Site: Mechanical Engineering Laboratory
Agency of Industrial Science and Technology
Ministry of International Trade and Industry
Tsukuba Science City, Ibaraki-ken 305
Japan
Date Visited: 26 May 1997
Host: Dr. Kazuo Mori (arranged meeting)
Senior Scientist
Manufacturing Machinery Division
Tel: 81 29 858 7074 (FAX: 81 29 858 7201)
e-mail: mori@mel.go.jp
Researchers Met: Dr. Jun Akedo, Senior Researcher
Dr. Masaaki Ichiki, Researcher
Dr. Igor Goncharenko, Visiting Researcher

BACKGROUND

The Mechanical Engineering Laboratory (MEL) was established in 1937. MEL is one of a number of Japanese government laboratories currently engaged in basic and applied research. Its current charter is to "contribute towards the development of the Japanese engineering industry, thus reducing its dependence on overseas technology."1 MEL has a staff of 200 permanent researchers in science and engineering. Usually, another 200 researchers are visiting from companies, universities and abroad at any given time. Most of these stay anywhere from a few months to several years.

MEL's annual budget is ¥3.75 billion ($34.1 million at ¥110/$), of which ¥1.56 billion is for R&D, and ¥2.2 billion is for salaries and administration. These numbers have generally held steady over the last 5 years. The peak year for R&D was in 1994, when the budget was ¥1.69 billion.

The research at MEL is carried out in the following seven main areas:

Additionally, MEL is engaged in two technologies that cut across the seven main areas. These are mechatronics and optoelectronics.

Basic research at MEL is essentially independent of the other divisions. However it is expected that in the future, interdisciplinary groups will make up many research teams. Basic research is in three broad areas:

Although the aim of the MEL is to support technology to help Japanese industry be more competitive, research results are available to all interested parties globally. There are projects jointly supported by government and industry but they are limited in number. Industrial support comes in a form of equipment donations and personnel stationed at MEL. Direct financial support is not possible.

Interdisciplinary research cutting across several departments and organizations is being pursued aggressively at MEL. The number of joint research projects quadrupled between 1991 and 1995. Patent activity is quite high. In 1995, MEL researchers obtained 89 domestic patents and 24 international patents.

MECHATRONICS AT MEL

Much of MEL research in mechatronics deals with bringing artificial intelligence and information technology techniques into the realm of manufacturing. This is also the heart of mechatronics research. Mechatronics research at MEL cuts across 4 main divisions: Information and Systems Science, Advanced Machine Technology, Manufacturing Technology, and Robotics.

Researchers at MEL's Information and Systems Science Department are working on improved optical information processing techniques, instrumentation and control systems for use in difficult environments, and object-oriented machine design software and distributed control theory for complex systems.

The Advanced Machine Technology Department works closely with other divisions. It investigates basic properties of mechanical components and machines, including micromachines. Researchers also are working on developing new processing methods and technologies for measuring and evaluating processing results. They are using ion beam and hybrid techniques, as well nondestructive testing and process evaluation. Improving safety and reliability through predictive maintenance is also being studied.

The Department of Manufacturing Technology is involved in several manufacturing technologies, including ecologically conscious manufacturing, hybrid machining, surface and interface technology, powder forming technology, production machines, and manufacturing information systems.

The Robotics Department works on advanced robotics technology. Researchers are looking at ways tasks are performed by humans, and are trying to simulate such behavior in robots. The laboratory also performs research in virtual reality, telerobotics, and human-friendly machines. A sample of additional areas of interest includes identifying and understanding phenomena associated with microtechniques, and their effect on designing artificial objects; and the use of intelligent materials that respond and adapt to external stimuli by changing their characteristics (e.g., shape memory alloys, piezoelectric ceramics, magnetostrictive materials, and electroviscous and magneto-viscous fluids). They are also exploring hard coatings generated via the complex-shape diamond thin-film production technique, and the use of these coatings in sliding surfaces of bearings and in special tools.

Dr. Mori's personal research focuses on developing new architectures for future manufacturing equipment, e.g., intelligent tools (integrating sensor actuators and processors in a cutting tip), mechanisms involved with information processing capability, and rapid production using various materials.

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

MEL actively encourages its staff to be involved in overseas activities and invites foreign visitors to participate in research programs. In recent years the number of scientists going abroad and invited to MEL has grown significantly, approximately doubling between 1992 and 1996. More than twice as many go abroad as come to MEL. In 1995, for example, 230 went abroad, and 100 came to MEL. Many come for a few months to a year or two. Almost 25% come from Asia, followed closely by Western Europe, followed by North America. A rising number are coming from Eastern Europe, particularly the eastern region of the Russian Federation (Pacific Coast).


1 Mechanical Engineering Laboratory Report. Home Page http://www.aist.go.jp/MEL/
Published: September 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian