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Oct 24, 2003

Mechatronics

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© Reuse this Control systems training company Festo Didactic plans to present its latestversion of fluid simulation software as its main drawcard at the Blue IQ exhibition to be held at the Sandton Convention centre from October 23 to 25.

The software program, called FluidSIM, was designed by Festo in conjunction with the University of Dortmund, in Germany, in order to train people in the field of fluid power.

Fluid power is an importantcomponent in the relatively new vocational training field of Mechatronics.

Mechatronics is a combinationof several disciplines, namely electronics, pneumatics, hydraulics and mechanics, all the main components of this new vocational trade.

“FluidSIM facilitates the design and simulation of fluid powersystems by computer.

“The software can train users in the fields of hydraulics and pneu-matics with the possibility tointerface to electrics and programmable logic controller (PLC) technology,” says Festo Didactic manager Tom Webster. He adds that the exhibit at the event will contain hardware (training modules) and software, in order to expose people to the latest equipment and technology in the control and mechatronics field.

According to Webster, multi-media training material enablespeople the flexibility to train innumerous disciplines. Mechatronics has become a trend in Europe, due to the synergy between previously unrelated fields enabling people to become multiskilled. He adds that the International Vocational Training Organisation and World Skills Foundation hosts a biennial international Skills Olympics, testing teams from a number of countries in theirprofessional fields, of which themechatronics competition is the highest-attended event.

This year, the three-day event was held in Switzerland in June, with 23 mechatronics teams present from different countries around the world.

Each team had to complete a range of exercises in automation, which included the connection,testing and commissioning ofhydraulics, pneumatics, robotics, electrics, PLC and softwaresystems, The next Skills Olympics is scheduled to take place in Helsinki, Finland, in 2005.

Webster is confident that a South African team will be able to participate in the event.

“We are sure that a South African mechatronics team will be established in time, although we are still in the development stages of formulating a team,” says Webster.

He adds that mechatronics has developed into a professional field worldwide, with a range of diplomasand learnerships being offered at tertiary education institutions and training centres, with over six thousand people trained to date in Germany alone.

However, the field is still in itsinfancy in South Africa.

Webster is confident that mecha-tronics will develop as a profession in South Africa over the next few years. “South Africa is currentlylagging behind the rest of the world in mechatronics, and this situation must change, since the field could prove to be beneficial to the country as a whole.

“Developing mechatronics locally will enable multinational companies to supply state-of-the-art technology,knowing that the equipment will be operated and maintained by qualified individuals,” says Webster.

He adds that mechatronics is used in a variety of sectors, including the automotive, manufacturing and mining industries, enabling indi-viduals to know the fundamentalaspects of the machinery and plant.

Webster says that thecountry faces a number of challenges in terms ofmechatronics, including the education system and technology.

“One of the challenges presented is that the South African education system is slow to implement learnerships and create unit standards, due to the fact that the education system is still largely in a stage of transformation from the old system to the new.

“In addition, the existing training facilities must invest in new technology in order to accommodate the field.

“If there is no equipment available for training, it should be con-sidered a transfer of knowledge, rather than training,” says Webster.

He adds that mechatronics could be seen as a possible solution to overcome the skills shortage in the country.

“It is essential that we establish mechatronic centres of excellence, using state-of-the-art learningsystems in order to facilitate andaccelerate this new training discipline.

“This will supply industry with qualified employees, resulting inincreased productivity and foreign direct investment,” says Webster.

He hopes that, in future, training institutions and industry will form strategic partnerships to ensure that mechatronics is introduced as a live discipline with new technology being introduced on a regular basis.

Webster says for the last 20 years, training in South Africa has been neglected in terms of exposure to new technology, due to the transition in the ten years before thenew government and the ten years after.

This is as a result of government concentrating on more immediate priorities.

“Now is the right time to introduce real-world technology into the country, especially with the growing importance of the Blue IQinitiative, which requires multiskilled people, to attract moreforeign investment to Gauteng. “Mechatronics is the way forward for many countries,” says Webster.

Edited by: zeena isaacs
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