As coordinator of the “Baden-Württemberg State/Kettering-University Exchange Program” for the Ministry of Science and Culture, I accompanied Prof. Dr. Harris, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Kettering University, to the Mechatronics Department on the Göppingen campus of Esslingen University in early 2008. As on many previous occasions, I found that many people are still not entirely sure what “mechatronics” actually means and it is interpreted quite differently between countries.
The semantic origins of the word mechatronics lie in Japan. Although there are many definitions of the word, on our visit to the Göppingen campus we focused on three. The German handbook “Kraftfahrtechnisches Taschenbuch” states that, “Mechatronics is an engineering science centering on the functionality of a technical system through the close interplay between mechanical, electronic and data-processing components”. Expressed in more general terms this means, “Mechatronics is the functional and spatial integration of systems”. Then there is the definition offered in 1995 by John Millbank of the University of Salford: “By definition, then, mechatronics is not a subject, science or technology per se – it is instead to be regarded as a philosophy – a fundamental way of looking at and doing things”.
Mechatronics is a portmanteau of Mechanics, Electronics and Informatics. In my work as a control engineer, I was already conscious of the underlying meaning even before anyone had coined the term mechatronics. Modern control loops controlled by electronic regulators are usually a mechatronic device.
So does this mean a vehicle is a mechatronic device? Is there truth in the widely held belief that 90% of future automotive innovation will be shaped by electronics (80% of this due to software)? And that with around 30% of value-added in cars already coming from electrics and electronics this tendency is likely to accelerate? Not entirely – due to environmental factors, such as the need to reduce CO2 emissions or build lighter, energy- saving cars. It will be just as important to work on innovative materials and new drive concepts, although even here mechatronics has a role to play.
The Steinbeis Symposium on Electronics in Automobiles takes place from 8 - 10 April 2008 in the “Haus der Wirtschaft” in Stuttgart. It is a direct response to this electronic and mechatronic challenge. As a longstanding organizer, it would be a pleasure to welcome you to the Symposium on behalf of the entire Steinbeis organization.
Prof. em. Dipl.-Ing. Prof. h.c. (YZU) Gerhard H. Walliser