Adrian Cooke attended the mechatronic 2012 conference in Linz, Austria and presented:
The goal of a conference is not only to present and share the knowledge that SOFIE creates but also to see what is happening in the rest of the research and industrial world within our field. Thus a brief summary of the conference is now given, with some links to some interesting papers from the conference. The analysis is divided into three areas, a subset of the technical papers and systems engineering papers observed and a summary of trends and information learned at the conference.
Situation Recognition for Hospital Robots, Tamas Szeci and Md. Kabir Al Mamum.
An interesting presentation about the IWARD hospital robot, specifically the ability for the robot to determine if a patient is lying or standing. A number of different techniques were used during the image processing to recognize the patient. OpenCV used for much of the processing.
Detection of sub-surface defects: Mechatronic innovation at voestalpine Stahl Gmbh, Rudol Cihal et al.
A Magnetic flux leakage sensor (GMR sensor) was used to find faults in steel plates of 0.5mm in size.
Developing an Anatomically Based Robotic Hand, Kenneth Rotter and Jacobus van Schalkwyk.
This paper described an impressive robotic project that a student performed for a bachelors thesis. A prototype hand was created from scratch by the student and results created. They used rapid development techniques such as 3D printing and control systems created using Anduino, specifically the Seeduino.
Kinematic Analysis of Cooperative Underwater Intervention Systems Based on Screw Theory, Carlos R. Rocha
Presented a paper about using screw theory in underwater vehicles, with an open source python framework for working with the screw theory.
Systems engineering analysis
The big buzz term for the conference was ‘model-based systems engineering’. This is defined as: ‘the formalized application of modeling to support system requirements, design, analysis, verification and validation activities beginning in the conceptual design phase and continuing throughout development and later life cycle phases’ (from Tomiyama’s paper). Thus everyone was presenting methods to achieve this, also how to move many engineering steps forward in the development process using ‘front loading’ (the other buzz term). A few notes on some of the presentations is now given:
Architecture-Centric Model-Based Product Development, Tetsuo Tomiyama
The keynote paper from Professor Tomiyama was well presented and interesting. The main crux that I received from the presentation is the fact that problems occur in multi-disciplinary projects and they are universal, I even notice them in my small project. He lists and describes these problems as: communication, decomposition, integration, traceability, interface, iteration and change of management problems.
He proposes that the higher-level view to represent the structure and requirements of the project must be built into the model-based engineering process (ie. that’s why it is architecture centric).
Mechatronical Maturity in Machine and Plant Construction – Needs and Benefits, Rainer Stetter
This presentation from industry was controversial and interesting. Dr Stetter made a huge point throughout his presentation that mechatronic engineering in essence has changed enormously. Traditionally it was mechanical and electronic (mechatronic) engineering, but now it is more realistically software engineering as well as mechatronic. He believes that the software engineering is inherently not recognised sufficiently in many mechatronic companies, while it has an equal (and arguably) a larger role in modern day multi-disciplinary projects in terms of complexity and importance.
He believes the processes to get these domains to work together is still under construction and big changes need to happen within in companies to get the distribution of the importance of the different systems realistically balanced. They are also working on new research with Eureka to investigate Agile software development method’s use in mechatronic companies. More infomation.
From model to reality – successful implementation of a robotic solution at a continuous casting machine, Pfeil, Simon.
Another interesting presentation from industry, Siemans VAI, which creates huge steel plants. They performed extensive ‘front-loading’ in the design of a robot that works in dangerous conditions close to the casting machine. Full virtual design of the robot was created, then tested using a test bench and finally installed in the production for use, with no time for on-site testing. It was created on time and performed correctly from time zero on-site and shows how the engineering process is changing dramatically.
Towards Seamless Model-Based Design of Complex Systems with Early Consideration of Automation Software, Jan Christoph Wehrstedt et al.
Showed yet another complex tool to do the modeling process during product development using concepts from software engineering in mechatronic projects (such as state vector diagrams). It was very interesting, but one wonders where it will go. There seems to be a multitude of competing systems designed for engineers. The speaker was asked, well what happens when you show this tool to the software engineers in the team. The result is, we have our tools, they work, so please leave us alone to get our job done.
