MRO Magazine

How mechatronics helps machine builders

OEMs know that the old saying, "time is money," has never been truer than it is in today's competitive business lan...


May 9, 2008
By MRO Magazine


OEMs know that the old saying, “time is money,” has never been truer than it is in today’s competitive business landscape. Shorter time spent building a machine translates into lower engineering costs, faster time to market and, ultimately, an improvement to the bottom line.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the design phase of a machine’s control system, according to Rockwell Automation. The company says a new design approach is gaining momentum and is helping OEMs meet key business goals. Mechatronics — the combination of mechanical and electrical engineering — is a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach to machine design that helps OEMs bring engineering processes closer together to achieve faster time to market, and to lower design and development costs. If time is money, why not save both?

In traditional machine building, individual mechanical, control and electrical design teams work independently to produce separate pieces of the overall machine. To optimize the available mix of technologies, there needs to be a synergistic blend between the different engineering disciplines. This is precisely what mechatronics aims to deliver.

With an interdisciplinary approach, machine builders bring engineering processes closer together, which improves communication and expands the available knowledge base. Designers can more easily address configuration and integration issues up front and minimize the chance of encountering problems in subsequent stages. The results of this concurrent engineering approach are lower design and development costs, expanded functionality and a more robust, balanced design.


New software tools help machine builders reap the full benefits of mechatronics by making it faster and easier to select, size and optimize motion control systems. With Motion Analyzer software from Rockwell Automation, for example, engineers simply enter information about the load and how it needs to be moved, and the software selects a suitable motor-drive combination. From a pull-down menu, designers can then select an actuator, for instance, without having to figure out complex calculations or look up specifications in the manufacturer’s data sheets.

The software also provides performance and simulation analysis that helps engineers more effectively investigate machine behaviour and select a mechanical design — along with the optimum controls and software — that will maximize machine performance.

These simulation tools not only help reduce design time, but also help minimize errors that are typically corrected much later in the development process. More importantly, the improved reliability, optimized performance and faster time to market that mechatronics affords means more satisfied customers and a more favourable bottom line.

Rockwell Automation offers a wide range of solutions that can help OEMs take a mechatronics approach to machine design. They include:

Motion Analyzer software, which helps minimize design risk and speed time to market by providing tools that analyze design alternatives for motion control applications. In addition to its sizing, selection, optimization and simulation capabilities, Motion Analyzer offers other performance evaluation features including ratio, torque and tolerance analysis.

Ratio analysis helps mechanical design engineers make a mechatronic selection of gearboxes, timing belts and ball screws. It provides an ‘at-a-glance’ view of any necessary trade-offs and guides the user to an optimized solution.

Torque analysis provides a ‘sanity’ check by showing where the torque produced by the motor is consumed. As design engineers generally focus on how to move the load, they may factor in transmission losses, but rarely cross-reference with load losses. Torque analysis solves this issue by providing rapid what-if analysis. If the majority of the torque is being used to move the load, the design is sound. If over 75% is being lost in the transmission, it’s back to the drawing board.

Tolerance analysis provides application data, such as move time, mass, losses and ambient temperature, to be plotted against ‘health parameters’ for the system. This helps engineers better determine the limits of the machine. The ability to see which parameter hits 100% tells the designer the system limit — and the limiting factor. The software provides the means to rapidly analyze the system’s tolerance to changes and alerts the engineer to any marginal design issues.

Simulation analysis helps OEMs determine machine performance criteria such as parts-per-minute, dynamic stability, accuracy, and settling time, and it gives design engineers the most realistic prediction of system performance short of building a prototype. System simulation takes into account how a Logix controller, working in conjunction with Kinetix integrated motion (consisting of servo drives, servo motors and actuators) will perform for particular load requirements. It also looks at mechanical considerations such as compliance between motor and load, and backlash. This approach helps reduce the risk associated with adopting new designs, and speeds up the iterative discovery phase, decreasing design-to-ship time.

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