Mechatronics


Nov 01, 2007 Print Article

UPDATE: Detailed Forecast Now Available.

Mechatronics provides a framework for integrating traditionally disparate mechanical, electronic, control, information technology and other degree programs into a single multi-disciplinary program suited to industry’s increasing demand for multi-craft employees. This integration has been successful in several other countries but has been slow to develop in the U.S. colleges should determine the feasibility of integrating existing programs to develop mechatronic degree and certificate programs as appropriate for local industry demand.

Performance Indicators

  • Jobs: Annually through 2012, 2,058 job openings will be created in mechatronics-related Standard Occupational Codes (SOCs). Of these jobs, 64% (1,331) will come from the replacement of existing workers.1
  • Trends: The trend of replacing purely mechanical mechanisms with intelligent mechanical systems is well underway, and has been expanding over the past 30 years. The trend of embedding devices with more intelligence (i.e., embedded electronics) into mechanical systems is likely to increase as the performance of processors, memory, storage and bandwidth continue.
  • Timing: Mechatronics technologies are used by industry today, and employment demand exists today. The projected need is complicated due to the replacement of experienced workers who have developed multi-disciplinary skills through on-the-job-training.
  • Relevance: Mechatronics skills are increasingly relevant to the performance of job duties associated with many industries and jobs in Texas; however, local demand and educational expertise are critical to program success.

Mechatronics integrates mechanical and electrical systems through control systems. Mechatronics is an increasingly important technology in manufacturing systems where it enables traditional industries to be more efficient through automating redundant processes, improving quality and increasing productivity. Mechatronics is also an enabling component of many emerging products, processes and industries, such as micro-to-nano scale manufacturing and cybernetics.

As more products and processes have included mechatronic systems, it has become increasingly necessary that employees designing and working in technologically advanced environments be competent in the multidisciplinary application of its various technologies. Employers more commonly refer to multidisciplinary skills as “multi-craft”, meaning the ability to integrate many traditionally separate specialized work functions into one multi-skilled person.

Employability

Texas Workforce Commission data indicate that 2,058 job openings will be created in mechatronics-related occupations annually through 2012.Of these jobs, 64% (1,331) will come from the replacement of existing workers.

By the most conservative estimates of the 41 respondents, 230 mechatronic technicians are needed in Texas within the next 12 months, and 400 are needed in the next one to three years.

Forty-one Texas employers surveyed indicated that the average entry-level mechatronic technician’s salary is $34,230, and the average salary after five years is $47,727.

Students graduating from mechatronics programs as multi-craft employees may be designers, technicians, operators or engineers and may fill positions with existing occupational titles such as electromechanical technician, process technician and semiconductor technician. Many incumbent workers have achieved competencies in mechatronics through on-the-job experience or company training. As incumbent multi-craft technicians retire, it will be difficult to replace these employees because Texas lacks sufficient integrated multidisciplinary mechatronics educational programs.

Skill Sets

Mechatronic technicians will be responsible for supporting the installation, maintenance, repair, calibration, and troubleshooting of mecchatronics-related systems.Responsibilities will include routine and preventive maintenance, monitoring the performance of processes and equipment, and diagnosing and correcting problems.

Survey respondents indicated that the primary responsibility of mechatronics technicians would be the repair (74%) and maintenance (71%) of equipment. With the possible exception of product design, mechatronics technicians are integral to maximizing the productive use of mechatronic equipment over its entire life cycle, including production, use and maintenance. Mechatronics technicians must possess multi-disciplinary systems knowledge (broad and deep interconnected knowledge), rather than specialized or generalized knowledge. Moreover, they must be capable of integrating this knowledge in a way that allows them to meet the needs of employers. For full details, see the complete Mechatronics report at www.forecasting.tstc.edu.

Drivers

For at least the last 30 years, purely mechanical systems and processes are increasingly being replaced with more efficient and productive intelligent mechanical systems. These mechatronic systems offer a number of advantages, including simplified mechanical design, greater reliability and cost effectiveness, and the ability to adapt and optimize a product’s functionality during operations.

Similarly, the trend of embedding devices with more intelligence (i.e., embedded electronics) into mechanical systems is likely to accelerate as the relative costs of processors, memory, storage and bandwidth decrease, and their performance increases. Additionally, standardized communication protocols, such as Internet protocol, field bus and Ethernet, will continue to simplify interconnections and control through industrial networks. These networks include “machine to machine” (M2M) networks that enable machines to control and monitor other machines. For more information on Machine-to-Machine Computing, see the M2M forecast at www.forecasting.tstc.edu.

Constraints

Integrating and maintaining legacy and new systems is a labor-intensive process. Industry’s ability to incorporate new innovations to enhance their competitiveness will be dependent, in part, on Texas’ ability to produce an appropriately skilled multi-craft technical workforce.

A tremendous amount of legacy equipment that is not enabled for industrial networking or electronic control systems is still in use,2 and a substantial amount of it is not going to be replaced in the near future. This presents a challenge to organizations trying to integrate mechatronics-enabled solutions into operational environments.

Today, some mechatronics systems are heterogeneous and highly fragmented, requiring proprietary operating systems and application software. This causes complexity and expense in the deployment of these systems and represents a significant barrier.

In addition to the technical issues, the use of mechatronics systems can create more complex safety and service issues for the technician and engineering workforce.

Timing

Mechatronics technologies are employed by numerous industries today, and employment demand exists today. There are very few college programs in Texas graduating students with multi-craft skills. Texas employers that we surveyed and interviewed see significant value in formal mechatronics training and work applicants.

Relevance

Colleges with strong existing programs in electrical systems, electronics technology, robotics and automation, computerized control systems (instrumentation), industrial mainenance and engineering, electromechanical engineering are well positioned to develop mechatronics programs.

The ability of colleges to institute a mechatronic curriculum successfully will depend on three factors: the qualifications of the current faculty with regard to the multidisciplinary integration of related mechatronics disciplines, the availability of suitable laboratory facilities and the local need for multi-craft mechatronics technicians. Outreach should include the entire system of influencers, including employers, primary, secondary and post-secondary educational institutions (especially counselors, career and technical education faculty and principals), students, parents, workforce boards and economic development organizations.

Colleges and communities interested in establishing mechatronics programs are encouraged to establish a liaison with the mechatronic program at Texas State Technical College Harlingen. TSTC Harlingen launched Texas’ first mechatronic degree program in 2006 with a $1M award from the Department of Labor, as part of the Community Based Job Training Grant.

For more information on this program, visit www.harlingen.tstc.edu/mt/index.aspx. This program focuses on the creation and cultivation of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workforce and education pipeline at the secondary educational level through TechPREP. For more information on the TSTC Harlingen Mechatronics TechPREP program, visit www.harlingen.tstc.edu/techprep/docs/HS_AP.pdf.

  1. Standardized Occupational Components for Research and Analysis of Trends in Employment System. Texas Workforce Commission, Labor Market and Career Information. Retrieved 12 August 2007 http://socrates.cdr.state.tx.us/
  2. Black, D. (2006, June 28). Phone interview. ARM Automation, Austin, Texas.
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