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1 What is Mechatronics?

Mechatronics is a natural stage in the evolutionary process of modern engineering design. The development of the computer, and then the microcomputer, embedded computers, and associated information technologies and software advances, made mechatronics an imperative in the latter part of the twentieth century. Standing at the threshold of the twenty-first century, with expected advances in integrated bioelectro-

mechanical systems, quantum computers, nano- and pico-systems, and other unforeseen developments, the future of mechatronics is full of potential and bright possibilities.

1.1 Basic Definitions

The definition of mechatronics has evolved since the original definition by the Yasakawa Electric Company. In trademark application documents, Yasakawa defined mechatronics in this way [1,2]: The word, mechatronics, is composed of “mecha” from mechanism and the “tronics” from electronics. In other words, technologies and developed products will be incorporating electronics more and more into mechanisms, intimately and organically, and making it impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. The definition of mechatronics continued to evolve after Yasakawa suggested the original definition. One oft quoted definition of mechatronics was presented by Harashima, Tomizuka, and Fukada in 1996 [3]. In their words, mechatronics is defined as the synergistic integration of mechanical engineering, with electronics and intelligent computer control in the design and manufacturing of industrial products and processes. That same year, another definition was suggested by Auslander and Kempf [4]: Mechatronics is the application of complex decision making to the operation of physical systems.

Yet another definition due to Shetty and Kolk appeared in 1997 [5]: Mechatronics is a methodology used for the optimal design of electromechanical products. More recently, we find the suggestion by W. Bolton [6]: A mechatronic system is not just a marriage of electrical and mechanical systems and is more than just a control system; it is a complete integration of all of them.

All of these definitions and statements about mechatronics are accurate and informative, yet each one in and of itself fails to capture the totality of mechatronics. Despite continuing efforts to define mechatronics, to classify mechatronic products, and to develop a standard mechatronics curriculum, a consensus opinion on an all-encompassing description of “what is mechatronics” eludes us. This lack of consensus is a healthy sign. It says that the field is alive, that it is a youthful subject. Even without an unarguably definitive description of mechatronics, engineers understand from the definitions given above and from their own personal experiences the essence of the philosophy of mechatronics.

For many practicing engineers on the front line of engineering design, mechatronics is nothing new. Many engineering products of the last 25 years integrated mechanical, electrical, and computer systems, yet were designed by engineers that were never formally trained in mechatronics per se. It appears that modern concurrent engineering design practices, now formally viewed as part of the mechatronics specialty, are natural design processes. What is evident is that the study of mechatronics provides a mechanism for scholars interested in understanding and explaining the engineering design process to define, classify, organize, and integrate many aspects of product design into a coherent package. As the historical divisions between mechanical, electrical, aerospace, chemical, civil, and computer engineering become less clearly defined, we should take comfort in the existence of mechatronics as a field of study in academia. The mechatronics specialty provides an educational path, that is, a roadmap, for engineering students studying within the traditional structure of most engineering colleges. Mechatronics is generally recognized worldwide as a vibrant area of study. Undergraduate and graduate programs in mechatronic engineering are now offered in many universities. Refereed journals are being published and dedicated conferences are being organized and are generally highly attended.

It should be understood that mechatronics is not just a convenient structure for investigative studies by academicians; it is a way of life in modern engineering practice. The introduction of the microprocessor in the early 1980s and the ever increasing desired performance to cost ratio revolutionized the paradigm of engineering design. The number of new products being developed at the intersection of traditional disciplines of engineering, computer science, and the natural sciences is ever increasing. New developments in these traditional disciplines are being absorbed into mechatronics design at an ever increasing pace. The ongoing information technology revolution, advances in wireless communication, smart sensors design (enabled by MEMS technology), and embedded systems engineering ensures that the engineering

design paradigm will continue to evolve in the early twenty-first century.

