The Mechatronic Approach to Automatic Machines Design

The mechatronic approach to design introduces a new way of dealing with changes on automatic machines, bringing benefits to the machines performance and, at the same time, minimizing the design risks. This creates confidence in innovative solutions that are made by fully exploiting the advantages.

by Gruppo Meccatronica – ANIE Automazione

The production speed increase, the overall dimensions reduction of equipment and machines in production environments, safety increase, format change times reduction, flexibility increase. End users are more and more sensitive to these topics and for OEMs they are all known concepts in machine design field.
In recent years, the market’s demand to increase productivity without interfering with costs, that must remain constant or even decrease, is increasingly pressing.
Is there therefore the possibility to meet these needs? The challenge for OEMs is to find new solutions and go beyond the classic limits of design without running the risk of having invested too much money in machines that may be the same as those existing or even worse.
The general performances are often dictated by the slowest part, everything is necessarily in line with the so-called weak point, downgrading the strengths of the whole system. Improving general performance sometimes involves great efforts, cause it is not always easy to act on the machine’s weak points.
Mechatronic approach to design introduces a new way of dealing with changes on automatic machines, bringing benefits to the machines performance and, at the same time, pushing the design risks to a minimum.

The challenge: introducing technology while eliminating risks
The traditional approach provides first of all the mechanical design of various parts that make up the system, once this phase is over, you move on to the electrical design which today also includes automation and IT. At the end of the design a prototype is realized on which to make functional tests from which to identify the limits and weak points of the system; then you study the changes to be applied to eliminate the limits found. After collecting the data, you go back to the design phases to create the new prototype on which to repeat the functional tests.
This process can reiterate itself several times and, even if it leads to good results, requires a huge financial commitment in the testing phase on the hardware realized and, even more, on the relative changes. With this type of approach, the most innovative solutions are stopped because they could prove not good only at the end of the process described, thus being too expensive and consequently extremely risky.
The possibility of not achieving pre-established results is a parameter that OEMs are forced to evaluate and, in today’s market, the path of failure in the realization of a solution far from traditional ones is not feasible. So often solutions already tested previously are implemented, leaving the realization of technological innovations to the future. This approach has two consequences: on the one hand it halts the general development of innovations, on the other it could make the OEM find itself in a situation of disadvantage compared to competitors who apply innovation successfully.
The challenge that OEMs face is therefore that of introducing advanced technological solutions with a high impact on machine productivity while eliminating risks associated with them.

Synergy between mechanical, electrical and IT designs
The mechatronic approach requires that the mechanical, electrical, and IT design proceed in synergy with each other. The many types of design software available on the market today give the possibility of uniting parts that historically were separate until the prototype was created.
We are talking, for example, about the possibility of focusing on mechanical development, taking into account at the same time all the other parts that will interact with it. The motor that generates movement is immediately sized on the mechanics and integrated in the design as well as the passage of cables and the electrical connection to the drive with the related diagrams; also the motion profile to applied
is evaluated in parallel.
All the software involved in the work phases can generate and receive data so that the progress of an aspect allows the progress of all the aspects related to it. Going on in the example, from the mechanical design you can get to the generation of the PLC code that will govern the movements in the machine passing through all the phases of design in parallel, each aspect is treated in synergy with the others and not individually as in a traditional approach.
The transparent exchange of information between the tools involved is one aspect, the other aspect is the exchange of information that takes place between the people and the offices involved.
The collaboration among various disciplines involved with this approach becomes automatic. Evaluating the impact of a decision in a multidisciplinary manner creates clear advantages.
In the mechatronic approach, the prototype construction is replaced by a virtual phase of simulation and test. The results of the design, before being used to physically build the machine, are tested and validated in simulation on virtual models without having
to spend time and money on prototyping.
Even before concluding the design phase, it is possible to start the first simulations to secure the validity of the applied solutions.
This total integration during the study of new automatic machines allows designers a significant improvement in productivity, high speed and flexibility precisely in the phase where innovative solutions could really make a difference on the final result.

The outcome of the mechatronic approach
The mechatronic approach to design allows to apply innovative solutions without the risks of a traditional solution, designers can therefore apply innovations more easily and the machines can thus cover the needs that the market requires relatively quickly. The elimination of the design risk, that in extreme cases would fail the established goal, creates confidence in innovative solutions that are so easily addressed and applied by fully exploiting the advantages. Any deviations towards the prefixed objective are identified and resolved in advance without affecting the machine construction. Then analyzing the design costs it is even possible to have a decrease of them, due to the harmonization of all components and especially to the reduction of the time of the machine construction. Test becomes fast and free of unexpected events because most of the machine is already designed and tested in a virtual environment, part of the PLC code is already present because it is automatically generated in the previous phases and the risks are reduced to a minimum. The less performing parts of the machine have already been modified and aligned to all the other parts before the actual realization of the machine itself. The classic weak point is eliminated and all components are sized appropriately and synergistically. No part is oversized or undersized, each change has been evaluated in a multidisciplinary way, the result is therefore known before the testing phase and all the stages of performance testing are reduced to the minimum necessary.
The mechatronic approach is therefore definitely an innovative process that adds value and opens new frontiers in the design of automatic machines. It is possible to reach speed and flexibility of the study and realization phase never reached before and extremely superior machine performance, opening new paths in the relationship between OEM and End-user.
Following this path, new market references will be written in the industrial sector.