The above is a diagram from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Web site, which describes the various fields that make up mechatronics.

The Straight Dope on Mechatronics
Yaskawa, the company that invented the term, describes its evolution

By Todd Rohde, Yaskawa America, Inc. - Drives & Motion Division, April 2008

When the word Mechatroncis first appeared nearly 40 years ago, most people had no idea what it was. With time and technological advancements, however, mechatronics has become a familiar term in the field of engineering worldwide. Today, it’s hard not to come across the word mechatronics in some way, shape or form.

What is Mechatronics?
Essentially, Mechatronics is the concept of working smarter – not harder – and to inexpensively get the most done in as little time as possible. The term can be defined in many different ways, but functionally, it is a blend of mechanics and the synergistic use of precision engineering, control theory, computer science, and finally sensor and actuator technology – all designed to improve products and processes.

But mechatronics is more than that. It also concentrates on mechanics, electronics, control and molecular engineering as well as computing, all combining to produce simpler, economical, reliable and versatile systems. Mechatronics can also be described as the totality of fundamentals and techniques in a unified framework for service and production of future-orientated machines and products.

Yet another definition of mechatronics relates to the synergistic integration of mechanical engineering, electronics and intelligent computer control for design and manufacture of industrial products and processes. All in all, Mechatronics has been associated with many different topics including manufacturing, motion control, robotics, intelligent control, system integration, vibration and noise control, automotive systems, modeling and design, actuators and sensors as well as micro devices.

History of Mechatronics
The genesis of mechatronics began in 1969 in Japan when Tetsura Mori, a senior engineer for Yaskawa Electric Corp., coined the term. Back then, mechatronics was viewed strictly as electromechanical systems or control and automation engineering. As is evident, the term mechatronics is a combination of words, which is nothing new for Yaskawa; a company that has been combining words and concepts since the 1950s. One of the first terms they created was “minertia,” which was named for a servomotor line that used minimum inertia to develop super-fast starting and stopping ability. Next came, “mochintrol” – short for motor, machine and control – which boasts electrical actuators capable of freely controlling mechanical arms and fingers.

Yaskawa applied for a registered trademark for mechatronics in 1970 and won the rights to the term in 1973. Although the foundation was set for the study of mechatronics, it failed to take off to its full potential; Yaskawa and its engineers were ahead of their time, and so they did not pursue widespread publicity.

It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the term began to gain popularity. Yaskawa decided not to renew its trademark and relinquish the rights to the term so as not to limit the industry’s research and advancement of the technology.

During the 1970s, mechatronics focused on servo technology, in which simple implementation aided technologies related to sophisticated control methods such as automatic door openers and auto-focus cameras. In the 1980s, mechatronics was used to focus on information technology whereby microprocessors were imbedded into mechanical systems to improve performance, such as antilock braking and electric seats. Finally, in the 1990s, mechatronics centered on communication technology to connect products into large networks, including the production of air bags and other related technologies.

Mechatronics Today
As the need for mechatronics continues to expand, the term continues to become more and more common. Two things that have contributed to its growth are the shrinking global market and the need for reliable and cost-effective products. To be competitive, companies must develop new technologies to design and manufacture their products. Mechatronics assists rapid reaction to change, competitive product properties and shortened product cycles – absolute necessities for any company.

While mechatronics still involves the merging of mechanics and electronics, it also includes software and information technology. Mechatronics melds new technologies to existing technologies and combines them to solve problems, creates products or even develops new ways of doing things. Mechatronics integrates different technologies to solve problems as efficiently as possible. In the past, engineers tried to use their own lines of study to solve a problem, but now they can use the thought processes of many different outlooks to enhance their research with the use of more efficient tools.

Future of Mechatronics

When it comes to mechatronics, the sky is the limit as more and more ideas will be developed to improve the way we live and do things. With the ever-changing needs and wants of a complex and sophisticated world, innovations and technologies will have to improve and develop with the rapidly changing times. In the future, mechatronics will increasingly focus on safety, reliability and affordability.

Mechatronics will also play a large roll in the use of robotics to assist with efficiency, productivity, accountability and control. Robots not only master repetitive and dangerous tasks, but they do it low cost and with lower margins of error. Companies using robotics will have the luxury of keeping work in their own plants rather then exporting it over seas.

Mechatronics also is projected to play a major roll in the medical field, as well as in computerized world and parts of industry-based manufacturing. Instead of building a computer to run a machine, mechatronics will help make the computer a part of the machine that builds a product.

Mechatronics shouldn’t change the design process, but rather give the engineer greater knowledge so that concepts can be developed more efficiently; so that communications with other engineering disciplines are improved. Client and market satisfaction are the major goals in the field of mechatronics. Once the needs of a client are expressed, product specifications can be developed from those needs. Then the design process can begin. Engineers will use and do whatever it takes to produce the end result desired in order to come up with new products and processes.

Currently marketing communications specialist for Yaskawa America, Inc. - Drives & Motion Division, Todd Rohde has been a writer and editor for more than 10 years. He holds a bachelor's degree in English with a Concentration on writing along with a Communication minor from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.