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OpEd: Why Mechatronics is Hot

Irene Spanos
Irene Spanos - David Lewinski Photography
Irene Spanos  was appointed director of the Oakland County Dept. of Economic Development & Community Affairs by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson in 2011. As director, she oversees the operation of the department and its six divisions: Business Development (attraction/retention), Planning, Finance, Workforce Development, Marketing & Communication and Community & Home Improvement. Before her appointment, she spent seven years with the county as a senior business development representative, specializing in the bio-technology and medical devices sectors and was involved in the launch of Medical Main Street, the county's initiative to grow the life sciences and health care industries in Southeast Michigan. She also worked with companies headquartered in Europe on growing their presence in Oakland County.

Spanos majored in marketing and holds a business administration degree from Wayne State University.  She is a member of the Swedish, German & French American Chamber of Commerce, and Southfield's Healthcare Corridor board.  Spanos also sits on the Mechatronics Certificate advisory board for Oakland Community College, on the advisory board of Oakland University's Incubator: OU INC and is a member of the Michigan Economic Developers Association and the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) Research Group.

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Why Mechatronics is Hot

First, I have to explain what mechatronics is and why it's so important to our region. Mechatronics is a multidisciplinary field of engineering, that is to say, it rejects splitting engineering into separate disciplines. Mechatronics is a design process that includes a combination of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, telecommunication engineering, control engineering and computer engineering. That is exactly what Wikipedia defines it as. 

There is a bachelors and masters of science/engineering path to mechatronics at the university level, as well as a technician-level mechatronics pathway at the community colleges and in the skilled trades arena of learning. The technician pathway leads to efficiency and cost savings gains for industrial companies. The automotive industry was one of the first adopters of this trend. It allows one technician to be able to service a piece of equipment in its entirety. The trend of having separate mechanical, electrical, and controls technicians on the manufacturing floor is instead moving towards having "mechatronikers" (as they call them in Europe) that have expertise in all three of these disciplines – allowing them more flexibility in the manufacturing processes.  

Oakland University, Lawrence Technological University, Wayne State, and other universities have specific bachelors and masters degrees now in mechatronics.  At the engineering level, the benefits of having a mechatronics engineer allow for better design of parts, gains in efficiency of designing/engineering, and cost savings for industrial companies. 

I was asked to join a mechatronics advisory board at Oakland Community College in 2010.  Oakland County being home to about  200 German-owned firms in our community alone, we were all very familiar with European manufacturing practices and trends. This advisory board was made up of industry, government and academia. Several of our German companies, like Kolbenschmidt Pierburg, ThyssenKrupp, EMAG, P3 and others, stepped up to help us. These companies were instrumental in helping us form the curriculum for the certification program for the mechatronics technician. This initiative was definitely industry-led.

So why is having the infrastructure and expertise for mechatronics here in our region so important? The answer is easy: because companies locate where the exceptional talent resides.   

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson has long been committed to workforce development in our community. For over 20 years he's launched initiatives, invested in programs and supported workforce development policies that position our residents to be the most highly skilled and globally trained workforce in the nation! The results are proof that those strategies have indeed worked. Over 40% of Oakland County's residents over the age of 25 have at least a bachelor's degree (compared to the national average of 26% for this age group). Oakland County residents also have twice the national average of masters degrees and PhDs. Our region has a high concentration of knowledge and expertise. This is what companies look for, beyond incentives and grants. 

Mechatronics Assets in Southeast Michigan:
  • Oakland Intermediate School District – Pontiac Technical Campus – Mechatronics Lab for 11th and 12th graders
  • Oakland Community College – mechatronics certificate program
  • MAT 2- German-Style apprenticeship program developed by the MEDC currently available at Oakland Community College and Henry Ford Community College (soon to be launched state-wide)
  • Oakland University, Lawrence Technological University, Wayne State University, University of Michigan, and Michigan State University all offer bachelors and masters degrees in mechatronics in their engineering schools. 
To access any of these resource or assets, contact us at info@advantageoakland.com  We'll be happy to connect you to all of these great Michigan mechatronics programs. 
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