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A Versatile Platform for Teaching Mechatronics

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Laboratory Innovations

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.119.1 - 25.119.9



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Paper Authors


Thomas R. Consi University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

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Thomas R. Consi is an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, with a joint appointment in the School of Freshwater Sciences and the Department of Mechanical Engineering. His researches focuses on the development of new and novel marine robots designed to operate in challenging environments. He is also keenly interested in engineering education and involves many UWM engineering undergraduates in his research projects as well as teaches mechatronics in the UWM Department of Mechanical Engineering.

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A Versatile Platform for Teaching MechatronicsMechatronics courses typically include a project which allows the students to integrate and applytheir knowledge in the design, construction and testing of a real mechatronic system. In somecourses these projects are free-form. The students think of an original device and then deal withall aspects of engineering development from parts procurement to final testing of the full-upsystem. At the other end of the spectrum students are given prebuilt systems and must programthem to perform certain task(s). These often takes the form of small mobile robots that are runin a contest of some sort at the end of the semester. Both approaches have their merits anddrawbacks. Free-form projects permit the most creativity but require more time consuming taskssuch as parts procurement and detailed parts fabrication that are at the margin of the core subjectmatter of the course. Within the confines of a single semester the students are often left with(nearly) finished hardware that has been hastily programmed. Device performance, therefore, isoften not what it could be and the (exhausted) students gain little or no hands-on experience withkey mechatronics concepts related to software, control and system evaluation. Use of premademachines or kits removes many of the tedious and peripheral tasks and permits the students tofocus more on the programming, control and testing aspects of the project. However, there is adanger that such a set-piece project becomes "cookbook" with known, well-defined outcomesand the students' experience with fault-finding, debugging and design iteration are oftenminimal. This paper presents a middle-ground approach that seeks a compromise between free-form and set-piece projects that maximizes exposure to core mechatronics concepts whileminimizing peripheral tasks and, importantly, preserving a good measure of creativity. Studentsin the author's mechatronics class were given premade motorized XYZ platforms and challengedto "do something" with the machines for their final projects. The general nature of the XYZplatform permits a wide range of potential projects - the creativity component - while notrequiring the students to design and build the bulk of their machines. In the first 2/3 of thesemester the students engaged in formal lab exercises that used the platforms to teachmechatronics concepts while at the same time building a toolkit of knowledge and techniquesthat was directly applicable to their projects (which happened in the final third of the semester).This resulted in a great time savings (always a precious resource in a mechatronics class)because the students essentially worked on their projects the entire semester while concurrentlylearning the course material. The results of one semester of this new course design will bepresented and compared with the author's earlier experience teaching the same course but with arequired free-form final project.

Consi, T. R. (2012, June), A Versatile Platform for Teaching Mechatronics Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--20879

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