Mechatronics: Blended Engineering for the Robotic Future: Page 2 of 3

The mechatronics engineering discipline is getting a foothold in robotics


Mechatronic engineers work at companies that require high-tech development into what they are producing. These engineers may work in a laboratory, a processing plant, or an engineering office. Research opportunities for mechatronics engineers abound in emerging fields like bioengineering, nanotechnology, and robotics. These engineers are playing a large role in the development of electric cars and self-driving vehicles.

You will find mechatronic engineers in the defense industry developing futuristic vehicles, and you’ll also find them revolutionizing consumer products. They may work in smaller innovative high-tech companies, designing software, parts, and equipment. You’ll find them in mining as well as the oil and gas industry, since the equipment for these industries now includes electronics, mechanical equipment, and systems development.

Robotics Industry Screaming for These Skills

While employers have been seeking this combination of skills in their engineering employees, the term mechatronics to describe these needs is still relatively new. “I don’t think the robotics industry is asking for mechatronics specifically. The term is still new. But they want that type of engineering background,” said Devaprasad. “They are asking for mechanical engineers with experience in electronics and computer science.”

Mechatronics as an engineering discipline came out of the need for a new engineering discipline to meet the changes in industry and manufacturing. “Jobs have been changing since the dawn of the industrial revolution. If you ask 100% of our member companies, they’re having a problem finding the skilled people in robotics and mechatronics,” said Bob Doyle, director of communications at the Association for Advancing Automation, which includes the Robotics Industry Association (RIA). “Our companies are clamoring to hire students who have these skills.”

What’s in a Name?

Devaprasad noted that Lake Superior State University has been careful in choosing the right name for a degree that includes but is not limited to robotics. “Lake Superior State University was the first university to create a bachelor's in robotics 31 years ago,” he said. “Robotics gained traction in the 1980s. That was good, but we found there was risk in narrowing down the degree by calling it robotics engineering when actually our graduates were systems engineers.”

Even with the growth of the robotics industry, calling an engineering degree “robotics engineering” can be a problem for graduates. “If the robotics industry were slowing down, they wouldn’t hire these graduates. People would say we’re not moving strong on robots,” said Devaprasad.

Robotics work implies mechatronics, since it involves mechanical, electronics, and systems design work. “The moment we say industrial robotics, people are able to relate to it right away,” he said. “A lot of companies are looking for people with background in the skills that make up mechatronics. The robotics industry is seeing record numbers of robot systems being used. That opens up demand for mechatronics engineers.”



The limitations of a “robotics engineering” degree led Lake Superior State University to switch to the term, “mechatronics engineering.” “We wanted to offer a degree that included robotics, but we wanted to


Dorota Shortell's picture
I think the word "mechatronics" is broader than "electromechanical" since it also encompasses disciplines like firmware and controls. They are certainly related and linked. The emphasis of mechatronics is to look at electromechanical products from a whole system perspective and more intentionally make sure that the firmware and controls are optimized in addition to the electronics and mechanics.

No doubt, while the word Mechatronics is largely unknown in the US, it has been a part of the standard curriculum of higher education in Europe and Asia for decades. But unfortunately, tradition is a strong force in American higher ed. Our program at Sierra College is a good example of a successful community college Mechatronics program. We turn students into taxpayers.

I came up with the term ICRT to describe the same set of disciplines described here. Information, Communications, Robotics Technology. An extension of IT - Information Technology and ICT - Information Communications Technology. IT is too short for any description of what society is undertaking these days. The thing about ICRT is that it includes homes as well as what we perceive to be ordinary robotics. I like the Mechatronics idea - I'd never seen that term before.

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