It really hasn’t been that long ago that mechanical designers and controls designers didn’t talk to each other. In fact, many machine builders had only electricians who could program a programmable logic controller (PLC) and no electronic motion control engineers at all. The past ten years has witnessed a huge change in this situation.
European academic engineers coined the mechatronics concept as a way to describe how mechanical design and electronic design can work together. When designers look at moving points in a machine, they can evaluate a purely mechanical motion with gears or pulleys, a hydraulic or pneumatic motion control, or digital servo control of the motion. The increased flexibility allows designers to produce machines that give customers the ability to run smaller batches of a greater diversity of package sizes, for example.
I have seen a couple of companies that have completely redesigned their machines from the ground up to take advantage of mechatronics power. New design concepts can reduce the size of machines, improve reliability and shorten time to delivery. Sounds like a winner all the way around. There is a soft spot in my heart for elegant machine design. I’d surely love to see more creativity and innovation in this area.
Check out an informative podcast on trends in motion control for packaging machines: www.automationworld.com/podcast-7797