Mechatronics of one of Festo's core competences. It combines the classic disciplines of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and information technology with the aim of improving the functionality of technical systems.
The requirements of flexible, adaptive, economic production of tomorrow set out the challenges for factory and process automation. Festo meets these challenges using the interdisciplinary approaches of mechatronics.
The research at Festo in the field of mechatronics pursues the aim of optimising the functionality of systems and intelligent components from the modular product system and developing innovative solution methods.
“Mechatronics is not a new profession. It is a way of thinking.” [J. van Amerongen, University of Twente 1989] This is also how Festo defines mechatronics. Because besides technical aspects, solutions for complex problems require a networked, interdisciplinary way of working. Cooperative developments for and with the customer mean support along the whole value creation process – from planning through to the operation of the products.
Control technology already plays an important role for innovative and intelligent products and the significance of controlled systems will further increase for automation technology in the future. In order to master complex and yet flexible systems, control technology is a critical core competence. It is used both in individual components and automated installations.
In mechatronics research, control technology is dealt with across the entire range of disciplines from the fundamental research through to the actual implementation stage. The spectrum of applications ranges from proportional valves and controlled pneumatic and electrical axes through to industrial robots. The research department thus developed control technology among other things for the Bionic Handling Assistant.
Simulation technology, and here the simulation of dynamic systems in particular, is a specialist discipline that is used starting from the mechatronic design in product development and the hardware-in-the-loop method for complex controller tests through to the virtual start-up of facilities.
In the research at Festo, valves, pneumatic and electric drives and axes, handling systems and robot applications are dynamically simulated in different fine-tuning stages. With the help of simulation studies, efficient dynamic system analyses and product optimisations can be carried out. The simulation models also act as a basis for designing controlled systems and real time simulations for hardware-in-the-loop test scenarios.
Software development for embedded systems
The intelligence of technical component and systems lies in microprocessors, which are virtually the brain of technical products. The actual intelligence, however, is in the algorithms and processes, which are implemented in various programming languages and executed on the microprocessors and control systems. Smart, highly functional and network-enabled products are no longer conceivable these days without integrated, in other words embedded software. The software share of mechatronic products will further increase in future.
The research department at Festo in the embedded software field deals with a wide range of programming based on microprocessors and control systems. FPGA programming is used for highly dynamic, specific functionalities. Complex functions are implemented in C, a general-purpose computer programming language. The research department also deals with the application programming for PLC. For programming and coding, Festo relies on modern model-based development tools and tools for automatically generating codes.
Modern automation concepts require functions to be increasingly integrated. More computing power and sensory abilities, for example, are part of this. The intensive and well coordinated interaction, in other words the networking of intelligent system components, enables mechatronic systems to be efficiently started up and operated. The transfer of technical information must be reliably and consistently ensured at command level from a simple sensor signal at the lower component level to a complex message.
In this context, the research department at Festo deals with modern methods of wireless information transfer and the associated challenges with regard to data security. Furthermore, various approaches for standardised data formats in the Industry 4.0 context are studied and shaped.
Handling technology and robotics
Modern handling systems and robots require an optimal interplay between mechanics, power and control electronics and control technology. In terms of a model-supported mechatronic design, simulation technology, control engineering and technology are applied in the field of handling technology.
As part of customer projects, the research department at Festo develops handling systems and robotics solutions using Festo components and also provides basic elements for the Festo modular system for handling and assembly technology. In the area of foundation work, new approaches for human-robotics cooperation and the development of flexible robot joints for the interaction with humans are investigated, whereby pneumatic and electric drive technology is resorted to.