1.2 Key Elements of Mechatronics

The study of mechatronic systems can be divided into the following areas of specialty:

1. Physical Systems Modeling

2. Sensors and Actuators

3. Signals and Systems

4. Computers and Logic Systems

5. Software and Data Acquisition

The key elements of mechatronics are illustrated in Fig. 1.1. As the field of mechatronics continues to

mature, the list of relevant topics associated with the area will most certainly expand and evolve.

1.3 Historical Perspective

Attempts to construct automated mechanical systems has an interesting history. Actually, the term “automation” was not popularized until the 1940s when it was coined by the Ford Motor Company to denote a process in which a machine transferred a sub-assembly item from one station to another and then positioned the item precisely for additional assembly operations. But successful development of automated mechanical systems occurred long before then. For example, early applications of automatic control  systems appeared in Greece from 300 to 1 B.C. with the development of float regulator mechanisms [7]. Two important examples include the water clock of Ktesibios that used a float regulator, and an oil lamp devised by Philon, which also used a float regulator to maintain a constant level of fuel oil. Later, in the

first century, Heron of Alexandria published a book entitled Pneumatica that described different types of water-level mechanisms using float regulators.

FIGURE 1.1 The key elements of Mechatronics.

In Europe and Russia, between seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, many important devices were invented that would eventually contribute to mechatronics. Cornelis Drebbel (1572–1633) of Holland devised the temperature regulator representing one of the first feedback systems of that era. Subsequently, Dennis Papin (1647–1712) invented a pressure safety regulator for steam boilers in 1681. Papin’s pressure regulator is similar to a modern-day pressure-cooker valve. The first mechanical calculating machine was invented by Pascal in 1642 [8]. The first historical feedback system claimed by Russia was developed by Polzunov in 1765 [9]. Polzunov’s water-level float regulator, illustrated in Fig. 1.2, employs a float that rises and lowers in relation to the water level, thereby controlling the valve that covers the water inlet in the boiler.

Further evolution in automation was enabled by advancements in control theory traced back to the Watt flyball governor of 1769. The flyball governor, illustrated in Fig. 1.3, was used to control the speed of a steam engine [10].

Employing a measurement of the speed of the output shaft and utilizing the motion of the flyball to control the valve, the amount of steam entering the engine is controlled. As the speed of the engine increases, the metal spheres on the governor apparatus rise and extend away from the shaft axis, thereby closing the valve. This is an example of a feedback control system where the feedback signal and the control actuation are completely coupled in the mechanical hardware. These early successful automation developments were achieved through intuition, application of practical skills, and persistence. The next step in the evolution of automation required a theory of automatic control.

The precursor to the numerically controlled (NC) machines for automated manufacturing (to be developed in the 1950s and 60s at MIT) appeared in the early 1800s with the invention of feed-forward control of weaving looms by Joseph Jacquard of France. In the late 1800s, the subject now known as control theory was initiated by J. C. Maxwell through analysis of the set of differential equations describing the flyball governor [11]. Maxwell investigated the effect various system parameters had on the system performance. At about the same time, Vyshnegradskii formulated a mathematical theory of regulators [12]. In the 1830s, Michael Faraday described the law of induction that would form the basis of the electric motor and the electric dynamo. Subsequently, in the late 1880s, Nikola Tesla invented the alternating-current induction motor. The basic idea of controlling a mechanical system automatically was firmly established by the end of 1800s. The evolution of automation would accelerate significantly in the twentieth century. The development of pneumatic control elements in the 1930s matured to a point of finding applications

in the process industries. However, prior to 1940, the design of control systems remained an art generally characterized by trial-and-error methods. During the 1940s, continued advances in mathematical and analytical methods solidified the notion of control engineering as an independent engineering discipline.

In the United States, the development of the telephone system and electronic feedback amplifiers spurred the use of feedback by Bode, Nyquist, and Black at Bell Telephone Laboratories [13–17]. The operation of the feedback amplifiers was described in the frequency domain and the ensuing design and analysis practices are now generally classified as “classical control.” During the same time period, control theory

was also developing in Russia and eastern Europe. Mathematicians and applied mechanicians in the former Soviet Union dominated the field of controls and concentrated on time domain formulations and differential equation models of systems. Further developments of time domain formulations using state variable system representations occurred in the 1960s and led to design and analysis practices now

generally classified as “modern control.”

