Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is mechatronics engineering applied in renewable energy sector?

The short answer...yes. Now here comes the long answer.

Rachel, our Marketing Manager, recently inspired me to write this blogpost. She somehow managed to come across the following post, a question I'm sure many young engineers are pondering around the world today:

Is mechatronics engineering applied in renewable energy sector?

Knowing about my involvement in the Mechatronics world and also about my special interests in green energy, she brought this blog to my attention. My name is Sunny Ray and I work with Quanser, a global leader in Mechatronic and Control Systems. We provides leading edge academic and research equipment to more than 2000 Engineering Universities world wide. I presently support our business development team and as a result, get to attend a lot of cool conferences and meet a lot of interesting people who are a whole lot smarter than I'll ever be :)

In order to try and answer your question, I think its important to gain clarity on: What is Mechatronics?

Short answer: look up Mechatronics in Wikipedia.

Long answer: start by taking a look at the picture below.

Mechatronics is where Computer, Control, Electronic, and Mechanical Systems all intersect. The world around us today has really become a complex system of systems. More importantly, its really about humans interacting with these different systems which are all coming together. Think of an airplane, or a car, or even a dishwasher. They all have mechanical components. They all have some sort of intelligence, or controls. They definitely have complex electronic and computer systems built into one solution. As the world turns, this mechatronics circle grows to be more holistic and integrated. The smaller green, brown, blue and red circles seen above, each grow to intersect with one another more and more. Mechatronics, its everywhere.

So, let me ask you, does the world need engineers to make airplanes, cars, and dishwashers more energy efficient? Global warming is impacting the world in a way which most people cannot fathom. If either Greenland or even just the western past of the Antarctic ice sheet melts, both well on their way, oceans will rise more than twenty feet. 20 feet, doesn't sound like much. This mere 20 feet will flood coastal countries around the world and create hundres of millions of refugees. Places most impacted would be Florida, San Fransisco Bay, the Netherlands, Beijing, Shanghai, Calcutta, Bangladesh and parts of Manhattan. 10 years ago, at current global warming rates, most scientists agreed that this type of devastation would occur closer to 2050, a few years later, they corrected themselves and said it would happen closer to 2040. A few years after that, scientists were admitting that the impact was accelerating and this would all occur by 2030, then they said 2020, and now, they're saying 2012. Imagine that. Today, a few hundred refugees migrate and the world takes attention, now imagine a few hundred million. Is energy efficiency and mechatronics going to be important? You tell me.

If you don't take my word for it, read three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Thomas Friedman's new book titled: Hot, Flat and Crowded. In it, he looks at the hybrid car as an example. He brings attention to the integration of the acceleration and braking systems of a car. That took out of the box thinking, it took "systems integration" thinking.

The world we are entering into will need people who understand systems. More importantly, it will need engineers who understand how systems interact with one another. By specializing in Mechatronics and immersing yourself in a hands-on environment, you will be positioning yourself to help thousands, if not millions of people around the world. I believe you are on the right track. Good luck!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Engineering Labs of the Future

Recently, at the yearly conference held by ASEE in Austin, Texas, Quanser and National Instruments had the opportunity to jointly present their combined views on the needs and characteristics of future engineering laboratories.

Keith Blanchet from Quanser and Jeannie Falcon from NI explained how an already growing number of engineering universities are experiencing the benefits of fully supported hands-on laboratories from Quanser. Many of these universities also use LabVIEW in some or even most of their laboratories. Jeannie explained how the current features of LabVIEW can help but also expanded into upcoming features and benefits that will make the solution even more powerful.

National Instruments and Quanser are now joining forces to offer both worlds to the academic community, not only with QNETs on the ELVIS II platform, but also through the R series and cRIO board on all other Quanser plants - rotary and linear.

This new level of collaboration between Quanser and NI can only be good news for the academic community as it will offer added flexibility in how to configure laboratories. In line with that trend, another key element of the discussion in Austin was how the increased educational benefits of a hands-on lab can be made more cost effective through what Quanser calls Integrated Learning Centers (ILC), such as the one at the Queens's University in Ontario, Canada.

The ILC is a concept that has multiple departments combine their resources to make maximum use of their funds by making use of the modular approach proposed by Quanser. This solution allows departments to re-use common components of our solutions such as power supplies, IO boards and development software for all courses while providing the flexibility to tailor the plant to the specific interest and needs of a given department or course.

The result is maximum use of the capital acquisition and better return on investment, better use of real-estate and human resources and student exposure to a wider variety of applications. Now all available with LabVIEW thanks to the expanding levels of partnership with National Instruments.

