Mechatronics is a natural stage in the evolutionary process of modern engineering design.
The development of the computer, and then the microcomputer, embedded computers, and associated information technologies and software advances, made mechatronics an imperative in the latter part of the twentieth century.
The definition of mechatronics has evolved since the original definition by the Yaskawa Electric Company.
Standing at the threshold of the twenty-first century, with expected advances in integrated bio electro- mechanical systems, quantum computers, nano- and Pico-systems, and other unforeseen developments, the future of mechatronics is full of potential and bright possibilities.
In trademark application documents, Yaskawa defined mechatronics in this way:
The word, mechatronics, is composed of “mecha” from mechanism and the “tronics” from electronics.
In other words, technologies and developed products will be incorporating electronics more and more into mechanisms, intimately and organically, and making it impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.
The definition of mechatronics continued to evolve after Yasakawa suggested the original definition. One oft quoted definition of mechatronics was presented by Harashima, Tomizuka, and Fukada in 1996.
“In their words, mechatronics is defined as the synergistic integration of mechanical engineering, with electronics and intelligent computer control in the design and manufacturing of industrial products and processes”.
That same year, another definition was suggested by Auslander and Kempf: Mechatronics is the application of complex decision making to the operation of physical systems.
Yet another definition due to Shetty and Kolk appeared in 1997:
Mechatronics is a methodology used for the optimal design of electromechanical products.
More recently, we find the suggestion by W. Bolton:
A mechatronic system is not just a marriage of electrical and mechanical systems and is more than just a control system; it is a complete integration of all of them.
All of these definitions and statements about mechatronics are accurate and informative, yet each one in and of itself fails to capture the totality of mechatronics.
Despite continuing efforts to define mechatronics, to classify mechatronic products, and to develop a standard mechatronics curriculum, a consensus opinion on an all-encompassing description of “what is mechatronics” eludes us. This lack of consensus is a healthy sign.
It says that the field is alive, that it is a youthful subject. Even without an unarguably definitive description of mechatronics, engineers understand from the definitions given above and from their own personal experiences the essence of the philosophy of mechatronics.
For many practicing engineers on the front line of engineering design, mechatronics is nothing new.
As the historical divisions between mechanical, electrical, aerospace, chemical, civil, and computer engineering become less clearly defined, we should take comfort in the existence of mechatronics as a field of study in academia. The mechatronics specialty provides an educational path, that is, a roadmap, for engineering students studying within the traditional structure of most engineering colleges.
Mechatronics is generally recognized worldwide as a vibrant area of study. Undergraduate and graduate programs in mechatronic engineering are now offered in many universities. Refereed journals are being published and dedicated conferences are being organized and are generally highly attended.
It should be understood that mechatronics is not just a convenient structure for investigative studies by academicians; it is a way of life in modern engineering practice.
The introduction of the microprocessor in the early 1980s and the ever increasing desired performance to cost ratio revolutionized the paradigm of engineering design.
The number of new products being developed at the intersection of traditional disciplines of engineering, computer science, and the natural sciences is ever increasing. The ongoing information technology revolution, advances in wireless communication, smart sensors design (enabled by MEMS technology), and embedded systems engineering ensures that the engineering design paradigm will continue to evolve in the early twenty-first century.