Mechatronics and Vacuum Technology

The terms Mechatronics and Vacuum Technology represent 20th Century state-of-the-art “tags” for leading edge STEM based skill sets that are even more significant in this 21st century digital world.  Mechatronics was coined in the 1960’s to verbalize the then brand new integration of mechanical and electronic knowledge for commercial (automobiles, etc), space (moon mission) and defense (ICB’s) applications.  Vacuum Technology could trace its heritage to the 19th Century (Edison’s work with incandescent filaments for example) but certainly is anchored in technology development (radio and television) in the 1920’s and cemented in all advanced technologies triggered during and post Manhattan Project.  Although there is always a tendency to rebrand almost everything (IHOP to IHOB for the latest example), new identifiers for either of these incredibly STEM based skill sets is not necessary.  What is important is to recognize that from a technician’s perspective both are indicative of the required and similar advanced knowledge and skills for today’s advanced manufacturing sector technicians.

FLATE’s mission to build Florida’s advanced manufacturing workforce is driven by the fact that Florida’s high tech industries (defense, aero-space, biomedical devices and communications sectors) are dependent on both Mechatronics and Vacuum Technology and the reality is that the skillset of these two discipline areas have a significant overlap. FLATE continues to work with A.S. programs around the country that support mechatronics certifications alignment to year degree programs. Additionally, FLATE annually provides a range of professional development opportunities at the HI-TEC conference (this year in Miami Florida in July). Mechatronics events include: workshop on Programmable Logic Controllers; Mechatronics group “mixer”; and an industry panel on Industry 4.0.

FLATE is now beginning an initiative to build a community of practice that supports vacuum technology and its overlapping Mechatronics skills. The National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education program (NSF-ATE) is supporting FLATE activities focused on technician education that lead to careers in advanced manufacturing that depend on vacuum technology and science skills and knowledge. FLATE has entered into a partnership with the American Vacuum Society (AVS) to identify the essential skills that are and will be essential to support this industry sector.   (The AVS is the internationally recognized premiere organization of academic, industry, Department of Defense, National Laboratory, and NASA STEM professionals that require or use controlled pressure environments to accomplish their missions.) This objective will be reached through a joint effort by the AVS Education Committee, Normandale Community College in Bloomington, MN, and FLATE. The work has already begun at workshop supported by AVS at the Colorado School of Mines that took place in early June. Stay tuned for the next steps in this project in the fall of 2018. For more information, contact

So what’s next? As with the action item generated in last month’s FOCUS workforce related message, “On-Time and Drug Free”, We need input from manufacturers and their technology supporters that rely on vacuum technology and science to share insight and experience. From your perspective, what are required skills that support manufacturing operations conducted in controlled pressure environments? What skills and tasks do your engineers and scientists have and do that should be within the technician’s domain? What vacuum related skills are now not key to your vacuum supported processes?

In summary, to paraphrase and repeat the bottom line message from “On-Time and Drug Free”, drilling down into the skill set expectations of manufacturing workers in high performance complex vacuum required processes will increase process efficiency and product quality. This exploration requires extra energy from all parties but the increased details will refine the processes Florida uses to produce the fundamental non-competitive technical expertise necessary in this manufacturing sector. Florida has a great future in global manufacturing when the needed skills development is transferred to the education system. FLATE can help with that transfer into the education system but manufacturers have to identify the critical skills. If you can help, let us know.