More exciting news to come in the relationship between Quanser and NI soon…

Save on Building, Running and Maintaining a Control Lab

Quanser Academic Consultants visit a large number of control labs every year. Sunny Ray shared his experience at this year's ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. His presentation titled How to Reduce Overhead of Building, Running and Maintaining a Lab attracted many educators striving to grow America's innovation capabilities despite dwindling funds for control laboratory equipment.

The solution Sunny discussed includes pooling sev
eral engineering departments’ resources to create fewer but far better, more adaptable laboratories that teach students broader skills.
Systems have simply become too complex for engineers to work alone, or for students to study a single subject without wider context. Cross-disciplinary problem solving dependencies mandate collaboration by sharing space and resources. This shift is also obvious in industry - with the emergance of mechatronics, there is a huge demand for cross-disciplinary skills.

Multi-disciplinary controls labs - sometimes called Integrated Learning Centres (ILC), such as the one at Queen's University, also extend the value of the investment, allowing to reuse or repurpose the equipment for teaching and/or research. The same equipment can be used for measurement and instrumentation courses, introduction to engineering, mechatronics, senior design projects...

Quanser's experiments have expanded into many areas of controls systems, with over 80 experiments from basic motor control, to active mass damping, robotics and haptics. All these systems share common software and hardware components, therefore part of a multidisciplinary lab can remain stationary. So instead of setting up five different labs in five different departments, universities can save up to 60% of their costs by setting up a lab with common hardware-in-the-loop components and rapid control prototyping software in one central location the whole experiment, the set up is reduced to bringing only part of the hardware. The modularity of the systems allows also to expand the lab over the time and keep it up-to-date.

To learn more about the benefits of Integrated Learning Centers, read an article from Dr. Jacob Apkarian.

Integrated Learning Center, Queen's University, Canada

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.

Quanser Congratulates Leaders in Engineering Education

The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual Conference and Exposition is not only a place to share your ideas and passion for engineering education. It is also a place where to applaud those who exemplify the best in engineering and engineering technology education and help prepare the next generation of engineers. It's a pleasure to share with you the names of this year's recipients of ASEE National, Society and Special Awards:

Excellence in Engineering Education - National Outstanding Teaching Medal
Donald P. Visco, Jr.
Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, Tennessee Technological University
The National Outstanding Teaching Medal is designed to provide national recognition to an engineering or engineering technology educator for excellence in outstanding classroom performance, contributions to the scholarship of teaching, and participation in ASEE Section meetings and local activities.

Excellence in Engineering Education - The Benjamin Garver Lamme Award

John W. Prados
Vice President & University Professor Emeritus, University of Tennesse
The Benjamin Garver Lamme Award is bestowed upon a distinguished engineering educator for contributions to the art of teaching, contributions to research and technical literature and achievements that contribute to the advancement of the profession of engineering college administration.

Excellence in Engineering Education - Fred Merryfield Design Award
Mark Maughmer
Professor, Aerospace Engineering Department, Pennsylvania State University
Established in 1981 by CH2M Hill in memory of Fred Merryfield, a teacher and researcher at Oregon State University, this award recognizes an engineering educator for excellence in teaching of engineering design and acknowledges other significant contributions related to engineering design teaching.

Excellence in Engineering Technology Education - Frederick J. Berger Award
Richard Denning
Professor Emeritus, Engineering Technology Department, University of Central Florida
The purpose of the Frederick J. Berger Award is to recognize and encourage both programmatic and individual excellence in engineering technology education. It is presented to both the primary implementing individual and to the engineering technology school or department that have demonstrated leadership in curriculum, scholarly contributions, innovative techniques or administration in engineering technology education. The award jointly recognizes the individual and the activity, the individual and the program, the individual and the department or the individual and the school.

Excellence in Engineering Technology Education - James H. McGraw Award
John Stratton
Program Chair, Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology Department, Rochester Institute of Technology
The purpose of the James H. McGraw Award is to recognize outstanding service in engineering technology education. It is presented to a faculty member, author, or administrator who is, or has been, affiliated with an institution that provides engineering technology education.

Special Awards - Chester F. Carlson Award
Kamyar Haghighi
Head of Freshman Engineering Department and Professor, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Purdue University
The Chester F. Carlson Award is presented annually to an individual innovator in engineering education who, by motivation and ability to extend beyond the accepted tradition, has made a significant contribution to the profession.

