Monday, June 22, 2009

Integrated Mechatronic Design: Engineering Innovation in the 21st Century

At ASEE 2009, Quanser and Maplesoft brought some serious questions to the main stage of the Go Global Pavilion talking about Mechatronic Philosophy and Practical Methodology for Innovation in 21st Century

Industry is undergoing a major transformation and North America stands to fall behind if we don't change our way of preparing the next generation of engineers. We must make sure tomorrow's technical leaders add sufficient value to keep our nations competitive on the global scale. Major corporations around the world are striving to reduce costs to market and at the same time improve product quality, flexibility and market appeal. To fill the skills gap, we have already seen that 48% of employers were recruiting from India, China and South Africa.

So what's the solution? We must adapt our teaching process to account for a few key components:

1. Teach the design processes prevalent in industry.
In particular, the integrated mechatronic design process. It has become an essential technique in modern engineering which approaches system and product design in a manner that takes into account electronic, mechanical, electrical and control subsystems and their inter-dependencies. How should this be done? Through the use of synergistic and integrated computer aided design tools including:
  • CAD tools (electronic and mechanical)
  • Automated mathematical modeling (such as MapleSim, Matlab-Simulink or LabVIEW)
  • Real-time animated graphical simulations (wide variety of tools available)
  • Automatic code generation (RTW, LabVIEW RT, MapleSim tools)
  • Hardware-in-the-Loop testing (QuaRC and others...)
Luckily, most of these tools, with the exception of CAD tools, can already be used in the context of an integrated mechatronic design process due to partnerships and 3rd party products. This brings the benefits of each individual tool together and add synergistic advantages which industry need to remain competitive to. QuaRC is a good example of such a tool.

2. Create an effective bridge between theoretical concepts and realistic design applications.
This is important in several ways:
  • It makes theory relevant to students
  • It motivates students to learn more and continue their studies
  • It tends to the growing need for kinesthetic learning for students immersed in a world flooded with information already, so that they can more easily encapsulate concepts for future use
  • it builds the foundation for innovative spirits...
3. Get to the conceptual core of engineering modeling.
  • Increase the practicing engineer's ability to produce more formal "correct" models
  • Establish modern balance between rigor and practice
  • Leverage key techniques and technologies that include physical modeling, mechatronics and multi-domain modeling, smart technology
4. Teach the design concept AND the tool chain
  • Take every opportunity to extend the conceptual bounadries (theoretical or practical)
  • Tomorrow's engineers must understand how the integrated mechatronic design process works, but also how to use the design tools used in design process and how the different tools inter-relate. This is essential to improve productivity and quickly adds value to outputs (products) from industry in a world where it is increasingly difficult and not wise to try to compete on price alone.
5. Some areas of the tool chain still need improvement to assist in this process of better preparing our workforce of the future:
  • Individual tools should be easy enough so that particulars need minimal instruction
  • For successful design the CAD tools must not only work in a synergistic way, they must be also seamlessly integrated

To keep up, our pedagogy has to "build bridges, not walls", says Tom Lee, Chief Evangelist and VP Application Engineer at Maplesoft.

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