Machine (mechanical)

Machines employ power to achieve desired forces and movement (motion). A machine has a power source and actuators that generate forces and movement, and a system of mechanisms that shape the actuator input to achieve a specific application of output forces and movement. Modern machines often include computers and sensors that monitor performance and plan movement, and are called mechanical systems.

The meaning of the word “machine” is traced by the Oxford English Dictionary[1] to an independently functioning structure and by Merriam-Webster Dictionary[2] to something that has been constructed. This includes human design into the meaning of machine.

The adjective “mechanical” refers to skill in the practical application of an art or science, as well as relating to or caused by movement, physical forces, properties or agents such as is dealt with by mechanics.[1] Similarly Merriam-Webster Dictionary[3] defines “mechanical” as relating to machinery or tools.

Power flow through a machine provides a way to understand the performance of devices ranging from levers and gear trains to automobiles and robotic systems. The German mechanician Franz Reuleaux[4] wrote “a machine is a combination of resistant bodies so arranged that by their means the mechanical forces of nature can be compelled to do work accompanied by certain determinate motion.” Notice that forces and motion combine to define power.

More recently, Uicker et al.[5] stated that a machine is “a device for applying power or changing its direction.” And McCarthy and Soh[6] describe a machine as a system that “generally consists of a power source and a mechanism for the controlled use of this power.”

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