European engineers from industry and academia have come together to create a broad-ranging international consortium that will facilitate the development of innovative products – like robots, computer components and electronic systems – in an efficient way. They plan to advance mechatronic engineering methods by drawing on the expertise of the partners in this cross-border, highly integrated multidisciplinary group.
The field of mechatronics – which combines software, electronic and mechanical engineering, as well as other related disciplines – is pivotal in modern manufacturing and industry. Manufacturing is of crucial importance to Europe and its economic future, and every modern production line incorporates mechatronic components. Until recently, however, there has been little collaboration and consistency across borders to ensure that, at a continental scale, Europe remains at the cutting edge of this crucial field. Deprived of the latest technologies, which may be developed in the USA or Asia, Europe’s fragmentation by national borders could be its weakness.
Luckily, the solution is at hand. The MEPROMA (mechatronic engineering for an efficient product development in mechanical and plant engineering) project, masterminded by ITQ GmbH of Germany and supported through the EUREKA Network, aimed to redress inefficiencies in the industry proceeding from numerous sources. Among these were the facts that the development process implemented in most companies is still driven by mechanical needs; that methods do not often correspond to the target application or user; that development tools are not integrated in the overall process, and are ill-suited for use by SMEs; and that interdisciplinary education for both new and current professionals is sadly lacking.
Bringing engineers together
Dr.-Ing. Rainer Stetter and Dr.-Ing. Bernd Spiegelberger were the leaders of MEPROMA for ITQ, and they recalled the unique solution the project brought to the problems engineering faced: “We realised that it was only by discussing and matching the possibilities offered by technology – as defined by researchers – with the requirements of users that we could ensure the usability of modern engineering methods, and keep them fit for purpose.” To this end, MEPROMA brought together all the project partners to participate in workshops and common research and development projects exploring and using cutting edge-techniques. Their innovative toolkit included agile methods, simulations within different phases of development, mechatronic specification concepts and tool-integrated development.
"From our point of view, increasing activities with partners all over Europe were among the most positive outcomes of this project"
As Spiegelberger explains, collaboration was at the heart of this project, and made up a great deal of the day-to-day activity on MEPROMA. “ITQ’s role in the project was as a coordinator; in practice, this meant that we were responsible for the preparation and execution of meetings, the coordination of tasks amongst partners, the tracking of progress within work packages and the discussion and definition of requirements for results to be developed with partners”. The consortium brought together academic and industrial partners from Germany and Austria, who – without the support of EUREKA– might have found it very difficult to coordinate their efforts in the way that they did. All partners were supported by national funding bodies in their respective country (see info-box).
MEPROMA also benefited from the international connections of its industrial partners; Kostwein Maschinenbau GmbH, for example, is based in Austria but is recognised as a world leader in mechanical engineering and it has a global customer base.
“From our point of view, increasing activities with partners all over Europe were among the most positive outcomes of this project – and we have further projects and activities with all the MEPROMA partners either pending or planned”, Spiegelberger opines – but the outcomes of the project, in practice, have extended far further. ITQ itself was able to grow significantly in the wake of the project, hiring 10 additional employees, and the technologies that resulted have been ordered by prominent organisations such as the German government and its Federal Ministry of Education and Research. With diverse contacts also made at conferences in China, Israel, and Japan by consortium members, the results of MEPROMA are set to have a truly international impact.