Special Awards - Clement J. Freund Award
Brenda J. LeMaster
Professor, Division of Professional Practice, University of Cincinnati
The Clement J. Freund Award honors an individual in business, industry, government or education who has made a significant positive impact on cooperative education programs in engineering and engineering technology. This award is now offered every odd numbered calendar year.

Special Awards - John L. Imhoff Global Excellence Award for Industrial Engineering Education
Jose Zayas-Castro
Head, Department of Industrial and Management Systems Engineering, University of South Florida
Endowed from the estate of the late Professor John L. Imhoff, this award recognizes an individual who has made outstanding contributions in the field of industrial engineering education and has demonstrated global cooperation and understanding through leadership and other initiatives.

Special Awards - Sharon Keillor Award for Women in Engineering Education
Alice Parker
Professor, Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, University of South California
The Sharon Keillor award is to recognize and honor a woman engineering educator who has an outstanding record in teaching engineering students, and reasonable performance histories of research and service within an engineering school.

Special Awards - DuPont Minorities in Engineering Award
Brenda Hart
Professor, Department of Engineering Fundamentals, University of Louisville

It is intended that this award be given to engineering or engineering technology educators who, as part of their educational activity, either assume or are charged with the responsibility for motivating underrepresented students to enter and continue in engineering or engineering technology curricula at the college or university level, graduate or undergraduate.

Special Awards - Robert G. Quinn Award
Jay Porter
Associate Professor and Program Director, Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution, Texas A&M University
The Robert G. Quinn Award was established by Agilent Technologies, in proud memory of Robert G. Quinn and his contribution to thousands of engineering students and his direct influence on the Agilent Higher Education program. The award recognizes outstanding contributions in providing and promoting excellence in experimentation and laboratory instruction.

Special Awards - William Elgin Wickenden Award
Matthew W. Ohland, Purdue University
Sheri D. Sheppard and Gary Lichtenstein, Stanford University
Ozgur Eris and Debbie Chachra, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering
Richard Layton, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
The award recognizes the author(s) of the best paper published in the Journal of Engineering Education, the scholarly research journal for the Society.

Society Awards - Distiguished Service Citation
Walter W. Buchanan
J.R. Thompson Chair, Professor and Head, Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution, Texas A&M University
The Distinguished Service Citation is granted to an ASEE member in recognition of long, continuous and distinguished service to education in engineering and engineering technology through active participation in the work of ASEE.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Indoor UGV and UAV demo using QuaRC

We recently set up an interesting demo using the Quanser Qbot (autonomous UGV platform based on the iRobot Create) and a Draganfly quadrotor equipped with a Quanser Embedded Control Module (QECM). We wanted to create a mission where the Qbot would navigate through a series of waypoints autonomously and have the quadrotor follow the Qbot from the air. Since we were working indoors, we used the NaturalPoint OptiTrack vision tracking system, which is integrated in QuaRC, Quanser's real-time control software. The entire mission was programmed using QuaRC Simulink blocks, and the vehicle controls run on-board the vehicles on embedded computers with wifi.

We put markers on our vehicles, and through the OptiTrack QuaRC blocks we were able to localize the vehicles in the room. Quanser stream blocks were used to transmit the vehicle position data to the Qbot and the quadrotor so they know their positions. The Qbot is able to then successfully navigate through a series of waypoints input by the user, and the quadrotor provides an aerial escort throughout the mission. This is a relatively simple mission, but the flexibility of the veihcles and lab setup means that there is huge potential for developing more advanced missions with even more vehicles.


Help your Students Make the Difference

In March we visited University of Waterloo. Professor David Wang from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering talked to us about Mechatronics and why it is important for future engineers, how they benefit from working with hands-on experiments and exposure to industry-relevant technology.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Are you looking for a heavy duty quick response motion platform?

Hexapod is a 6 degree of freedom (6-DOF) full motion platform manufactured at Quanser. This high-fidelity device can combine six distinct motions simultaneously and is ready to meet various movement possibilities. It should be mentioned that typical motion platforms use hydraulic actuators making them very expensive and slow. Nevertheless, this seemingly complicated structure is taking advantage of fast response powerful electrical motors beside parallel mechanism. It enables the system to manipulate heavy loads (up to 150kg) over a relatively large workspace and frequency range. The kinematics and control are implemented by Quanser highly capable real-time software, QuaRC. From the main characteristics of this system one can name of fast response times, hardware and software safety measures, and simple maintenance.

