“Mecha what?”

That is the usual reaction when I mention my job title. While the discipline of mechatronics may not be that well known, it surrounds us in the world of modern technology. It combines mechanical, electrical and software engineering elements to give a broad overview of how they integrate, and almost everything designed now includes some ‘smart’ features. Machines which used to be purely mechanical now include extensive electronics and control systems, as anyone with car trouble is all too aware of. Thanks to Google, eyewear is now smarter than the best computers only a few years ago, and factories are being taken over by robots. It is remarkable that many products purchased online, shipped from the other side of the world, may never be touched by a human hand until the postman puts it through your letterbox.

mechatronics robot arm

This is the way the world is progressing and what the customer is demanding. We want access to the best range of products, from every corner of the world, and delivered as if it were from a shop just down the road. When shopping online there is little thought from the customer about how the little picture on a website will actually turn into something delivered to their door, but this process is a perfect example of how mechatronics fits into our world.

Robotics and automation are the areas where mechatronics is mostly recognised and over the last few months, I have been lucky enough to get back to my mechatronic roots and work with a large UK company developing technology to fit part of this process. The development of new technology is always exciting, but looking at the big picture and how it will affect so many lives, without them even knowing about it is fascinating.

This project involved working with the mechanical, electrical and test engineers to build a factory worker-bee, directed by a complex control system ensuring the factory works as efficiently as possible, 24 hours a day. Tasks included everything from ensuring all electrical elements of the machine worked together with the custom built electronics and control algorithms, to managing of the build and compiling the initial user guides.

While it is not possible to publicise the actual project we worked on, here are some links to interesting and exciting developments in the world of mechatronics.

Festo robotic bird – http://youtu.be/nnR8fDW3Ilo

Humanoid baby – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aP6uxt3JJSU

The smart factory and ‘intelligent robots’ – should we be scared? – http://www.engineersjournal.ie/smart-factory-intelligent-robots-scared/