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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

Simulating Mechatronics with LabVIEW

 
March 15th, 2012 by Jeff Rowe

National Instruments (NI) is an interesting company that develops NI LabVIEW software as its flagship product. The company is fortunate to sell its products to a diverse customer base of more than 30,000 different companies worldwide, with no one customer representing more than 3 percent of revenue and no one industry representing more than 15 percent of revenue. Customer base diversity is an especially good thing in the technical software market.

I have followed NI for a number of years and really got interested in the company a few years ago with LabVIEW 8.5 being used alongside SolidWorks. LabVIEW has followed a natural progression in the evolution of the NI product line for designing and prototyping complex systems, including robots, that are becoming increasingly pervasive in the world around us, and not just manufacturing environments anymore.

National Instruments supports the increasing need for simultaneous simulation of mechanical and electrical systems, also known as mechatronics. As I have been saying for several years, there was a time when mechanical systems and products were strictly mechanical, however, the majority of today’s products continue to become more capable, and more complex, involving the integration of mechanical, electrical, and software subsystems.

A more comprehensive way to view mechatronics is the systematic integration of mechanical, electrical, electronics, and embedded firmware (software) components. When all of the various components are combined the result is an electromechanical system. Maybe a better term is functional ecosystem. In this context, mechatronics is characterized by software and electronics controlling electromechanical systems. This description is widely seen in automotive engines and other automotive systems, as well as production machinery and medical equipment.

A continuing trend is that as mechatronics systems get more complex and as functionality demands increase, in many instances software and firmware are replacing or at least supplementing hardware. A benefit of this transition from hardware to the burgeoning emphasis on software is called “postponement,” that is, the ability to include or change major functionality features during the final stages of production via embedded software.


Mechatronics with LabVIEW  Explained – UC Berkeley

As mechatronic systems get more complex, the challenges associated with successfully designing and executing them also become more demanding due to the interoperability requirements between electronic CAD (ECAD) and mechanical CAD (MCAD) software.

Mechatronics systems present major design and production challenges because they bring together many different types of physical and digital parts, processes, and personnel to create a successful end product. Designing and producing a mechatronics system requires a well-orchestrated effort by a wide variety of job roles and functions – everything from industrial design to PCB layout to control logic design to production planning.

There are several positive effects of integrating digital simulation and modeling in designing mechatronics, and for good reason – it saves time and money, reduces risk, and results in higher quality, more innovative products. Several of the 3D MCAD packages and mechatronics synergy is the result of working with companies such as National Instruments. This synergy between the companies has resulted in the greatest value being realized in moving from mechanical to electromechanical machine design. Customers have benefited by integrating simulation and controls with the help of National Instruments (with products such as LabVIEW) and 3D modeling and mechanical analysis/simulation.

In the past, simulating the performance of a machine containing both mechanical and electrical components was a difficult and time-consuming process that required skilled specialists. Today, mechatronics design tools from National Instruments and several of the MCAD vendors are bringing the electrical and mechanical worlds together to make simulation and subsequent design easier. With 3D CAD, mechanical engineers can design machine parts and assemblies using a familiar interface with 3D visualization, while also simulating mechanism motion through mechanism dynamics.

While motion analysis packages are well-suited for open-loop motion simulations, a typical electromechanical system involves closed-loop control. For a true closed-loop simulation, engineers need to simulate not only the dynamics of a mechanism but also the controls that act on that mechanism. The LabVIEW interface for mechanical analysis packages provides an interface between the two environments so engineers can simulate closed-loop control for complex electromechanical systems. Closed-loop simulation between mechanical and control development environments can help drive better design decisions for both the mechanical and control aspects of a design.

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One Response to “Simulating Mechatronics with LabVIEW”

  1. Dennis Nagy says:

    Hi Jeff,
    Nice commentary–I learned a lot. Roughly ow much of NI’s overall ~$900M annual revenue is LabVIEW, in your opinion? i.e., you said above it is NI’s flagship product but they also sell a lot of instruments. Are you aware of any articles/commentaries comparing LabVIEW to MatLab/Simulink and/or SABER from Synopsys?

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