Siemens and SPSU Collaborate on Mechatronics Education
Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU) is a residential, co-educational member of the University System of Georgia. Located on 203 acres of naturally wooded landscape in the historic and vibrant city of Marietta, SPSU is just 20 minutes from downtown Atlanta. Approximately 5,500 students from 36 states and 64 countries study here.
Focused on the practical study of science and technology to provide a balanced and career-based education, SPSU has partnered with Siemens Automation to establish one of the nation’s leading undergraduate mechatronics engineering programs. The specific objectives of the BSMtrE degree are to provide engineering graduates who:
- Understand the interdisciplinary fundamentals of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, control systems, and their integration.
- Have strong team skills to solve complex problems that span disciplinary boundaries.
- Perform research, design, and implementation of intelligent engineered products and processes enabled by the integration of mechanical, electronic, computer, and software engineering technologies.
A broader objective of the program is to help address what the National Science Board (NSB) has called “a troubling decline in the number of U.S. citizens who are training to become scientists and engineers.” This decrease is particularly alarming as the number of jobs requiring science and engineering skills is growing at five times the rate of the rest of the labor force.
The lack of mechatronics engineers is a case in point. Rick Myers, vice president of business development at Siemens Industry, notes that he would have hired 20 mechatronics engineers in each of the last two years if he could have found them. Instead, mechanical and electrical engineers were hired and internally trained in an intensive mechatronics course.
The term mechatronics was introduced in Japan in 1969 to describe the integration of mechanics and electronics. The term is widely used in Europe and generally understood by engineers in the United States, but is less recognized by the general public.
Today’s perspective of mechatronics has evolved with technology. SPSU uses the industry-evolved definition of mechatronics adopted by the IEEE/ASME Transactions of Mechatronics Index to define the discipline as:
- The synergistic integration of mechanical engineering with electronics
- Intelligent computer control in the design and manufacture of products and processes
- The blending of mechanical, electronic, software, and control theory engineering topics into a unified framework that enhances the design process
Mechatronic systems can be a complete product or a sub-component of a product. Examples of mechatronic systems include aircraft flight control and navigation systems; automotive electronic fuel injection and anti-lock brake systems; automated manufacturing systems, including robots, numerical control machining centers, packaging systems and plastic injection-molding systems; artificial organs; health monitoring and surgical systems; copy machines; and more. A common element of these systems is the integration of analog and digital circuits, microprocessors and computers, mechanical devices, sensors, actuators, and controls.
The development of Mechatronics Engineering is leading to increased technological innovation due to its focus on interdisciplinary thinking. An example of this can be seen in the packaging machinery industry. According to Douglas Machine, a regional partner of the Center for Automation and Motion Control (CAMC) in Alexandria, Minn., North American packaging machinery manufacturers are finding that their competitors in Germany and Italy are benefitting from an earlier commitment by their industries to mechatronics, as well as their governments’ support for a mechatronics curriculum at the university level. Advancing beyond the mechanical timing paradigms of the past, mechatronics engineers are able to design and manufacture the next generation of advanced packaging machines.
Dr. Ken Ryan, director of the CAMC, explains further: “It’s quite possible that within the next five years, there won’t be a machine made that doesn’t use mechatronics in some aspect of its operation.”
Despite a growing need for mechatronics expertise in industry, development of undergraduate mechatronics engineering curricula has been slow. As of 2006, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology had recognized only 42 undergraduate mechatronics engineering programs worldwide, and only one in the United States.
Citing industry demand for trained professionals in mechatronics, Siemens Industry has provided a $225,000 grant to support undergraduate education in this field at Southern Polytechnic State University. Further, Siemens has donated approximately $250,000 in laboratory equipment, including a plastic injection molding system, nine manufacturing automation training systems, and SIMATIC STEP7 automation and control software tools for the SPSU Computer-Integrated Manufacturing Laboratory.
Professor Glen Allen (retired) , SPSU’s champion for the Mechatronics Engineering program, noted that this is the latest support of high-technology education that Siemens has provided through Southern Polytechnic. The company has been a sponsor and booster of the annual Georgia BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) high school competitions hosted by SPSU.
“Siemens is the kind of responsible company that recognizes the impact of education in the science and technology fields on our state’s—and our nation’s—economy,” says Allen. “The future will be very bright for those with undergraduate mechatronics knowledge and skills. They, in turn, can brighten the future efficiency, productivity, and growth of business and industry.”
Professor Erhan Ilksoy mentions that thanks to timely automation equipment (PLCs) loan/donation, set-up assistance, in-class presentations and instructor training provided by the Siemens Cooperates with Education program, (via Robert Carper of Siemens), smooth transitioning of lab equipment into new SPSU engineering building was possible. “This was a great example of industry-university collaboration” adds Prof. Ilksoy.
According to Robert Carper, “Siemens investing in technical and education-based programs such as the development of a mechatronics degree program at SPSU enables our organization to support the development of the next generation of engineers and scientists who will advance tomorrow’s technology.”
Siemens’ support of Mechatronics Engineering at SPSU is part of its Siemens Automation Cooperates with Education (SCE) program. This program provides comprehensive support for educational institutions worldwide. For more information on the SCE program, go to www.usa.siemens.com/sce.Have an Inquiry for Siemens about this article? Click Here >>