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Article | January 12, 2010
In the last ten years the speed of packaging lines has increased greatly, and packaging systems have moved from primarily mechanical to primarily electrical.
This combination of mechanical, electrical, computers, and controls as applied to the manufacturing environment for improved productivity is referred to as mechatronics. Modern packaging systems in use today are truly mechatronic systems and will remain so into the foreseeable future.
As the diagram shown here illustrates, modern machine design must combine the best of everything that technology has to offer: mechanical, electronic, computer-based, and controls-oriented. Where these disciplines meet and intersect is where mechatronics is at. It’s a skill set that permits the development of systems that offer a more economical design solution and improved production.
The packaging economy is estimated to be +/- $2 trillion annually, including materials, machinery, and value-added services. Packaging machinery commands large budgets all over the world, so competition in the packaging machinery area is fierce. This competition requires a workforce skilled in mechatronics. Original equipment manufacturers (OEM) must keep pace with the technology and skill sets from a mechatronics viewpoint to remain competitive. Buyers of packaging systems also need the same skill set to evaluate equipment and choose providers for their businesses.
Schools need to respond to meet this need for skilled workers. There is a large gap between student preparedness and opportunities in engineering/manufacturing technology. Mechatronics and robotics requires graduates who can be multi-task oriented and understand the “whole system” as technology improves. Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI) surveys indicate that by 2013, 40% of packaging lines will use robotics.
A mechatronics program offers instruction in mechanical engineering technology and electrical engineering technology with an emphasis on packaging equipment. Mechatronics programs are only available in a small number of locations and usually only as a two-year program. To broaden awareness of the need for this kind of training, PMMI member companies should become connected with schools in their areas. The need for mechatronics must be marketed at all levels from grade school to graduate school. The four-year mechatronics engineering technology program at Purdue University Calumet was initiated by industry partners, both the OEMs and the system integrators, particularly the packaging machinery industry.
At Purdue University Calumet, David McLees ([email protected]) is technology administrator at the School of Technology; James B. Higley ([email protected]) is a professor in the Engineering Technology Dept.
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