The following video presents a driving simulator, as an application of the Hexapod, where some motion cues are applied to the operator in addition to the visual feedback from a virtual environment. In fact, the driver is receiving ultimate driving sensation such as vertical vibrations and realistic centrifugal forces. Who knows! Maybe the next stage is to simulate an aircraft using a flight simulator. And wait! You may be looking at an earthquake vibration test platform too.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Important Questions on the Main Stage

Almost in real-time: from ASEE 2009 Go Global Pavilion where Quanser and Maplesoft are talking about Mechatronic Philosophy and Practical Methodology for Innovation in 21st Century right now:

What are you doing as a professor - teaching the tool or the concept? Maplesoft's Tom Lee is asking a great Question...

Are the tools in place to enable engineering students to be ready for innovation in 21st century? adds Keith Blanchet from Quanser.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

QUARC: Hardware-In-the-Loop (HIL) Card Support and HIL API

QuaRC, Quanser's real-time control software has in place a generic and card-independent framework called the Quanser Hardware-In-the-Loop (HIL) framework, which is completely open-architecture and made available externally by its Application Programming Interface (API). This Quanser HIL API is used to access any of the QUARC-supported data acquisition cards in a user-developed QUARC-independent application. Therefore, it makes any HIL card fully accessible from applications external to QUARC. It is installed as part of QUAC. Example uses of the Quanser HIL API include, data being read from or written to a HIL device, as well as creating an application performing automated hardware testing.

The Quanser HIL API is development environment independent as it is currently fully implemented in:

  • C/C++
  • .NET languages


  • LabVIEW
This QUARC HIL framework has already been applied to a wide variety of cards from diverse vendors (e.g., Quanser, National Instruments, Sensoray, etc.). As a consequence, we are often asked what the HIL cards currently supported by QUARC are. Even though this list is continuously growing as more support to additional cards is being added on an on-going basis, the following summarizes the HIL cards currently supported by our latest version of QUARC, QUARC 1.2.

The HIL cards listed below are supported, at present, when using either the QuaRC Windows (32-bit) Target or the QUARC QNX x86 Target:

The HIL cards listed below are supported, at present, when using the QUARC Linux ARM (gumstix) Target:
The HIL cards listed below are supported, at present, when using the QUARC Windows (32-bit) Target:

Finally and as a sneak preview, the HIL cards listed below have just been added to QUARC and will be part of the augmented HIL support available in QUARC’s next release:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How to Reduce Overhead of Building, Running and Maintainig a Lab

Join Quanser at this session at 2009 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition:

How to Reduce Overhead of Building, Running and Maintaining a Lab
Tuesday, June 16,
12:30 - 2:00PM

Austin Convention Center, Room 11B

How do we grow America’s innovation capabilities despite dwindling funds for control laboratory equipment? Pool several engineering departments’ resources to create fewer but far better, more adaptable laboratories that teach students broader skills. Systems have simply become too complex for engineers to work alone, or for students to study a single subject without wider context. Cross-disciplinary problem solving dependencies mandate collaboration by sharing space and resources. Find out how educators can captivate more engineering students with cutting edge equipment and hands-on learning in a multi-disciplinary lab that is shared by several engineering departments. You will see demonstrations of new innovative experiments which are ideal for interdisciplinary use, learn where cost-savings come in, plus how to save time on logistics such as set-up , maintenance and equipment upgrades.

Presented by:
  • Sunny Ray, B.Eng., Academic Solutions Advisor, Quanser
  • Mahyar Fotoohi, M.A.Sc., Product Specialist,Quanser

Mechatronic Philosophy and Practical Methodology for Innovation in the 21st Century

Join Quanser and Maplesoft at this session at 2009 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition:
Mechatronic Philosophy and Practical Methodology for Innovation in the 21st Century

Monday, June 15, 2:00PM - 2:45PM

Austin Convention Center, Go Global Pavilion

Industry is experiencing major transformations worldwide but is engineering education up to the challenge of preparing students for the new realities? For example, as companies strive to continually improve quality, flexibility, and market appeal, while also reducing costs and time to market, rapid mechatronic prototyping has become an essential technique in modern engineering. Modern prototyping allows an engineer to take a design from concept to production using a new generation of tools. However, the necessary adjustments needed in the curriculum to seize these emerging opportunities is arguably not keeping pace. This session brings together two authorities in mechatronics and engineering education to offer an engaging look at the road ahead for industry and education. Dr. Tom Lee will offer a view into industry trends that challenge the status quo and will provide some prescriptive insights. Dr. Jacob Apkarian will provide a methodical approach to the development of mechatronic system and the opportunities they offer the modern educator.

Presented by:
  • Jacob Apkarian, PhD., Founder, Chairman and CTO, Quanser
  • Tom Lee, PhD., Chief Evangelist, Maplesoft