The demand for shorter design cycles is threatening to endanger precision of tools and quality of products, highlighting the need for novel materials and techniques. Solutions may come from a relatively new field of engineering called mechatronics. Mechatronics builds on the collective strength of mechanical, electronic and computer technologies within product design and manufacturing to optimise functionality. With funding of the HYMM project, European scientists set out to develop new smart materials for machine tools to be used in inexpensive hybrid mechatronics structures for manufacturing. Smart materials are those that respond ‘intelligently’ to the environment much as a living organism does. They are widely used in sensors and actuators (devices that produce an action in response to a signal). The ultimate goal was smart, flexible and fast machining systems capable of drastically reducing machining time while enhancing accuracy. Scientists developed mechatronics simulation tools to evaluate performance of design concepts. Using the software, they studied and then manufactured a hybrid composite consisting of a corrugated core together with a carbon fibre-reinforced polymer (CFRP) matrix. This composite material was used to produce a machine part (a ram) with half the weight of its conventional counterpart. Enhanced vibration damping capabilities demonstrated by the part are critical for increasing axis acceleration and thus speed of machining without loss of accuracy. Development of controlling hardware and software for smart control of the mechatronics structures provided the final link in the chain to construct a prototype demonstrator ram made of CFRP material and integrating smart optical fibre Bragg grating (FBG) sensors. A software model enabled prediction of tool tip drift under various static and thermal loading conditions based on real-time data from the sensor and thus ‘smart’ adaptation capabilities. Mechatronics structures developed by the HYMM team demonstrate decreased weight and increased performance compared to conventional machining tools. In the long run, continued refinement of materials, processes and controlling software has the potential to drastically reduce cost as well, providing a major boost to European manufacturing that is threatened by increasing international competition.