systems to incorporate connected devices that exchange data and make decisions, mechatronics is considered an enabling factor of and key component to Industry 4.0.
Common responsibilities of a mechatronics engineering department include, but are not limited to:
- Warehouse control
- Enterprise resource planning
- Sensing and control
Mainly prevalent in manufacturing sectors like industrial, electronic and automotive, for example, the most common applications where mechatronics engineering would be applied are:
Mechatronics engineers are used across industry, but most of the work falls in the highly automated manufacturing sector. It involves working on mechatronics systems that directly support automotive, aerospace, consumer and industrial goods sectors. Essentially, they leverage their expertise to develop and maintain smart technologies.
Mechatronics company Tectra Automation has implemented a new mechatronics-engineered test bench that proves the efficiency of Bosch Rexroth electromechanical cylinders over pneumatic cylinders. It also proved the connectivity and control potential of Bosch Rexroth’s open core engineering.
The test bench helped prove that electromechanical cylinders provide more force over a longer service life than its pneumatic counterpart (almost double the lifecycle), and that plant operators can control plant processes remotely from multiple devices. By incorporating various control systems on to the test rig, Tectra Automation proved that adopting open core engineering and software engineering innovations for control, that operators can control all aspects of their plant from remote devices.
Although hailed as an emerging field, mechatronics has, in fact, been around in one form or another for several decades. The term ‘mechatronics’ itself dates back to 1969 and mechatronics engineers have, in the past, been cloaked in other easily recognisable engineering specialties.
Many of these specialties fall within the broad category of mechatronics and automation, although specific engineering disciplines include:
With regards to defining the niche scope of work falling in the domain of mechatronics engineers, the term has been defined in different, but similar ways. Some of the accepted definitions include:
Mechatronics engineers play a key role in engineering design, R&D, sales, production management and safety and quality. They design, develop, maintain and manage engineering systems that have cutting-edge sophisticated technology.
The Bosch Rexroth South Africa Group of Companies’ entire product range are used within the mechatronics engineering technology discipline.
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Various engineering disciplines can be followed by qualified mechatronics engineers. In addition to following a career as a mechatronics engineer or mechatronics technician, the following engineering specialities can also be considered:
The types of industries in which this technology is used are numerous and include:
As far as robotics and mechatronics are concerned, there is a perception that mechatronics and robotics are different fields. However, this is incorrect. As mechatronics is the study of interactions between mechanical and electrical systems and control theory, it is actually a superset of robotic technologies and is sometimes called mechatronics robotics. It covers a diverse field of electro-mechanical systems, from simple on/off controls to sophisticated robotics.