Teaching Mechatronics

Teaching mechatronics, or motion control, is in itself a major mechatronics challenge.  I have authored articles on the topic and given many classes.  Any attempt to be comprehensive has mixed results.   Is it the subject more clear, or more confused after a day of training?

Part of the difficulty is that mechatronics is the intersection of mechanics and electronics.  But it is crucial to consider that the mechanics of the system sets all of the boundary conditions based on inertia and speed constraints.  These are the first order conditions to consider before applying any solutions.

The electronics are more complex since both the motive power, which is most often electromagnetic in nature, and the control system, are electronics based.  This produces further confusion, since in any conversation, the electronics can be almost anything.

Enter Ideation Systems.  (check out their website at www.ideationsystems.com)    Ideation Systems has developed a series of teaching labs that demonstrate basic concepts in mechatronics and gives the student hardware and software platforms that allow easy exploration of all the aspects of each subject.

Their first offering is the Levitation which features an electromagnetic pole that levitates an iron ball.  Simple.  It comes with power supply, NI Daq board and NI Labview so that the student can experiment with a variety of parameters and observe the results.  Totally awesome.

Next are a Pendulum and Double Pendulum.  Same basic premise.  A simple mechanical system with a simple electronic control system.  Use a small dc motor to excite the pendulum and play with the controls.  See what happens.

The ability to demonstrate simple mechanical principles in a system setting makes all the difference.  You will be able to observe the impact of small changes in parameter setting while working in a very controlled context. The pendulum, for example, gives the student the opportunity to exercise PID control and observe the impact of minor changes in tuning values.

One can easily extrapolate dozens of scenarios from the basic system.  This gives ample opportunity for directly learning how time constraints impact the torque requirement of the system, how power must be managed in order to achieve performance goals.

Ideation Systems will be exhibiting at National Instruments’ NI Week on Monday during the Academic Forum.  NI Week promises to be quite an event this year and will be covered in the next post.



Mechatronic Tips