Manufacturing News

Industry help students tackle mechatronics

ENGINEERING students from the University of Adelaide have taken out the top award in their final-year mechatronics project competition, with an automated foosball table capable of kicking human opposition ‘off the park’.

Comprising a motion sensor system, software written by the student team for decision-making, and a precision actuation system for manipulation of the controls, the automated game proved to be stiff competition.

The winning project was sponsored by Sage Automation’s training arm, Sage Didactic, and supported motion control technology and expertise from industrial automation company Rockwell Automation.

Matthew Turnbull, who led the student team on the eight-month long project, said the team wanted to use mechatronics in a fun and recreational context, and having industry sponsorship helped realise this vision.

“For a university project, it’s not always possible to achieve industry standards but we were able to reach that level,” Turnball explained.

According to Sage Automation’s national standards and innovation manager, Sam Koulianos, who provided technical mentoring for the project, the University of Adelaide students initially came to the company with a design, looking for sponsorship for the project.

“We looked at the materials list and said, we’ll sponsor it, and we’ll see if we can get our suppliers to help with the hardware.”

The company then approached Rockwell Automation to provide an integrated motion control solution.

A logic-control and servo-motor actuation system based on the PC-based SoftLogix platform and Kinetix 2000 motion control technology was designed to manipulate the game’s controls.

This interfaced with the students’ custom-written ‘AI’ software, which acted as the brains of the game.

“As far as we knew, no-one had done this before–interfacing SoftLogix with a separate Windows based program,” Turnbull said.

A 96-pinhole camera and LED sensor grid system was used to keep track of the ball’s position on the table.

This information was read into the AI software via a digital I/O card, with decisions on movement commands fed into the SoftLogix platform.

Since both the AI and SoftLogix software were housed on the same PC, communications were all handled using PC memory.

“This meant that there was no need for additional PLC hardware,” said Koulianos, “Here you’ve got SERCOS communications to the servo system coming straight out of the PC.”

The PC card interfaced directly with the motion control platform, where actuation was performed by eight servo-motors–four controlling linear motion of the rods via rack-and-pinion systems, and four controlling the rotation, or ‘kicking’ of the players.

“Using this design, rotational and linear movement could be carried out simultaneously and independently,” said Turnbull.

The automated foosball table will be kept at Sage Didactic’s new training facility in Adelaide, as an example of the vision and ability of engineering students.

For more information contact:

Sage Automation

Rockwell Automation

Ross Vaughan –

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