December 06, 2010
Addressing the Challenges of Mechatronics: The Future of Mechanical Design
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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The prototyping stage is an area that provides some of the biggest benefits from digital modeling and simulation, because digital prototypes can greatly reduce the number of physical prototypes, resulting in both time and cost savings.

After as much as possible has been determined and confirmed with digital modeling and simulation, a physical functional breadboard model will be built. A breadboard is a reusable solderless device used to build a prototype of an electronic circuit and for experimenting with circuit designs. A modern solderless breadboard consists of a perforated block of plastic with spring clips under the perforations. Integrated circuits (ICs) in dual inline packages (DIPs) can be inserted. Interconnecting wires and the leads of discrete components (such as capacitors, resistors, inductors, etc.) can be inserted into the remaining free holes to complete the circuit topology.

A combined breadboard and mechanical packing is now created as a working prototype that is subjected to scrutiny by a number of parties, including technical, marketing, and manufacturing. Regardless of whether digital or physical prototyping techniques are used, the prototypes are reiterated to refine the initial concept and prepare it for the final design stage and manufacture.

Final Packaging Design

The mechanical and electrical design are finalized and documented. Although the primary vendors for the various components or manufacturing processes associated with the product have probably been selected and in place for some time, second sourcing takes place to minimize or eliminate the flow of components, especially the most crucial ones. Final product cost/performance analyses are performed, as studies performed to endure that regulatory requirements will be met with regard to all aspects of the producing the product and the product itself.

Final design optimizations are performed before declaring the design “final” and freezing it before release to manufacturing.

Manufacturing Release

Before release the product design to manufacturing drawings and formal specifications for all aspects of mechanical and electrical/electronic subsystems are required for producing the first fabricated article. Because changes can be made to it literally up the last minute to optimize its functionality in the product, embedded software is deployed.

Once the first article has been verified and validated, all drawings are finalized and release to the manufacturing vendors and final tooling is built, production machines are programmed, quality assurance is put in place, and sustained production can begin.

Production, however, is only an interim step for comprehensive life cycle optimization as new issues present themselves such as product retirement and recycling. Product life cycle optimization brings product development full circle, and a successful product will begin the cycle all over again as a new generation product.

Bringing Simulation and Modeling Together

Much has been made of the 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. This all works is with a mechatronics synergy. This synergy has resulted in the greatest value being realized in moving from mechanical to electromechanical machine design. The synergy is driving product, process, and business improvement through simulation and modeling.

In the past, simulating the performance of a machine containing both mechanical and electrical components was a difficult and time consuming process that required highly skilled “specialists.” Today, mechatronics design tools are bringing the electrical and mechanical worlds together to make simulation and subsequent design easier. Electromechanical simulation can bring a digital machine to life before ordering a single physical part. The same software that was used for simulating the machine is reused when the design is transitioned from prototyping to production.

As machine builders implement new technology and replace yesterday's gears, cams, and shafts with servo actuators for precision motion, sensors for diagnostics, and cameras for inspection, machine builders are embedding more functionality in the controls of the machine as opposed to mechanical components.

What used to be a purely mechanical is now electromechanical, adding an extra dimension of complexity to the design process. To achieve efficient machine design, engineers need to simulate the integrated mechanical and control design in software before moving to the prototype and production stages.

By allowing engineering and design teams to work with the same software tools, the same geometry database, and the same user interface, CAD software makes it possible to bring superior mechatronics products to market in less time at a lower cost. Mechatronic product performance can be improved by evaluating functionality at the concept design stage with the ability to generate continually improved digital alternatives before committing to a physical prototype.

Mechatronics technologies and development practices have been shown to deliver the following value and benefits:
  • Higher profitability through faster, lower-risk, lower-cost development
  • Increased efficiency due to better understanding, communication, collaboration, and integration
  • Greater innovation through increased design automation across engineering disciplines

  • While mechatronics can present many challenges due to its inherent complexity, it also can present many opportunities not available with other types of systems because they can accommodate greater levels of complexity of utility when being used. Since several MCAD packages can address many of these challenges, it is an integral part of the continuing evolution of mechatronics and the future of mechanical design.

    The Week's Top 5

    At MCADCafé we track many things, including the stories that have attracted the most interest from our subscribers. Below are the five news items that were the most viewed during last week.

    With the decision for the NX CAD Software of Siemens, Daimler completes its current implementation of Teamcenter. Based on this combination, the automotive manufacturer will establish digital collaboration from initial concept design, through simulation during design, down to proof of concept of design solutions. The consolidation of digital product information in a single worldwide data pool will facilitate new vehicle development. The introduction of parallel processes in development, design, production planning and production will further optimize the entire value chain. With Daimler, another vehicle manufacturer decided this year to optimize their worldwide vehicle development
    process with software solutions from Siemens. Daimler has worked with Siemens' Teamcenter software for collaborative product data management since the mid 90s. With NX software from Siemens, Daimler will implement a CAD tool for the entire product development process and therefore a solution for collaborative design, engineering- and development work.

    Intelligent Light is enabling computational fluid dynamics on the cloud, announcing an agreement to make FieldView, its CFD post-processing software, available on the cloud computing capability offered by R Systems, a provider of on-demand HPC resources. Providing immediate access to flexible computing capacity, the arrangement gives FieldView users the ability to scale up using parallel processing or scale out with concurrent batch processing to meet capacity needs during peak loads, special projects, or tight deadlines. FieldView's client-server architecture enables data to remain on the cloud while interactive work is performed from the user's desktop. In addition, any CFD users who compute on the R Systems cloud can access FieldView for post-processing. In order to test the viability of CFD post-processing on the cloud, Intelligent Light launched a pilot study, selecting R Systems as the cloud provider. The study, a wind turbine aerodynamics problem with more than 40 cases, encompassed both steady cases for power generation and unsteady cases for wake propagation. The resulting 1.4 terabytes of data were post-processed by FieldView on the cloud in both parallel and concurrent batch modes using FieldView client-server operation. The data remained on the cloud machine in all cases and was remotely accessed from a laptop. With 77,000 core hours of computation, the
    results proved that cloud-enabled CFD is not only possible, but valuable in terms of time and cost savings. For more than 25 years, Intelligent Light has been solving engineering challenges faced by manufacturing and research organizations around the world.  


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    -- Jeff Rowe, Contributing Editor.

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