As a multidisciplinary engineering field, mechatronics is mechanically-bounded. However, its inception was tied to the inherent restrictions of mechanical systems which might have died out had it not been for their augmentation with electrical and electronics systems.
What is Mechatronics Engineering?
If we try to define it in the simplest possible way, mechatronics is the study of smart electrical machines. Defined broadly and more comprehensively in terms of a career, a mechatronic engineer studies mechanical, electrical, and computer systems to design intelligent systems and machines that can interact with the environment, process information, and make autonomous decisions.
Robotic systems are one example of such complex machines; robotics is, therefore, considered to be a subdiscipline of mechatronics or advanced mechatronics.
Robotics and mechatronics are frequently combined in a common university curriculum, and if you are driven to enroll in such a course as an undergraduate or enhance your skills in electrical or electronics engineering with postgraduate knowledge in mechatronics, you may well have to take both courses under the robotics label.
Furthermore, robotics is a promising research area that attracts the interest of investment funds, case in point, the Eight Great Technologies. Therefore, it can serve as a lucrative career future for engineers.
Escalators underground that use motion-based sensors.
Designing Mechatronic Devices and Systems
To think in terms of mechatronics, you need to think about how electrical power, mechanical power, and software can be used together to come up with a solution to a problem that would have been unsolvable otherwise or improve a feature of a product in a way that exceeds individual mechanics or electronics aspects.
Examples of Mechatronics-Involved Applications
Energy-saving escalators based on motion sensors are an everyday application of mechatronics in a device that is consistently improved with the combined forces of mechanics and electronics.
Sensor Process and Digital Conditioning
Sensor processing and digital signal conditioning are both important for feeding mechatronic devices with precise data from the environment and a compelling area for future mechatronic engineers, especially when 5G emerges from the shadows of low latency.
Car brakes in driverless cars are another example of sophisticated, machine-driven, electronics-based, autonomous decision-making systems. Those systems would, as witnessed by the early beginnings of the DARPA Urban Challenge automation experiment, include not only individual decision-making vehicles but also machine systems that can negotiate in a complex social environment, such as the conditions of an urban street when the reality of autonomous cars eventually hits.
Today’s self-driving cars have integrated multiple sensor technologies, including vision cameras, radars, and lidars, with a complete software stack supported by AI technologies — for instance — deep and reinforced learning. In a nutshell, they are far from mechanical systems and can thank electronics for their sprouting in the first place.
Design drawing of a customizable palletizer in the logisticsu industry that successfully maneuvres various box sizes in assembling pallets. Image Credit: ECPI.
Auspicious Industries for Applied Mechatronics
In a way, mechatronics engineers and mechatronics technicians need to be, if not ‘jacks of all trades’, at least, the masters of a few, including the skills to design automation machinery, control systems, HMIs (human-machine interfaces), motor control devices, and sensing machines. Career prospects for mechatronics engineers are on the rise: it is one of the in-demand industry clusters.
If you are inspired by innovative jobs in electronics or electrical engineering, you can consider its application in one of the following fields:
Telecommunications and Information Services
Transportation and Logistics
Petroleum and Chemicals
Transportation and Logistics
Mining and Defence
Biotechnology, Life Sciences, and Healthcare
Electronics and Applied Computer Equipment
This is, by no means, an exhaustive list, as your job description summary can be positioned on the demarcation line between any of the emerging science disciplines, as far as they include electrical, mechanics, and electronics systems.
A typical day for a mechatronics engineer may include responding to client requirements in the manufacturing industry by identifying weaknesses in production lines or final products and suggesting improvements.
Document design and recommending the suggested components for electro-mechanical systems is an unavoidable part of the job, as well as creating automation and software control systems.
An engineer standing next to a sustainable agricultural robot on a green field at sunset.
The Catch in Multidisciplinary Career Fields
There is one thing to keep in mind: new multidisciplinary fields have the advantage to instigate scientific research breakthroughs, but certain jobs are often hanging by the thread because of the quick pace of development on the demarcation lines mentioned previously.
This doesn’t mean that mechatronics engineering is in for a looming downsizing soon, not at all — it looks like it marks a 5% annual increase.
But it can mean that you should look for a job with a completely different title that concentrates on a single skill application, for example, working as a corrosion control engineer in the oil and gas industry or enhancing medical equipment.
It can also mean that the practice is not as exciting as the science itself. Quite the opposite, it can require painstakingly applying your problem-solving skills to foster minimal improvements and if you thrive under pressure, this can be precisely the job of your future.