Mechatronics disrupted?

Maarten Steinbuch is scientific director of the TUE High Tech Systems Center

23 maart 2016

In next-generation high-tech and mechatronic systems, extreme functionalities and performance requirements demand a multi-physics systems approach. The control systems will become adaptive, auto-tuned, will be implemented in optimized hardware and software architectures, and will employ effective (wireless) communication. Whereas in more classical designs the different modules can be treated in isolation, next-generation systems will require further integration. Control, communication and software will interact interdependently to realize the real-time performance requirements. In addition, the field of systems engineering as a systematic tool for the conception, design and performance prediction of complex equipment must be further developed.

The field of robotics could be treated as a separate research area, next to mechatronics, but for instance the speed requirements of industrial robots or the accuracy requirements of surgical robots necessitate the inclusion of the description of dynamical behaviour of the robots. The change from rigid body modelling towards flexible systems directly touches on the heart of mechatronics. The same holds for the systems engineering thinking and system topology optimization, which is also relevant for the agro food applications of robotics, and also in the emerging field of additive manufacturing. So where does mechatronics end and robotics start?

The shift from decentralized mechatronic systems towards networked connected systems is known as the field of cyber-physical systems, referring to the field of cybernetics. The research questions are how to guarantee stability and performance during or after packet (information) loss, and how to deal with variable delays. The domain is even further away from the hardware mechatronics, but is developing so rapidly, that we should ask the question how to embrace the potential of network-controlled systems. In the next decade the explosion of the internet of things further necessitates finding the answers to this question.

One application where mechatronics will meet IoT, is in the future of our manufacturing. Smart Industry attention is about networked modern industrial automation. What does it mean for the flow of goods through a manufacturing plant if knowledge of the logistics is shared, if the performance of one workstation is optimized as part of the total logistics or operation, if service and repair in a production facility is robust because workstations are flexible and can adapt? What does this imply for the industrial robotics and smart mechatronic production devices? How will this impact the design requirement of our mechatronic devices and products?

Overseeing these developments we could question what mechatronics actually is or will be. Is mechatronics being disrupted? Has it evaporated already into systems engineering, is it part of the supporting disciplines, does it enlarge to be the backbone of cyber physics? Moreover, if biological systems are also going to have technical devices implemented (internet of humans), what is then the role of the mechatronics discipline? How should we educate people in mechatronics thinking? We know for sure that the pace of technological development is accelerating, hence, so should we!

High-Tech Systems 2016 will address various of these questions within the themes Smart Industry, additive manufacturing, robotics and agro & food, which are the sectors where TUE High Tech Systems Center (HTSC) operates. HTSC strongly believes that these developments are essential within these sectors and therefore has become partner of this conference.

I wish you a good conference!