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Designing electro-mechanical products and machines, especially ones that require precise motion, is a cross disciplinary endeavor requiring advanced skills in mechanical, electrical, computer, and controls engineering. This mix of skills has come to be known as "mechatronics.” The Venn diagram above shows how these four different disciplines overlap to create the field of mechatronics.

Simplexity employs a core team of engineers with strengths in mechanical, electrical, firmware, software and control systems engineering.

Most companies that specialize in mechatronics, automation, or controls do so from an industrial automation standpoint. These companies integrate off-the-shelf industrial components into a solution. This is definitely the way to go if you are building one, or a few products or machines.

However, when designing a product that will be built in volumes ranging from many hundreds to hundreds of thousands or more, using off-the-shelf components is simply not cost competitive. Product development firms like Simplexity understand production processes and design techniques that deliver the best cost to performance ratios for mid- to high-volume product design.

The overlap between mechatronics and product development can best be described by the phrase “Embedded Motion.” Things like a television require expert product development, but have no moving parts and are not considered mechatronic products.There are also mechatronic solutions, like factory automation, that fall outside of the “product” space. At the intersection of these spaces are those products that have motion embedded in their hearts, and that is where Simplexity operates.

Simplexity focuses on mechatronics for the development of mid- to high-volume products

For products with a low volume and a high component cost (top left of the diagram above), designers typically need to rely on motion system resellers and integrators to specify and integrate commercial, off-the-shelf components into a custom industrial solution. At the bottom left of the diagram is the hobbyist or maker market, where people strive to make low volume products with low cost components like Arduino or Raspberry Pi. The top right of the diagram shows custom industrial products, like cars and construction equipment that use higher cost motion components.

The bottom right of the diagram shows the types of products that are considered embedded motion products. Since product volumes are higher, relying on the same motion system components and integrators as the top left of the diagram will yield products that are not cost competitive. In this space, highly experienced mechatronic engineers are vital. Without the cross-disciplinary skillset that mechatronic engineers provide, motion systems are typically overdesigned in each individual design subsystem. With a true cross-disciplinary team, new tradeoffs become available which can yield an overall better design.

Historically, Simplexity has found that teams without a dedicated mechatronics system engineer typically significantly overdesign, adding as much 2x the required cost to the system.  Since many of our engineers have decades of experience designing HP’s high volume ink-jet printers, they have learned the secrets of designing motion systems with best-in-class cost to performance ratios. With a systems approach and sufficient characterization, design margin can be balanced across the system components so that no component is overdesigned. That optimization in margin can yield a huge reduction in total cost for higher production volume.

EMBEDDED MOTION SOLUTIONS

So how can Simplexity deliver lower risk AND faster time-to-market in addition to competitive product cost?  Along with our sister company Cricket Labs, Simplexity has invested many years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to design, build and test mechatronic solutions for the embedded motion space. This is somewhat similar to what industrial component supplies have done for the low-volume space, but our solutions are optimized for the mid to high volume product space.  These solutions jump start your product development, so you don’t have to begin with a blank sheet of paper or use expensive industrial components.

Electrical
Solution
Firmware
Solution
Control System
Solution
Mechanical
Solution
Electrical Solution
 

BENEFITS:

  • Our electrical solution speeds up time to market.  Firmware and controls teams can start working in parallel with the electrical team since there is preexisting hardware to support early development.  Mechanical prototypes start moving sooner too.
  • Reduced risk with a proven drive electronics.
  • Client owns the custom PCA design for their product giving complete control over product life cycle.

We have developed a mechatronics board that can be used in two ways:

  • As a development kit to immediately start running motors and developing firmware.
     

     
  • As a reference design to customize the functionality needed only for your application.  One example of an optimized version of the above PCA as installed in a New Matter 3D Printer is shown below.
     


     
Firmware Solution
 

BENEFITS:

  • Solution provides a full FW architecture tailored for products, including components for hardware drivers and higher level product behaviors.  This provides faster time-to-market and reduces your development cost.
  • Risk is reduced using validated FW components, and vendor drivers that have been patched for errata.
  • Unlike with open source code, you own the IP in your product.

The below diagram shows the stack of firmware that has been developed.  The blue and green areas are Simplexity/Cricket Labs developed solutions.

Control System Solution
 

BENEFITS:

  • Control algorithms have already been developed for most common motion needs to decrease schedule.
  • Reduce risk with analysis capability that allows you to prototype before hardware is ready.
  • More flexibility readily available for custom controls needs.

A motion system is only as good as the algorithms used to drive it.  The standard motion control firmware offering provides:

  • PID feedback + 3 term feedforward control loop for brushed DC motors.
  • Fully customizable trapezoidal velocity profile generation
  • Axis to axis motion synchronization including slaved axes.
  • On-the-fly commanded motion profile modification.

Future functionality:

  • Full G-code interpreter.
  • Field oriented control (FOC) of Brushless DC motors.
Mechanical Solution
 

BENEFITS:

  • Reduced risk by leveraging decades of knowledge of how to customize mechanical components to mid to high volume applications.
  • Competitive product costing via relationships with component suppliers to use proven mechanical components that scale with volume.
  • Optimize your gear trains with proprietary gear analysis tools to reduce risk before committing to expensive tooling

Key mechanical motion components that affect function, reliability, and cost are:

  1. Motors.  We have tried many different types of motors and have vetted motor vendors to receive favored pricing on certain models for our clients.
  2. Encoder systems are often an expensive component of the drive system.  Few companies understand how to develop low cost, compact, and high performance encoder systems as well as Simplexity. 
  3. For applications using off-the-shelf motion stages, convert to custom motion mechanisms for higher volumes.  Rather than paying $2K-$5K per axis of motion, our mechanical solutions maintain precision in the tens of microns, while reducing BOM cost by as much as 50%.
  4. Gear trains, belt drives, and lead screw drives for mid to high volume products.  Systems are optimized for loads, speeds, position accuracy, cost, and tooling ROI.