Multi-disciplinary programs in mechatronics teach students to integrate computerized controls, robotics, mechanical components and electronics. The goal is to minimize the need for human performance of monotonous tasks in industrial and manufacturing applications.
A certificate program in mechatronics might prepare graduates to obtain entry-level positions as technicians who work on products with mechanical, robotic or electrical controls. While it is possible to obtain these positions with on-the-job experience or vocational training, a certificate or college-level courses might put job seekers ahead of the competition. A bachelor's or master's degree could prepare graduates to become electronics engineers, mechatronics engineers or project managers in the engineering field.
Certificate in Mechatronics
These 2-semester programs prepare students for technician-level careers, fixing machines and reprogramming controls in order to streamline processes. Examples of mechatronics include automobiles, robotic vacuums and computerized manufacturing lines. In some cases, manufacturing facilities use enclosed mechatronic devices to prevent human exposure to excessive noise and toxic chemicals. Some credits earned in these certificates are able to transfer into an associate's degree-level program. To be admitted, applicants to these certificate programs are required to have graduated high school or have the GED equivalent.
Students learn about technical documentation, the physical properties of materials typically used in industrial applications and the methods for properly testing equipment for failure. Commonly, training in these programs includes:
- Motor controls
- Electrical components
- Programmable controllers
- Robotics interfacing
- A.C. and D.C. machinery
Bachelor of Science in Mechatronic Engineering
These 4-year programs include a significant amount of hands-on work in motion, noise and vibration control. Students learn about logic design and the design of systems that can then be interfaced with computers. Applications of mechatronics specifically in the biotechnology industry include machines designed to print human tissue. Applicants to these programs must have completed high school or its equivalent.
Mechatronic engineers increase human safety and comfort by improving products like anti-lock brakes and artificial organs. In order to work with intelligent products that integrate hydraulics, computers, mechanical movement and electronics, students learn about:
- System integration
- Automotive systems
- Product design
Master of Science in Mechatronic Systems Engineering
These 2-year programs in mechatronics teach students to work closely with robotics professionals, contributing to the design of unmanned aircraft, industrial systems and autofocus systems on cameras. Thesis, non-thesis and online options are all available to students. Students may also learn about relevant applications in the field, like Boston Dynamics' Big Dog, which can adapt to not fall over when kicked off-balance or when slipping on uneven terrain.
Eligible candidates need to have earned bachelor's degrees in a relevant engineering science, like computer, mechanical or electrical engineering. Those from bachelor's degree programs in computer science, math or a relevant non-engineering field who have 3-5 years of real-world experience working in mechatronics are also encouraged to apply. Applicants to these programs must have a grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
Graduate students learn to integrate various subsystems into a single system, controlled by a single user. Programs include the following material in the curriculum:
- Automotive controls
- Intelligent systems
- Mechanical design
- Signal processing
- System optimization
Entry-level technicians in this field perform system maintenance and troubleshoot problems in control systems and robotics to prevent the loss of production facilities. Job titles available to certificate holders include:
- Calibration technician
- Electromechanical technician
- Industrial networking technician
- Maintenance technician
- Process development technician
Non-computer electronics engineers - according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) - were expected to see little or no change in employment numbers between 2014-2024 (www.bls.org). These professionals earned a median annual wage of $98,270, as of May 2015.
Mechanical engineers - according to the 2014-2024 BLS employment projections - were forecast to see a five percent increase in employment numbers. These professionals took home a median annual wage of $83,590, as of May 2015.
Continuing Education and Licensure Information
The Siemens Company administers a voluntary program for the certification of mechatronic systems assistants or skilled machine operators. In order to become a Siemens Certified Mechatronic Systems Assistant, students must have completed training at a Siemens-certified partner school. After this, students must sit for the online examination.
As of August 2011, mechatronics programs were still new to the United States and the responsible accrediting board won't accredit an engineering program until the first class has graduated. Because of these factors, graduates of mechatronics engineering programs may not be eligible to sit for licensure as a Professional Engineer until the program from which they graduated earns accreditation. The relevant accrediting board is called ABET, formerly known as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (www.abet.org).
ABET accreditation is required for licensure from the NCEES, or the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (www.ncees.org). However, licensure is only required of engineers offering their services directly to the public. Obtaining a Professional Engineer (PE) license requires a minimum of four years of on-the-job experience supervised by a licensed PE; this experience is flanked by two examinations.
Continuing education requirements vary by state. As of 2011, maintenance of professional licensure requires the completion of sufficient credits of continuing education every 1-2 years. Graduate certificates and individual courses are available at a variety of colleges and universities.
Ph.D. programs are available for those interested in careers in research and academia. Programs with concentrations that combine both robotics and mechatronics are also available.
To summarize, mechatronics programs provide engineering training that can be used to design robots used in various industries. There are both undergraduate and graduate-level programs available in this field.