Ever imagined the possibility of a combination of mechanical, electrical, electronic, control engineering as well as computer programming and information technology as a single course of study? It is called mechatronics engineering. FLORENCE OLUGBODI takes a look at the emerging concept and how it is shaping engineering practice.
Are you coming across the term “mechatronics” for the first time, or perhaps – for those already familiar with the term – even considering becoming a mechatronics engineer? But what do mechatronics engineers do?
Mechatronics engineering is an innovative integration of mechanical and electrical engineering with computer programming. It has applications in medicine, industry, military, smart consumer products, and almost every other area of technology. It involves physical computing, which is an interactive physical system that can sense and respond to physical circumstances using software and hardware.
Mechatronics, also called mechatronics engineering, is an interdisciplinary branch of engineering that focuses on the integration of mechanical, electronic and electrical engineering systems, and also includes a combination of robotics, electronics, computer science, telecommunications, systems, control, and product engineering.
As technology advances over time, various subfields of engineering have succeeded in both adapting and multiplying. According to Wikipedia, mechatronics intends to produce a design solution that unifies each of these various subfields. Originally, the field of mechatronics was intended to be nothing more than a combination of mechanics and electronics, hence the name being a portmanteau of mechanics and electronics; however, as the complexity of technical systems continued to evolve, the definition had been broadened to include more technical areas.
The word “mechatronics” originated in Japanese-English and was created by Tetsuro Mori, an engineer of Yaskawa Electric Corporation. The word mechatronics was registered as a trademark by the company in Japan in 1971. The company later released the right to use the word to the public, and the word began being used globally. Currently, the word is translated into many languages and is considered an essential term for the advanced automated industry.
Many people treat mechatronics as a modern buzzword synonymous with automation, robotics and electromechanical engineering.
Wikipedia further observed that French standard NF E 01-010 gives the following definition: “approach aiming at the synergistic integration of mechanics, electronics, control theory, and computer science within product design and manufacturing, to improve and/or optimize its functionality”.
Specifically in Nigeria, mechatronics has been with us since the 1990s as a multidisciplinary field of engineering. In sync with the concept of polytechnic education -being able to use the brain and hand to achieve desired results – The Polytechnic Ibadan set the pace with the creation of the Department of Mechatronics Engineering as a course of study in 2010. It admitted its first set of students (for the Ordinary National Diploma, OND) in 2011, while the course was accredited in the year 2012. In 2020, the school also got accreditation for the Higher National Diploma (HND) award with two options – Automotive Mechatronics Engineering and Industrial Mechatronics Engineering.
As a department, graduates of this programme have the benefit of acquisition of full knowledge in all aspects of engineering fused into one. They will also be able to stand alone when it comes to the specificity and speciality vis a vis each of these courses. As it was made known that in this present technology, industries are now on the look-out for people who have the advantage of combined knowledge of these engineering courses,
Several mechatronics engineers including George Stephenson, James Watt, Nikola Tesla, Rudolf Diesel, Charles Babbage, Thomas Edison and Karl Benz have made great contributions and use their knowledge to solve a wide range of mechanical, electrical and software problems.
For instance, mechatronics engineers are making machines to support, or in the case of a loss, to replace, the natural functions of the human body. One of the most sophisticated examples of this today is I-Limb, a prosthetic hand with bionic components to aid amputees. I-Limb uses sensors placed on the wearer’s skin that allow them to control the movement of the hand and fingers through muscle signals. Each finger has its motor so that wearers can move every part of the hand in a way that mimics the body’s natural motor control.
As this field expands, we can almost certainly expect to see more and more life-like prosthetic options, wearable technology, and possibly even mechanical organs or sophisticated aids for internal body parts like the heart.
Mechatronics comes in a combination of many things in one. As it is today, quite a several automobiles are automated. One could sit in the comfort of one’s living room and be able to control one’s car parked outside, maybe direct it to reverse to your doorsteps, to open the car door. Some of these automobiles are keyless; a simple touch activates the engine. This is where mechatronics comes in unlike the outdated automobile wherein one use the brake, the clutch and the accelerator. But today the case is different; there is now a combination of many things in one.
The Head of Department of Mechatronics Engineering of the Polytechnic, Ibadan, Mr Kamorudeen Adesina Olaiya believes that the primary purpose of mechatronics engineering is to avoid the anachronistic trial and error way of fixing things. According to him, “most of the cars we have now are automated. Engaging in trial and error in fixing anything is now outdated. That means there should be somebody that should be able to diagnose and say this is the solution to it. You can see that it is Automotive Mechatronics Engineering.
“Now, going into industrial Mechatronics Engineering, we have bottling companies such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, breweries, etc. “15 to 20 years ago, if you bought a bottle of Coke, you may meet it half-full with a few specks of dirt, but now it is no longer like that. It is the machine that will do quality control activities. All one needs to do is programme whatever you want the machine to do, and that is where computer engineering comes in. This is a bottle of Coke for instance (holding a bottle of Coke), I want it to be filled to this point and once that is done, it will accept it but when it is below or above normal it will not accept.
“So if you check very well now, and you juxtapose 1000 bottles of the same product, it will be filled at the same level. That is one of the primary purposes of mechatronics. Now you cannot also see any dirt in packaged bottles because machines will do the watching and all that, we all know that humans cannot be perfect”.
To underscore the range of mechatronics engineering, Mr Olaiya pointed out that it also encompasses robotic engineering. “You see, Robotic Engineering is part of mechatronics. For instance, I made mention of mechanical and electrical the other time, (showing Rulers’ World crew a robot) all the plastic body parts of a robot are mechanical, while the wiring inside it is electrical. So talking of making a robot to perform a particular task, that is when automation comes in, and that’s mechatronics. So we safely say it is a course under mechatronics engineering or an aspect of it”.
On concerns raised as to the possibility of massive job loss in the event of the wholesome embrace of mechatronics, Mr Olaiya cited the example of Japan which enacted a law wherein those rendered unemployed due to innovations like robots, etc, taking the place of a human are to be given a certain sum of money that will cater for them.
Realising the importance of the department in the transformation of the society, and to key into a global trend, the management of the Polytechnic, Ibadan and the Oyo State government reportedly made funds available and also procured equipment for the growth of the department, a development that made accreditation of the programme by the National Board for Technical Education possible.
The future of mechatronics engineering in Nigeria looks great as new institutions such as the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta; Afe-Babalola University, Ado Ekiti; Federal University of Technology, Minna and other polytechnics including Lagos State Polytechnic; Yaba College of Technology; Osun State College of Technology, Esa-Oke, to mention but a few now embraces the fad in engineering technology. As of the last count, there are more than 12 polytechnics offering mechatronics engineering as a course of study in the country.
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