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Reliable Power is the Key to Mechatronics Systems Reliability

Mon, 05/04/2009 - 1:14pm

mike stout mechatronicsMechatronics is a relatively new field of complex systems design that encompasses the disciplines of Physics, Mechanical Engineering, Electronic Engineering and Computer Engineering. A typical Mechatronics system might incorporate the following elements:

  • Thermal, position, atmospheric, fluidic and stress sensors
  • Stepper or variable frequency drive controllers and motors
  • Programmable logic controllers (PLCs), digital logic circuits, control and monitoring computers
  • Proprietary software’s used for automation or process control and monitoring or modeling
  • Mechanical and other systems to numerous to mention

Typical Mechatronics systems might consist of robotic welding or assembly systems used in automobile production, vapor deposition or wafer handling systems used in the manufacturing of integrated circuits, or a large scale food processing and packaging system. Anywhere there is a simple or complex automated process, Mechatronics disciplines were involved with the process systems design.

These systems all have some commonality. They offer a high degree of accuracy and repeatability. Their reliability is vital to the functions they perform. Their accuracy, repeatability and reliability depend entirely on a reliable source of power to their system computers, microprocessor based controllers and key sensor and digital communications electronics. A momentary or sustained loss of power to these vital systems might render them inoperable, adversely affect their reliability, or even pose a safety hazard. Power pollution like high voltage transients and harmonics could result in equipment failure, costly downtime and repairs. Yet the engineers and manufactures of the equipment leave this critical power protection requirement to the end-user of these complex Mechatronics systems. 

As an example, a large soft drink bottling company in Atlanta installed a totally automated production and bottling system. For over a year after the installation for no apparent reason, the bottling system would randomly put an inaccurate amount of soft drink into the bottles, but report the correct amount was injected. When this would happen hundreds of bottles of product would have to be discarded, costing the company hundreds of thousands of dollars each occurrence. It was finally discovered that a single programmable logic controller was susceptible to localized power pollution being created by large motors on the production line. After much research, their engineers determined the best solution to the power problem was to incorporate a double conversion on-line UPS to power the affected PLC. The on-line UPS can take the incoming polluted AC power, convert it to a clean, regulated DC power and use this clean power to regenerate a new, clean, highly regulated AC power. The also provide the additional benefits of sustained battery backup, frequency regulation and conversion, advanced network based monitoring communication capability. They are an excellent low-cost solution to very difficult to solve localized power problems.

In another example, a toxic waste analysis and disposal company implement several automated computer based mass spectrometer systems for the analysis of waste samples. The volume of waste they handled was high so their entire system demanded all of the mass spectrometer systems we absolutely accurate and online 24 hours a day. Unfortunately after installation of the systems, this was not the case. They determined that the accuracy of the systems was being affected by something local to their facility. After months, their engineers determined the problem to be dirty power at the facility. Again, after some research they purchase double conversion on-line UPS units and install one on each mass spectrometer system. The accuracy problem was immediately solved and they have been in operation for several years without a single reoccurrence.
It has become increasing apparent that the field of Power Engineering be incorporated as one of the disciplines of Mechatronics due to the sensitive nature of the electronics and microprocessor based systems used to control and monitor the overall systems. However, when the end-user is faced with random reliability problems with the system, power should be reviewed as a first step and the solution may be as simple as a double conversion on-line UPS. (



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