The World War II war effort led to further advances in the theory and practice of automatic control in an effort to design and construct automatic airplane pilots, gun-positioning systems, radar antenna control systems, and other military systems. The complexity and expected performance of these military systems necessitated an extension of the available control techniques and fostered interest in control systems and the development of new insights and methods. Frequency domain techniques continued to dominate the field of controls following World War II, with the increased use of the Laplace transform, and the use of the so-called s-plane methods, such as designing control systems using root locus.

On the commercial side, driven by cost savings achieved through mass production, automation of the production process was a high priority beginning in the 1940s. During the 1950s, the invention of the cam, linkages, and chain drives became the major enabling technologies for the invention of new products and high-speed precision manufacturing and assembly. Examples include textile and printing machines, paper converting machinery, and sewing machines. High-volume precision manufacturing became a reality during this period. The automated paperboard container-manufacturing machine employs a sheet-fed process wherein the paperboard is cut into a fan shape to form the tapered sidewall, and wrapped around a mandrel. The seam is then heat sealed and held until cured. Another sheet-fed source of paperboard is used to cut out the plate to form the bottom of the paperboard container, formed into a shallow dish through scoring and creasing operations in a die, and assembled to the cup shell. The lower edge of the cup shell is bent inwards over the edge of the bottom plate sidewall, and heat-sealed under high pressure to prevent leaks and provide a precisely level edge for standup. The brim is formed on the top to provide a ring-on-shell structure to provide the stiffness needed for its functionality. All of these operations are carried out while the work piece undergoes a precision transfer from one turret to another and is then ejected. The production rate of a typical machine averages over 200 cups per minute. The automated paperboard container manufacturing did not involve any non-mechanical system except an electric motor for driving the line shaft. These machines are typical of paper converting and textile machinery and represent automated systems significantly more complex

than their predecessors.

The development of the microprocessor in the late 1960s led to early forms of computer control in process and product design. Examples include numerically controlled (NC) machines and aircraft control systems. Yet the manufacturing processes were still entirely mechanical in nature and the automation and control systems were implemented only as an afterthought. The launch of Sputnik and the advent

of the space age provided yet another impetus to the continued development of controlled mechanical systems. Missiles and space probes necessitated the development of complex, highly accurate control systems. Furthermore, the need to minimize satellite mass (that is, to minimize the amount of fuel required for the mission) while providing accurate control encouraged advancements in the important field of

optimal control. Time domain methods developed by Liapunov, Minorsky, and others, as well as the theories of optimal control developed by L. S. Pontryagin in the former Soviet Union and R. Bellman in the United States, were well matched with the increasing availability of high-speed computers and new programming languages for scientific use.

Advancements in semiconductor and integrated circuits manufacturing led to the development of a new class of products that incorporated mechanical and electronics in the system and required the two together for their functionality. The term mechatronics was introduced by Yasakawa Electric in 1969 to represent such systems. Yasakawa was granted a trademark in 1972, but after widespread usage of the

term, released its trademark rights in 1982 [1–3]. Initially, mechatronics referred to systems with only mechanical systems and electrical components—no computation was involved. Examples of such systems include the automatic sliding door, vending machines, and garage door openers. In the late 1970s, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Machine Industry (JSPMI) classified mechatronics products into four categories [1]:

1. Class I: Primarily mechanical products with electronics incorporated to enhance functionality.

Examples include numerically controlled machine tools and variable speed drives in manufacturing


2. Class II:

Traditional mechanical systems with significantly updated internal devices incorporating

electronics. The external user interfaces are unaltered. Examples include the modern sewing

machine and automated manufacturing systems.

3. Class III:

Systems that retain the functionality of the traditional mechanical system, but the internal

mechanisms are replaced by electronics. An example is the digital watch.

