Studying Mechatronics in Germany
An article by Madlen Ottenschläger
That is what it's about
When the flying robot Cimon supports the German astronaut Alexander Gerst on the ISS space station, mechatronics is behind it. Likewise when cars automatically decelerate in front of an obstacle. People always talk about mechanics, electronics and computer science being used together. However, mechatronic engineers are not only changing machines, but also employing ever more powerful sensors, computers and robots to change entire production methods, such as the development of "smart factories". In the factory of the future, humans and robots should work together closely (keyword Industry 4.0). So far, that is not possible, large robots are not yet intuitive enough, the danger that they will hurt people is too high. Mechatronics engineers want to change that and therefore have to deal with ethical issues, for example: When is a robot safe enough? What are machines allowed to decide independently? Other current topics include big data and the use of technology for IT security.
This is how the course runs
"Mechatronic engineers are the all-round engineers among branch," says Rolf Biesenbach, professor at Bochum University of Applied Sciences and chairman of the Mechatronics department. The course of these technical generalists is therefore broadly based. There are three disciplines: Mechanics, electronics and computer science. At the beginning, students learn the basics of engineering from mathematics and physics. “If there is a lack of understanding in these subjects, the new will neither be understood nor evaluated. This in turn makes correct decisions impossible,“ says Biesenbach. In addition, introductory events on electrical engineering and computer science are part of the timetable. With computers, they learn to develop production systems using software. In higher semesters project work then follows. The students design simulations on the computer and test them until their idea becomes a functioning product. From the fourth, fifth semester they usually choose a specialization. Automation, for example, involves automatic production, measuring or testing processes; in automotive areas, for example, driver assistance and braking systems. Because the focus varies greatly depending on the university, you should be well informed in advance. Longer periods of practice are integrated almost everywhere. In doing so, the students gain experience in the industry and often also write their thesis while at a company.
Typical questions raised within the subject
- How can the operation of machines be made more intuitive?
- How do machines independently communicate with each other?
- Which materials are resource-saving?
- What does the factory of the future look like?
- Which energy sources can drive a robot?
- How does an idea become a computer simulation?
The subject suits you,...
...if you enjoyed physical or technical tasks while at school. In addition, you should like to work in a team and have a good understanding of complex relationships. You need discipline and stamina for this course, and the sheer amount of material makes some people struggle. "As in other engineering courses, a 40-hour week in mechatronics is normal," says Biesenbach. Instead of practice from the beginning, the basics are initially taught, especially maths and physics. Tutorials and learning groups help those starting to ease in.
Is there a numerus clausus?
Only about a quarter of the courses have an NC. That is usually around grade two or three.