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Maximizing mechatronics

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Founded in 1848, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is the state's most renowned comprehensive teaching and tier-one research university with a student body of approximately 42,000 and 18,000 faculty and staff. The College of Engineering enrolls approximately 1,500 graduate and 3,800 undergraduate students. Each year, students here participate in various technical projects, such as the "Bucky Car Wash", a fully functional miniature car wash built with B&R components.

In its dedication to upholding the university's high standards, the Mechatronics Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison affords its engineering students relevant, hands-on learning with industrial control hardware and software in addition to teaching programming code structure through the use of an open programming environment.

The Mechatronics Laboratory is committed to merging the disciplines of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, software engineering, controls engineering and systems design engineering. Its goal is to foster an understanding of real-world applications and demonstrate how they can be approached through the use of mechatronics tools.

Each semester, the Mechatronics Lab conducts projects that not only teach students how design decisions in one domain (e.g. mechanical engineering) can impact other domains (e.g. electrical or controls engineering), but some of the trade-offs involved that must be considered as well. By understanding these implications, the designer can proactively address potential multi-domain system design challenges to create the best possible solution for the application at hand.

Associate Faculty Associate and Mechatronics Lab Manager/Engineer Erick Oberstar explains: "Our goal is to provide students access to cutting-edge automation equipment and techniques. Specifically, this includes tools that combine functions that used to be offered by an array of different systems as well as software packages that provide a competitive edge when developing automated systems. These types of tools reduce the development time and complexity of a project, making it possible for an engineer to accomplish more with fewer resources."

Flexible control and communication

Since 2010, the Mechatronics Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been using hardware and software from B&R as a PLC teaching platform. One of the standard curriculum projects designed by the lab is the "Bucky Car Wash". This fully functional miniature car wash prototype utilizes a B&R Power Panel as the main platform for visualization and control.

The Bucky Car Wash also runs a bench-top Power Panel in conjunction with B&R Automation Studio software to help university students understand the principles of IEC 61131-3 programming languages. The unique hardware and software features allow a user to easily incorporate and switch between multiple languages according to the task objective of the application.

The hardware and software previously used in the Mechatronics Lab restricted applications to the Ladder Diagram programming language and did not allow students to hone their programming skills in languages such as C or Structured Text.

Due to its independence from the third-party communications protocol used, implementing the Ethernet POWERLINK protocol provides students the flexibility to test several of today's popular fieldbus systems.

"Compelling hardware specifications and IEC 61131-3 support were key factors in deciding to work with B&R," explains Oberstar. He adds, "B&R products have made the programming environment in the laboratory much easier to use. This has allowed us to take on more computationally intensive tasks thanks to the availability of more advanced computing platforms."

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The user interface for the "Bucky Car Wash" was created by university students using Automation Studio.
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The fully functional "Bucky Car Wash" miniature car wash prototype utilizes a B&R Power Panel as the main platform for handling visualization and control tasks.
Automation Studio mit Schriftzug_WEISS_ohne Schatten

The "Bucky Car Wash" student project utilizes a bench-top Power Panel in conjunction with B&R Automation Studio software to help university students understand the principles of IEC 61131-3 programming languages. The unique hardware and software features allow a user to easily incorporate and switch between multiple languages according to the task objective of the application.

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