I will be publishing a series of tutorials regarding Analog Mechatronics on Planet Analog over the next few months. Originally, Ko Kikuchi, President of Yasakawa Electric Company, coined the term. Essentially Mechatronics is about technologies and developed products that will be incorporating electronics more and more into mechanisms, intimately and organically, and making it impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins1.
In this series, we will use the definition from my NYU/Polytechnic alma mater: Mechatronics is the synergistic integration of sensors, actuators, signal conditioning, power electronics, decision and control algorithms, and computer hardware and software to manage complexity, uncertainty, and communication in engineered systems1.
I feel that there are a great many designers out in our industry who need good performance at the front end of their circuitry which can see a variety of different inputs. At the other end of the signal chain are Power Drivers and they will be addressed as well. Amplifiers will be the core of the first few articles. These articles will have some good basics as well as relating the article to the Mechatronics realm.
I will also be highlighting a young woman, Michelle Easter, who started as a make-up artist and a model but migrated to a Mechatronics engineering career at NASA JPL. STEM was a very big influence on this young lady.
Mechatronics Engineer Michelle Easter at a NASA Space Apps Women in Data Bootcamp (Image courtesy of IEEE Women in Engineering Magazine)
Michelle Easter works for the Payload and Small Spacecraft Mechanical Engineering Section in the Mechatronics Group at NASA JPL. She’s currently focused on designing an active motion control system for testing spacecraft, as well as other projects to help scientists understand the environments in space that have had sparse research thus far.
The Elements of Mechatronics1
In the field of Mechatronics, there are multiple elements and disciplines involved. We will concentrate on Analog and Power in this series of articles. Here are the key elements:
Sensors and Actuators make up the electromechanical portion of Mechatronics.
Some examples of sensors that measure physical variables. These can be sensing light with a photo-resistor, displacement with a potentiometer, direction and tilt with a magnetic sensor, sound with the use of a microphone, stress and pressure with a strain gauge, touch with a micro-switch, temperature with a thermistor, and humidity with a conductivity sensor.
Actuators can be a DC servomotor, stepper motor, LED, speaker, relay, solenoid, shape memory alloy, and an electromagnet.
Some Integrated circuit-based sensors and actuators (Image courtesy of Reference 1)
Electrical elements can be components such as resistors, capacitors, inductors, transformers as well as circuits and analog signals. These elements will be for interfacing the electro-mechanical sensors and actuators to control interface/computing hardware elements.
Electronic elements would be analog/digital electronics, transistors, thyristors, opto-isolators, op amps, power electronics, and signal conditioning.
Control interface/Computing hardware
Examples of elements in this area are Analog-to-digital converters, Digital-to-analog converters, digital I/O, counters, timers, data acquisition and control boards in the realm of analog and power.
These elements enable the communication of the sensor output to the control computer and, in the other direction is the control signal from the control computer to the actuator.
Watch for our first tutorial in this Mechatronics series on amplifiers, to be followed by applications, development trends, power in harsh environments, medical designs, robotic designs, nano-displacement, automotive, flex joints, and more.
Please comment below on this topic and let me know what you think of it and also please suggest what other areas might be of interest to you within the topic of Mechatronics. As always, I rely on your expertise and needs in order to offer you diversified articles on Planet Analog to make you a better engineer who will make this a better world.
1 Intro to Mechatronics, W. Bolton, NYU Tandon School of Engineering/Polytechnic Institute