Mechatronics creates new opportunities

We are living on a great wave of change, and I’m very excited about the way designers are continuously pushing back the technical borders that influence and impact on the quality of our lives.

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Welcome to this edition of Evolution. The spotlight is on mechatronics, a phenomenon that is forcing engineers of the 21st century to think in new ways and at the same time is helping to erode the borders between disciplines.
The field of mechatronics has created an explosion of new academic and professional opportunities, with applications in aero, agriculture, automotive, energy and printing, to name but a few.

With customer demands leading to such benefits as higher quality, higher productivity and lower operating costs, as well as improved safety, greater efficiencies and flexibility, the potential market is huge. A recent study estimated that factory automation alone will boost the mechatronics market in 2008 to 224 billion dollars.

The automotive industry, for example, is going through an almost unprecedented period of technological change. “Hy-wire changes everything,” says Larry Burns, General Motors vice president for research & development and planning (Profile article on page 18). Evolution has previously reported on the Hy-wire (4/02). Hy-wire combines a hydrogen fuel cell with by-wire technology; an X-drive control unit makes it possible to switch between left-hand and right-hand drive. Meanwhile, the Bertone-SKF “Filo” concept car (see Evolution 4/01) has been a catalyst for reassessment of SKF in the automotive world. The Novanta (on page 29) was awarded “best prototype car” in 2002. As the article states, the development of mobility represents one of mankind’s biggest breakthroughs, and continues to be an extraordinary factor of economic and social growth.

Ever tried driving backward for any length of time? I haven’t, either, but it can literally be a pain in the neck for tractor drivers. German manufacturer Fendt, part of the AGCO Group, produces tractors with reversible driving seats. A mechatronic solution with steer-by-wire technology makes this possible, allowing the driver to concentrate on controlling the quality of the work.

Or how about a sugar cube that packs a punch! You can read about Piezo Motor, based in Sweden, which uses the phenomenon of piezoelectricity to construct what may be the smallest and most precise linear motor, or micro-actuator, in the world. Piezo LEGS is the size of a sugar cube. And it walks, taking extremely tiny steps, which is what makes it so useful.

As you can see, these are interesting times for design teams. This development work clearly demonstrates SKF’s role as a leader in by-wire systems. I hope you enjoy reading this edition of Evolution, which also leads us into our next edition, due out in September, which focuses on design and implementation.
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