mechanical systems

Written By: Ehsan Jahandarpour

A mechanical system manages power to accomplish a task that involves forces and movement. Mechanical is derived from the Latin word machina, which in turn derives from the Doric Greek μαχανά (machana), Ionic Greek μηχανή (mechane) “contrivance, machine, engine” and that from μῆχος (mechos), “means, expedient, remedy”. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the adjective mechanical as skilled in the practical application of an art or science, of the nature of a machine or machines, and relating to or caused by movement, physical forces, properties or agents such as is dealt with by Mechanics. Similarly Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “mechanical” as relating to machinery or tools. A mechanical system consists of (i) a power source and actuators that generate forces and movement, (ii) a system of mechanisms that shape the actuator input to achieve a specific application of output forces and movement, and (iii) a controller with sensors that compares the output to a performance goal and then directs the actuator input. This can be seen in Watt’s steam engine (see the illustration) in which the power is provided by steam expanding to drive the piston. The walking beam, coupler and crank transform the linear movement of the piston into rotation of the output pulley. Finally, the pulley rotation drives the flyball governor which controls the valve for the steam input to the piston cylinder. Power flow through a mechanical system provides a way to understand the performance of devices ranging from levers and gear trains to automobiles and robotic systems.