4. Class IV:

Products designed with mechanical and electronic technologies through synergistic

integration. Examples include photocopiers, intelligent washers and dryers, rice cookers, and

automatic ovens.

The enabling technologies for each mechatronic product class illustrate the progression of electromechanical products in stride with developments in control theory, computation technologies, and microprocessors. Class I products were enabled by servo technology, power electronics, and control theory. Class II products were enabled by the availability of early computational and memory devices and custom circuit design capabilities. Class III products relied heavily on the microprocessor and integrated circuits to replace mechanical systems. Finally, Class IV products marked the beginning of true mechatronic systems, through integration of mechanical systems and electronics. It was not until the 1970s with the development of the microprocessor by the Intel Corporation that integration of computational systems with mechanical systems became practical.

The divide between classical control and modern control was significantly reduced in the 1980s with the advent of “robust control” theory. It is now generally accepted that control engineering must consider both the time domain and the frequency domain approaches simultaneously in the analysis and design of control systems. Also, during the 1980s, the utilization of digital computers as integral components of control systems became routine. There are literally hundreds of thousands of digital process control computers installed worldwide [18,19]. Whatever definition of mechatronics one chooses to adopt, it is evident that modern mechatronics involves computation as the central element. In fact, the incorporation of the microprocessor to precisely modulate mechanical power and to adapt to changes in environment are the essence of modern mechatronics and smart products.

1.4 The Development of the Automobile as a Mechatronic System

The evolution of modern mechatronics can be illustrated with the example of the automobile. Until the 1960s, the radio was the only significant electronics in an automobile. All other functions were entirely mechanical or electrical, such as the starter motor and the battery charging systems. There were no “intelligent safety systems,” except augmenting the bumper and structural members to protect occupants

in case of accidents. Seat belts, introduced in the early 1960s, were aimed at improving occupant safety and were completely mechanically actuated. All engine systems were controlled by the driver and/or other mechanical control systems. For instance, before the introduction of sensors and microcontrollers, a mechanical distributor was used to select the specific spark plug to fire when the fuel–air mixture was

compressed. The timing of the ignition was the control variable. The mechanically controlled combustion process was not optimal in terms of fuel efficiency. Modelling of the combustion process showed that, for increased fuel efficiency, there existed an optimal time when the fuel should be ignited. The timing depends on load, speed, and other measurable quantities. The electronic ignition system was one of the

first mechatronic systems to be introduced in the automobile in the late 1970s. The electronic ignition system consists of a crankshaft position sensor, camshaft position sensor, airflow rate, throttle position, rate of throttle position change sensors, and a dedicated microcontroller determining the timing of the spark plug firings. Early implementations involved only a Hall effect sensor to sense the position of the

rotor in the distributor accurately. Subsequent implementations eliminated the distributor completely and directly controlled the firings utilizing a microprocessor.

The Antilock Brake System (ABS) was also introduced in the late 1970s in automobiles [20]. The ABS works by sensing lockup of any of the wheels and then modulating the hydraulic pressure as needed to minimize or eliminate sliding. The Traction Control System (TCS) was introduced in automobiles in the mid-1990s. The TCS works by sensing slippage during acceleration and then modulating the power to

the slipping wheel. This process ensures that the vehicle is accelerating at the maximum possible rate under given road and vehicle conditions. The Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) system was introduced in automobiles in the late 1990s. The VDC works similar to the TCS with the addition of a yaw rate sensor and a lateral accelerometer. The driver intention is determined by the steering wheel position and  then compared with the actual direction of motion. The TCS system is then activated to control the power to the wheels and to control the vehicle velocity and minimize the difference between the steering wheel direction and the direction of the vehicle motion [20,21]. In some cases, the ABS is used to slow down the vehicle to achieve desired control. In automobiles today, typically, 8, 16, or 32-bit CPUs are used for implementation of the various control systems. The microcontroller has onboard memory (EEPROM/EPROM), digital and analog inputs, A/D converters, pulse width modulation (PWM), timer functions, such as event counting and pulse width measurement, prioritized inputs, and in some cases digital signal processing. The 32-bit processor is used for engine management, transmission control, and airbags; the 16-bit processor is used for the ABS, TCS, VDC, instrument cluster, and air conditioning systems; the 8-bit processor is used for seat, mirror control, and window lift systems.

