Mechatronics: Electromechanical manufacturing systems

A tightly integrated mechatronic system can reduce the machine footprint, shorten programming time, and eliminate dedicated hardware controllers.


Beckhoff Automation showed its XTS (eXtended Transport System), an example of mechatronics design, at PackExpo, in Chicago, October 2012. CFE Media image by Mark T. HoskeAutomation architectures can use one controller, one network, and one software platform across one system architecture. Such a design can integrate a programmable logic controller (PLC), motion control, safety, communications, and robotics on an industrial PC (IPC) or embedded PC. With this approach, users can replace multiple expensive controllers and “black box” hardware with a more powerful centralized system. For machine and robot builders, this means engineering cost savings with process optimizations, and a significantly smaller footprint on the plant floor.

A key driving force for a unified architecture is a modern multi-core processor technology. As multi-core technology progresses, so too does the capability to add even more functionality. The rise of more integrated automation systems has also produced some very interesting innovations in the area of mechatronics.

Mechatronics demonstration

A modular linear drive that serves as a motion control system is exactly the kind of mechatronic advancement that takes full advantage of more powerful PC-based controllers and one architecture. A machine equipped with such a motion control system would leverage one standard controls architecture (PC-based control), one software platform, and one industrial Ethernet network.

By combining linear motor technology on a continuous motion track with straight and curved track segments, a machine designer can configure topologies that suit numerous applications. Typically, a linear motion system has a linear magnetic track and one active carrier. Motion is constrained to back-and-forth actions on one plane. A modular track, on the other hand, is like an inverse linear motor and is specially engineered for multiple carriers. The track contains the active coils and encoding, while each mover is composed of a passive set of magnets with encoder flag and roller wheels. The simple design delivers outstanding performance. Mechanically driven continuous motion, such as from belts or chains, is out-performed by the modular linear motion system since each mover’s position is controlled individually and can be adjusted with great precision on the fly. Movers can have positioning accuracies of +/-25 µm at 1.5 m/s and a positioning repeatability of less than 10 µm at mover standstill.

Control software can abstract complex underlying control principles, to enable a controls engineer to program against the movers’ absolute position. This means movers are positioned using the same software function blocks as traditional rotary axes. Complex motion tasks are relatively easy to implement, such as electronic gearing and computer-aided motion (CAM) tables between movers or between the movers and external axes like those found on conveyors.

Integrated motion, robotics

Circling back to robotics, it is also possible to pair a full robot system with the mover solution and have the automation software run on one industrial PC. This was demonstrated at Hannover Fair 2013, integrating a delta-style robot performing pick-and-place actions coordinated with the movers at high speed. This PC-based mechatronics approach can streamline automation systems for assembly and material handling applications.

Overall, such a mover system represents a highly efficient way for machine builders and manufacturers to integrate a high-performance mechatronic solution into designs that leverage the same controller, the same software environment, and the same network as the other automation and controls equipment on the machine. A tightly integrated mechatronic system can go a long way for engineers to reduce the machine footprint, shorten programming time, and eliminate dedicated hardware controllers.

- Matt Lecheler is motion specialist at Beckhoff Automation. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,


Read "Products use mechatronic design for manufacturing systems" below. 

Beckhoff Automation YouTube video of the XTS at 2013 Hannover Fair (about 30 sec into the video)

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