Marginal Column

Interdisciplinary and trend-setting


July 2015


CD players, digital cameras, electronic ticket dispensers, semi-automatic gearboxes. There are many examples of mechatronic systems, and they have long become a matter of course. But what is mechatronics, in fact? Here are a few answers.


Mechatronics involves the greatest possible integration of mechanical engineering, electronics and computing on a given functioning unit. Integration normally goes so far that the overall function can be realized only if all the sub-functions interact smoothly. To do so, it is necessary to observe all the complex mechatronic systems over the entire product life cycle – from development and engineering through manufacturing and utilization, and on to recycling.


1969 A Japanese company, Yaskawa Denki, coins the term “mechatronics”. That manufacturer of industrial robots used this word to designate the combination of mechanical and electronic systems, which was gaining increasing importance in precision mechanics. Yaskawa Denki had the term trademarked in 1972.

1978 In the development of the anti-lock braking systems (ABS), mechanical functions were for the first time supplemented by electronic sensors and electronic controls which served to store and process information. It was only with the functional integration of the sensors, the control device, and the hydraulic activators that the overall functionality of the braking system was ensured.


Given the rapid development in computer technology, mechatronic systems became ever more “intelligent”. Even today, research projects illustrate how great the potential of mechatronics is – in the development of robotic systems, for instance. In view of even more extensive use in traffic and the increased significance for medical uses, the development goal of future mechatronic systems is not only expanding the functions that can be carried out. Safety and reliability are gaining in importance.


Mechatronic systems, as a rule, comprise a basic mechanical structure which carries or moves something, and sensors that detect information about the system or the environment. These are augmented by microprocessors that evaluate this information and generate controlled variables in accordance with certain rules and algorithms. Key elements in mechatronic systems are the actuators. They transform the controlled variables into forces, motions, electrical voltage or other magnitudes which, in turn, act on the basic system.

The structure


Many modern developments would be impossible without the interaction of mechanical elements, electronics and computers. Thus, for example, machine tools can achieve high accuracies in processing only if weaknesses in the mechanical structure are detected by sensors and compensated for by intelligent information processing.


The development process for mechatronic systems starts with the draft design for the mechatronics. It takes into account, when laying out the overall concept, all the system components, together with their dynamic behaviors and their interactions. When dealing with the overall system, the formation of models and the identification of parameters as well as the draft design for control and regulation are processed again and again, with computer support, until a sufficiently optimized system has been developed. The optimization of functions is then carried out on the basis of a virtual prototype in the form of a simulation model, which then provides detailed specifications for the engineering design.


Since 1998, the vocation of mechatronic technician has been recognized for apprenticeship training in Germany. The first university chair of mechatronics in Germany was founded at the University of Duisburg-Essen in 1991.


Developed for use in vocational schools and colleges as well as in training centers for industrial companies, Bosch Rexroth has introduced the new mMS 4.0 mechatronics training system. The modular concept of the training system is compatible with Industry 4.0, is consistently aligned with the curriculum for the mechatronics apprenticeship, and combines the basic technologies – pneumatics and mechatronics and hydraulics, as an option – into a unit.