MRO Q&A: Is A Mechatronics Process Worthwhile?

A reader asks if the machine design process would be a good fit at his pickle processing plant.

Question: I work for a mid-sized pickle processor. It has been suggested that we institute a mechatronics process at our facility. Is this a worthwhile endeavor?

Answer: Mechatronics is a collaborative process that combines the mechanical, electrical and software development teams into one cohesive unit for the purpose of streamlining the machine design process. The use of this concept has been building for some time in response to demands for shorter lead times and reductions in the footprint requirements for new equipment.

Consider it a “think tank” team that determines the optimal capabilities to build into a machine while considering all three disciplines in combination during the design phase, rather than members of each discipline making their own determination and “forcing” it into the final design. The latter approach can result in technology applications that may not be the most effective solution.

If your organization does a considerable amount of design work or equipment modifications, the collaborative process might be worth pursuing. But in its current state, mechatronics is used for design efficiency. If your primary business is processing pickles, this may be out of scope for you.

For mid-sized processors, there is an off shoot of this concept that may have value. Many local community colleges are testing the waters in developing technical training using the mechatronics approach. The staffs of many small and mid-sized processors lack dedicated mechanical, electrical, instrumentation and software technicians. I suggest you contact local colleges to determine if they can develop a course that meets your specific needs by cross-training existing employees to make operations more flexible and efficient. This would not be a once-and-done course but an ongoing program that is defined, delineated and agreed upon before implementation. I think you will be pleased with the long-term benefits that can be garnered.

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