Today, there are about 30–60 microcontrollers in a car. This is expected to increase with the drive towards developing modular systems for plug-n-ply mechatronics subsystems. Mechatronics has become a necessity for product differentiation in automobiles. Since the basics of internal combustion engine were worked out almost a century ago, differences in the engine design among the various automobiles are no longer useful as a product differentiator. In the 1970s, the Japanese automakers succeeded in establishing a foothold in the U.S. automobile market by offering unsurpassed quality and fuel-efficient small automobiles. The quality of the vehicle was the product differentiator through the 1980s. In the 1990s, consumers came to expect quality and reliability in automobiles from all manufacturers. Today, mechatronic features have become the product differentiator in these traditionally mechanical systems. This is further accelerated by higher performance price ratio in electronics,

market demand for innovative products with smart features, and the drive to reduce cost of manufacturing of existing products through redesign incorporating mechatronics elements. With the prospects of low single digit (2–3%) growth, automotive makers will be searching for high-tech features that will differentiate their vehicles from others [22]. The automotive electronics market in North America, now at about $20 billion, is expected to reach $28 billion by 2004 [22]. New applications of mechatronic systems in the automotive world include semi-autonomous to fully autonomous automobiles, safety enhancements, emission reduction, and other features including intelligent cruise control, and brake by wire systems eliminating the hydraulics [23]. Another significant growth area that would benefit from a mechatronics design approach is wireless networking of automobiles to ground stations and vehicle-tovehicle communication. Telematics, which combines audio, hands-free cell phone, navigation, Internet connectivity, e-mail, and voice recognition, is perhaps the largest potential automotive growth area. In fact, the use of electronics in automobiles is expected to increase at an annual rate of 6% per year over the next five years, and the electronics functionality will double over the next five years [24].

Micro Electromechanical Systems (MEMS) is an enabling technology for the cost-effective development of sensors and actuators for mechatronics applications. Already, several MEMS devices are in use in automobiles, including sensors and actuators for airbag deployment and pressure sensors for manifold pressure measurement. Integrating MEMS devices with CMOS signal conditioning circuits on the same

silicon chip is another example of development of enabling technologies that will improve mechatronic products, such as the automobile.

Millimeter wave radar technology has recently found applications in automobiles. The millimeter wave radar detects the location of objects (other vehicles) in the scenery and the distance to the obstacle and the velocity in real-time. A detailed description of a working system is given by Suzuki et al. [25]. Figure 1.4 shows an illustration of the vehicle-sensing capability with a millimeter-waver radar. This technology provides the capability to control the distance between the vehicle and an obstacle (or another vehicle) by integrating the sensor with the cruise control and ABS systems. The driver is able to set the speed and the desired distance between the cars ahead of him. The ABS system and the cruise control system are coupled together to safely achieve this remarkable capability. One logical extension of the obstacle avoidance capability is slow speed semi-autonomous driving where the vehicle maintains a constant distance from the vehicle ahead in traffic jam conditions. Fully autonomous vehicles are well within the scope of mechatronics development within the next 20 years. Supporting investigations are underway in

many research centers on development of semi-autonomous cars with reactive path planning using GPS based continuous traffic model updates and stop-and-go automation. A proposed sensing and control system for such a vehicle, shown in Fig. 1.5, involves differential global positioning systems (DGPS), realtime image processing, and dynamic path planning [26].


Using a radar to measure distance and velocity to autonomously maintain desired distance between

vehicles. (Adapted from Modern Control Systems, 9th ed., R. C. Dorf and R. H. Bishop, Prentice-Hall, 2001. Used with permission.)


Autonomous vehicle system design with sensors and actuators.

