Top-down strategies innovate mechatronic machine engineering

02/11/2014


Leverage modular solutions for innovation

An intersection of technologies, mechatronics optimizes the tools required for easy and successful machine design by blending expertise in mechanical engineering, electronics, instrumentation, robotics, PLC computer systems, and software-based engineeringModern machines are produced with faster lead times and designed to operate at considerably higher speeds than in the past. In the great race to meet production deadlines and budgets, innovation must never be an afterthought. Like mechatronics, innovation results from blending known elements to create something new. Consider the ubiquitous smartphone, for example, combining phone, camera, MP3, lighting, and touchscreen. By blending the tools based on CPU technology, smartphones become so much more. The same holds true for machine controls. A single touch panel can combine HMI, logic, and motion. Servos can be replaced with IP65 closed loop induction motor modules for cost savings and better inertia matching. Mechatronic engineers quickly recognize the short leap to tool-less changeover and data collection.

Industry standards have vastly improved machine programming consistency, so users have better and more flexible equipment and software choices. Open standards and tools have been instrumental in mitigating system integration issues, including inconsistencies in mode control and error reactions, commonly associated with proprietary programs. Application templates and ready-made standard software modules support machine builders in efficiently creating modular control software. Consider that about 80% or more of new machine tasks reflect some variation of past machine tasks. Design technologies exist to quickly and reliably handle many engineering requirements for standardized machine modules.

Use of modular code programming relies on a control system and modular hardware, but the impact in terms of reducing machine design resources is phenomenal. Software can be generated much more quickly using code developed for previous generations of machines in the form of ready-made technology modules, which can be modified to meet any new requirements. An application template provides the necessary basic structures while allowing users to create their own machine modules. Software modules created using application templates can then be put together like bricks with minimal effort, creating complete systems that are customizable and reusable. Preconfigured, reusable software modules for positioning, registration, cam profiling, multi-conveyor coordination, and other synchronized motion control tasks—including modules for feeding, unwinding, sealing, cross-sealing, and discharge applications—offer machine builders greater freedom and time to focus on developing and refining other value-added features of a new machine.

If not now, when?

When the goal is to build and deliver machines on time, efficiently, and within budget with the features a customer desires, mechatronics offers the most flexible and cost-effective path using modular components—with the balance of electrical and mechanical articulated in software. Increased demand for automation in broader applications has spurred development of smarter, more efficient drives, controls, and software tools. Automation products with embedded mechatronic functionality reduce engineering expenses while taking less real estate and offering more dynamic machine performance. The mechatronics design phase not only helps to ensure right-sized components, but also typically results in fewer parts, which translates to space and cost savings.

As more OEMs get on board with mechatronics, it becomes imperative that they manage the process and recognize mechatronic trends to stay ahead of the technology curve. By developing a portfolio of mechanical, electrical, and software modules, it becomes easier to quickly assemble “custom” machines to meet customer requests. Perhaps there’s an adjacent industry that could use machines similar to those your company builds. You know there’s potential for lucrative new sales. But do you know if the machine concept would work? There’s never been a better time to find out—and a mechatronic engineering team can make it happen.

- Tom Jensen is technology evangelist at Lenze Americas. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, Plant Engineering, and Consulting-Specifying Engineer, mhoske(at)cfemedia.com.

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See related articles linked at the bottom for additional information.

Key concepts

  • Mechatronics is the convergence of power, electronics, and mechanical systems, including embedded software and hardware in engineering design.
  • Original equipment manufacturers manage design and use mechatronic techniques to stay ahead of the technology curve.
  • Developing a portfolio of mechanical, electrical, and software modules helps to quickly assemble custom machines to meet customer requests. 

Consider this

What’s your timing for a mechatronics redesign?


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