Mechatronics Takes Center Stage at Festo

Touting the growing importanceof “mechatronics,” Festo AG & Co. KG (www.festo.com), the Esslington, Germany-based automation components and systems supplier, described a variety of new and emerging products, technologies and trends at its 5th International Press Conference Dec. 6-7 in Vienna, Austria. Nearly 90 journalists and trade press editors attended the event.

The event included a “Market Square” area in which various Festo technologies were on display.
The event included a “Market Square” area in which various Festo technologies were on display.

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, defines mechatronics as the synergistic combination of mechanical engineering, electronic engineering and software engineering. And during formal presentations in Vienna, Festo managers, engineers and partners provided multiple examples.

Among the most notable, perhaps, was a microwave sensor developed by Festo that can be integrated into the end face of a pneumatic linear drive, where it can continuously measure piston position and speed across the entire cylinder stroke range. For more on this technology, see Tech Trends, page 51.

One recent Festo partnership also highlights a growing industry focus on mechatronics. Dieter Pesch, head of key account management at German-based Eplan Software & Service GmbH & Co. KG (www.eplan.de), provided details of an exclusive partnership between Eplan and Festo that he said can help optimize the machine design process.

In a mechatronics approach to design engineering, Eplan has developed a cross-discipline software product that allows fluid, electrical and cabinet engineering to be done using an identical tool, while sharing the same database. It’s a capability that Pesch called “revolutionary.” Under terms of the partnership, this software includes a direct link to the Festo digital product catalog; when a Festo component is selected for use in a design, the component data is transferred directly to the Eplan engineering software. This feature, which includes an online ordering capability, translates to enormous time and costs savings for the user, Pesch said.

Other presentations covered innovations that are under development in Festo labs. Machine builders and original equipment manufacturers today must typically choose between pneumatic and electric drive systems, for example. Each technology has advantages and disadvantages, based on application need. But a new approach based on “hybrid” drive systems will soon be reality, said Rüdiger Neuman, who heads Festo’s mechatronics systems research. According to Neuman, the hybrid drive of the future will integrate a pneumatic drive and electric drive into a cylinder to work in parallel on the same handling task.

This hybrid drive will combine the advantages of pneumatics robustness, durability, low cost and easy installation and operation with the accuracy and dynamism of electric drives, Neuman said. Festo has such hybrid drives working in its labs, and the technology is “very close” to becoming a product, Neuman told the assembled journalists.

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