By Anthony J. Lockwood
Dear Desktop Engineering Reader:
Today’s Check it Out is about a mechatronics, a mini-website, and a must-read.
Anyone who has been in the business of engineering machines knows that there’s a revolution going on in industrial machine design. You differentiate your machine from the other guy’s creating systems with higher throughput, increased efficiency, reduced operating costs, and feature upon feature intended to improve your clients’ productivity. And time is not on your side because your competition is as smart as you, and maybe more nimble. Your changing world has spawned two dramatic changes.
First, the day of the single-purpose machine is gone. Machines today are multifunction platforms where sophisticated, software-driven electronics and job-specific hardware determine the role a “basic” machine serves. Two, the traditional sequential approach to industrial machine design is rapidly becoming history as a mechatronics-based approach assumes prominence.
Mechatronics, in short, describes a multidisciplinary engineering process far beyond just a blend of mechanical and electrical design. It describes the integration of your design processes: mechanical, electrical, embedded hardware, embedded software, control engineering, and related disciplines. MCAD, data logging, real-time signal processing and analysis, HMI, motion and automation controllers, CAE, and everything in between are part of this orchestration. Early, often, and ongoing analysis and virtual prototyping of your complete machine from concept on up are the norm.
Inherently, mechatronics means machines and machine design process complexity, which brings us to today’s Check It Out. National Instruments has created a three-part mini-website covering mechatronics in the modern engineering environment. It offers meat: cases studies, video tutorials, and lots of food for thought. The case studies, for example, show how real-world companies have used NI’s LabVIEW graphical design system for jobs like motion control, simulating supervisory control, and programming FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays) in NI’s CompactRIO automation controller to build unique industrial machines.
But if I had to pick just one element of NI’s Machine Design mini-site to recommend, it would be the “Machine Design Guide” that you can download from the right-hand side of the page you’ll land on after hitting the Check it Out link. NI’s “Machine Design Guide” provides a step-by-step best-practices guide for designing machines in a multidisciplinary engineering environment. Major topic areas are conceptual machine design and mechanical design, electrical design, embedded software design, and control design. Parts of the paper are almost written in checklist fashion, making it easy to match best practices to your process. Assertions are richly backed with real-world case studies. This 46-page PDF is a gem.
Mechatronics really means managing multidisciplinary engineering challenges. I think you’ll find NI’s Machine Design website and best practices guide a valuable resource to doing just that.
Thanks, pal. — Lockwood
Anthony J. Lockwood
Editor at Large, Desktop Engineering