Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mechatronics: The Future of Design

Diane here, with our engineering word of the day: mechatronics. The term "mechatronics" has been around since 1969, and it's hardly a new concept to engineers. Mechatronics is defined as an approach to machine design that simultaneously incorporates mechanical, electrical, control system, and embedded software elements.

It's not new, but its importance increases constantly. That's because most engineers find that they are given shorter times to complete the design process, while they are expected to do it for less money. Meanwhile, concerns about the final machine being efficient and safe are constantly likewise on the rise.

For designers of industrial equipment, vehicles, or other machines that include moving parts and electronically-controlled actuators, mechatronics is particularly desirable. There is so much interdependency between the mechanical elements of the machine, its electronics, and the software that runs it, that any decision made by one member of the design team is bound to impact the others in a critical way. There needs to be close communication between the disciplines. No longer can the mechanical engineer simply complete his work, pass it on to the electrical engineer, etc.

The only solution to these pressures on the industry is for design to happen in the realm of software. Tools such as National Instrument's LabVIEW allow teams of designers to do simulated prototyping and testing as the design process evolves. It's a much better approach than building a real-life prototype only to have it fail and require costly revisions.

As a writer, I can grasp this concept easily by comparing it to writing a book with or without word processing software. When I wrote my first novel back in the late 70's, I typed it on paper. I then had to "revise my prototype" by making the edits with pen (and sometimes tape and scissors) and then retype the entire manuscript. It sure is preferable to do it all digitally! I can, for example, change a character's name without trepidation using that great tool, the global replace.

It's all about letting the software do the work for you--quickly, accurately and cheaply. And J.W. Winco understands the importance for engineers to be able to build and test their design in software as much as possible. That's why we started offering 3D CAD ahead of most of our competition, and why we strive to provide more accurate and detailed models than other companies do. If the motion system you're designing requires a rotary table, and our GN 900.6 meets your requirements, the 3D model can be downloaded in a couple minutes into your design. Sure beats going through the time and trouble of getting a sample and building a prototype.

For a 12 minute free intro course to mechatronics, visit TechOnline.

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