Model based design brought to practice via Virtual Components for energy modeling, G. Bianchi et al.
The author proposed that component manufacturers should start creating virtual components of their devices instead or in addition to data sheets. That way engineers can start using these components in their modeling systems which sounds like a great advance in current practice, but how to actually get that done?
Overcoming current mechatronic design challenges: a
discussion, Ahsan Qamar
The author proposed a need for a system to act as an adaptation layer between all the different type of modelling systems. A tool to make it possible to connect SysML to Modelica (for example) to the other multitude of tools available. It will provide a way to perform: version control and integration testing amongst other things.
Mechatronic Design – Success Strategy for the Challenges in the Steel Industry, Andreas Flick
This talk from the CTO of Siemens VAI was interesting. He described how requirement engineering is one of the most important things in the development process. He described the four different strategies that govern their design processes for modern steel plants.
- Complete redesigns, the most inefficient for the company but possibly the best for the client.
- Identical designs, they use the same system in different plants.
- Type designs, they have a few different products of different performance values that they use to build custom plants.
- Parametric design, the can scale and change parts for different requirements.
He also stressed how front-loading of the design process is very important to try minimize the amount of integration problems and re-design cycles.
Credibility of Simulation Results – A Philosophical Perspective on Virtual Manufacturing, Leo J de Vin
An interesting presentation about simulation results and how to interpret them. He stated that you should never trust simulation results until you have a reason to believe them.
He also stressed that the person who tests the results should not be the person who creates the simulation. This is common practice in software engineering but should also be applied to mechatronic engineering. Testing should be separate to take away bias’s in the test process.
Semantic Top-Down Modeling of Mechatronics Systems for Sustainable Product Data and Lifecycle Management, Ossi Nykänen
Provided an in depth description of another tool to help in the top-down system design process. Mathematically based with checks in place to make sure functions are fulfill requirements. They are attempting to digitize the entire design process, which is very important in Finland.
These tools are hoping to improve communicatoin and collaboration which are some of the core problems in large multi-disciplinary projects.
So what do I bring from it. Everyone mentions the same issues that occur in the design process. Most importantly how to take implicit design decision and make them explicit to help people understand system that is being created.
In this conference alone there were several different digital tools presented to help digitize the design process. Some of them well known, such as Modelica and SysML, and some new concepts from full blown software packages, to small XML based research projects.
The tools are multiplying and this is on top of the already detail based design tools such as FEM, CAD and simulation environments. The core problem that I see is how to connect all these tools together to make a seamless design process, but also make a compelling connection that is easy to understand and use to enable all the different disciplines to understand and convert to such a system.
This is an incredibly hard task, and most likely not ever realizable. Thus I still believe the design processes are some of the most important ways to achieve this, be this formal top-down design or agile development strategies. The tools should develop to help in this process and not make it harder to understand and implement.
So in many ways, I believe that software engineering can create a useful way to achieve this. Continuous integration, for example, has been around for a long time. With systems such as Jenkins, Git and automatic documentation a core part of many development teams. These kind of tools need to spread across the whole design process, especially to the architecture level design phase. And they need to be easy to use!
My presentation at the conference dealt with the use of Agile development techniques in a multi-disciplinary project to help in the process of the spread of these principles across all domains.
The presentation was in the Mini-Symposium about Mechatronic Design, which as I mentioned previously is very structured formal methods. The full paper for the conference is shown below and is available for download.
Unfortunately like the whole of the conference, this topic was only a footnote. The mechatronics 2012 conference had many people from academia and industry, big and small. These are the people that can make a difference to the world.
I heard the terms social responsibility and sustainability maybe once or twice during the whole conference. The world has many problems and the drive to improve it needs to come from somewhere, and big industry is a core driver behind change in the world, and unfortunately their does not seem to be a serious driver for change coming from this area if I take this conference as an example.
But, for once, I can say that the software world could learn from the mechatronics world. Mechatronic companies know how to optimize production processes for efficiency, these concepts need to be applied to massive server farms that drive the information age, which are so in-efficient that some of them run on an average CPU efficiency of 12% and consume enough energy to power a small to medium sized town. Thus to close this article, lets hope the Footnote becomes part of the main crux of such a conference, before its too late.