Obsoleting Bolts – The importance of a lead engineer you trust

Presumably, if you’re in the business of manufacturing mechatronics equipment, your company has a mechanical engineering group. Imagine, if you will, that you assemble your mechanical group and inform them that they are to no longer use bolts in their designs. After a few stunned looks some senior members of your team protest: “you’re joking,” “we use bolts on everything,” “this has to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” and so on. You compose yourself and respond: “it’s part of a planned cost reduction; you’ll all have your say on what we replace them with; and, besides, they’ll be obsolete in a year and discontinued in two.”

Without a doubt, this sounds absurd to you. What could it mean to “obsolete a bolt”? Well, the reality is that this is exactly the scenario your mechatronics or motion control engineers live through on a roughly five to ten year cycle.

I want to be clear, I’m not talking about drives and motors. I’m talking about the motion control. This is a relatively new area of technology and formal education in this disciple in rare. Most managers of motion control and mechatronics groups are entirely unknowledgable about it in a technical sense. This makes it wildly different from mechanical engineering or even electrical engineering. The fact is, if you’re managing a mechatronics group and you’ve been out of the engineering pool for more than five years, you have almost nothing to contribute technically. Mechatronics tasks that were the mainstay of a system you once worked with may not even exist on a new system. Worse still, that one feature may not be a good indicator of the abilities of the system as a whole.

Two common systems come to mind: Delta Tau‘s PMAC and Siemens’ Simotion. Delta Tau has a function built in for creating a “feedrate” behavior on an axis (advance axis “x” some linear distance for each system event). It’s a system level function that an engineer can use right out of the box. Alternatively, Siemens forces the engineer to write software to create that behavior (my software was several hundreds of lines). On the surface, any manager in their right mind would award Delta Tau the victory. Yet, ask almost any engineer who has used both systems which they prefer and you’ll almost always hear that Siemens wears the crown. Now, that’s just an example, there are probably many things that a Delta Tau PMAC would be good for that Siemens Simotion would not be.

This is why it’s vital that any mechatronics manager have a lead mechatronics engineer to delegate these choices to. A mechanical engineering manager might know  exactly when a project calls for a compliant gear-train instead of an all steel one; an electrical engineering manager might know when to apply a multistage instrumentation amplifier; but a mechatronics manager is unlikely to know when it’s time to adopt a new motion control system or which one to move to.

Implement this simple strategy to reduce the chances of lost engineering time or worse. If you don’t have a lead engineer you can trust with that responsibility, find an outside mechatronics consultant to meet with your gourp asses your needs, and make an educated recommendation.

Permalink: https://shawnpitman.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/obsoleting-bol…neer-you-trust/ ‎

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