Future mechatronic systems on automobiles may include a fog-free windshield based on humidity and temperature sensing and climate control, self-parallel parking, rear parking aid, lane change assistance, fluidless electronic brake-by-wire, and replacement of hydraulic systems with electromechanical servo systems. As the number of automobiles in the world increases, stricter emission standards are inevitable. Mechatronic products will in all likelihood contribute to meet the challenges in emission control and engine efficiency by providing substantial reduction in CO, NO, and HC emissions and increase in vehicle efficiency [23]. Clearly, an automobile with 30–60 microcontrollers, up to 100 electric motors, about 200 pounds of wiring, a multitude of sensors, and thousands of lines of software code can hardly be classified as a strictly mechanical system. The automobile is being transformed into a comprehensive mechatronic System.

1.5  What’s Next?

Mechatronics, the term coined in Japan in the 1970s, has evolved over the past 25 years and has led to a special breed of intelligent products. What is mechatronics? It is a natural stage in the evolutionary process of modern engineering design. For some engineers, mechatronics is nothing new, and, for others, it is a philosophical approach to design that serves as a guide for their activities. Certainly, mechatronics is an evolutionary process, not a revolutionary one. It is clear that an all-encompassing definition of mechatronics does not exist, but in reality, one is not needed. It is understood that mechatronics is about the synergistic integration of mechanical, electrical, and computer systems. One can understand the extent that mechatronics reaches into various disciplines by characterizing the constituent components comprising mechatronics, which include (i) physical systems modeling, (ii) sensors and actuators, (iii) signals and systems, (iv) computers and logic systems, and (v) software and data acquisition. Engineers and scientists from all walks of life and fields of study can contribute to mechatronics. As engineering and science boundaries become less well defined, more students will seek a multi-disciplinary education

with a strong design component. Academia should be moving towards a curriculum, which includes coverage of mechatronic systems.

In the future, growth in mechatronic systems will be fueled by the growth in the constituent areas.

Advancements in traditional disciplines fuel the growth of mechatronics systems by providing “enabling technologies.” For example, the invention of the microprocessor had a profound effect on the redesign of mechanical systems and design of new mechatronics systems. We should expect continued advancements in cost-effective microprocessors and microcontrollers, sensor and actuator development enabled

by advancements in applications of MEMS, adaptive control methodologies and real-time programming methods, networking and wireless technologies, mature CAE technologies for advanced system modeling, virtual prototyping, and testing. The continued rapid development in these areas will only accelerate the pace of smart product development. The Internet is a technology that, when utilized in combination

with wireless technology, may also lead to new mechatronic products. While developments in automotives provide vivid examples of mechatronics development, there are numerous examples of intelligent systems in all walks of life, including smart home appliances such as dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, microwaves, and wireless network enabled devices. In the area of “human-friendly machines” (a term used by H.

Kobayashi [27]), we can expect advances in robot-assisted surgery, and implantable sensors and actuators. Other areas that will benefit from mechatronic advances may include robotics, manufacturing, space technology, and transportation. The future of mechatronics is wide open.


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      Dover, New York, 1964, pp. 270–283.

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25. Suzuki, H., Hiroshi, M. Shono, and Isaji, O., “Radar Apparatus for Detecting a Distance/Velocity,” United States Patent # 5,677,695,      Oct 14, 1997 (see http://www.uspto.gov/ for more information).

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27. Kobayashi, H. (Guest Editorial), IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics, Vol. 2, No. 4, 1997, p. 217. ©2002

FIGURE 1.2 Water-level float regulator. (From

Modern Control Systems, 9th ed., R. C. Dorf and R. H. Bishop,

Prentice-Hall, 2001. Used with permission.)

FIGURE 1.3 Watt’s flyball governor. (From Modern Control Systems,

9th ed., R. C. Dorf and R. H. Bishop, Prentice- Hall, 2001. Used with permission.)

A modern Mechatronics Training and Research System by Festo Didactic Germany.