Collaboration between higher education institutions and industry gives students the opportunity to benefit from practical education – but it’s more than that: the example of Siemens and FHWS shows how versatile an industrial collaboration can be.
Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mechatronics – what would these degree programmes be without practical application? Not what they are at the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt (FHWS). Prof. Dr. Andreas Schiffler from FHWS and the two Siemens employees Stephan Platen and Dr Hans-Georg Köpken are immediately in agreement here. Industrial collaborations in the technical sector are of great importance not only to students, but also to professors and businesses.
A good relationship based on partnership has already existed between Siemens AG and FHWS for many years. Schiffler himself was employed at Siemens in Erlangen in the tooling machines department with a focus on software products until 2019. Now he is a professor in the FHWS Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at Schweinfurt. He is therefore able to see the added value for both sides in such collaborations between teaching and practice. “For me, it is very exciting to be aware of the experiences and motivations in the industry and pick them up – in research projects as well as in teaching,” he observes. As a research professor, he also deals intensively with research projects, projects with external funding and industrial collaborations in addition to teaching and direct contact with students.
Collaboration at the Centre for Digital Applications in Metalworking
When we talk about FHWS’ industrial collaborations, the “Centre for Digital Applications in Metalworking” takes centre stage – this is the overarching term, coined by Siemens, for various projects involve digitalisation in the metal sector and associated technologies. A lot of potential still lies dormant in many areas of application here. This potential should be used, researched and tested in practice in various projects taking place over three years.
FHWS and the international Siemens corporation have been working hand in hand on the implementation of some of these projects since 2017. “Both parties, FHWS and Siemens, were drivers for the joint implementation of the projects,” Stephan Platen, Technology Manager at Siemens, emphasises. “It was also clear: we want to work on multiple topics and multiple individual projects. This was the start condition.” Platen has been working in the Business Unit Motion Control at Siemens for more than ten years, dealing with products, systems and solutions for drives, motors, CNC controls and gear motors. From the beginning, he dealt with innovation, future and related topics there. He therefore also holds the role of programme manager for the project group with FHWS.
The Siemens collaboration is implemented in interdisciplinary projects
One example of a current project is “BeWart”. Here, existing maintenance strategies are to be designed according to the needs using data from within and outside machines, and reliable condition monitoring of feed axes is to be realised. The test benches built by FHWS in collaboration with the industry offer the perfect environment for student work in a practical environment. Project results for cooling lubricant monitoring are implemented in prototypes within the framework of a final thesis at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering in Schweinfurt using Siemens Edge components, for example.
According to Köpken, technical expert at Siemens, the example of “BeWart” shows the great strength of the joint projects: they are conducted across multiple domains. “Initially, you have to deal with chemistry, e.g. pH values, owing to the lubricants used. The application relevance then lies in mechanical engineering. The measuring method is electronics and finally the analysis is software. Each building block therefore demands very different skills.” This interdisciplinary and cross-domain work is a challenge on one hand, but on the other hand it is the potential that digitalisation provides in metalworking and which contributes to an increase in productivity.
FHWS and Siemens benefit from students’ final theses
Things are similar in the “VALIDAD” project. It deals with additive manufacturing – specifically with 3D metal printing – and is one of the projects which is realised at the FHWS site in Schweinfurt, the “Center Additive Metal Printing”, intended specifically for this. Siemens is one of the industrial partners, alongside Maincor Rohrsysteme GmbH & Co. KG and Turbocut Jopp GmbH, which offer expertise to students and research assistants within the context of this project. “To give a concrete example here: a student on the international Mechatronics degree programme is working on machine learning and image processing in his final thesis,” explains Schiffler. Thus, as this example shows, students’ final theses can always be carried out in context with companies – and in an intensive collaboration.
The collaboration between FHWS and Siemens is also concretely reflected in events such as the “Digitalization after Work” lecture series. Results and progress from the joint projects are presented and interactively demonstrated (as soon as this is possible again owing to the pandemic situation). By Dr Hans-Georg Köpken, who has worked at Siemens Motion Control for more than 20 years, for example. As a technical expert in the fields of data analysis and artificial intelligence, his field of work lies between research and product development, which always means close collaboration with higher education institutions of all kinds. At events like “Digitalization after Work”, students have the opportunity to come into contact with him and other industry representatives and to engage in networking.
The collaboration bears fruit for both parties
This intensive collaboration of people is precisely what offers added value for both parties – FHWS and Siemens. “For us, it is the professors at FHWS when it comes to technological innovation. There are final theses by students when it comes to future employees for us, as well as to employees for our customers,” Platen observes on Siemens’ part. This human factor in itself is what makes the collaboration with FHWS so valuable. Siemens also has the opportunity to drive the subject areas and domains for technological innovations forward in collaboration with professors and students. Possible future colleagues – currently still students – can receive training in specific topics at a very early stage as a result of this. Siemens projects and themes are already a concept for them when they later fully embark on a career.
At the same time, FHWS witnesses technological developments and requirements up close in practice, adds Prof. Dr. Schiffler. And there is more. “The quality of the mission we have – the education and training of young people – is improved as a result. Because we bring these requirements into the teaching through examples, through devices or technologies,” Schiffler continues. Last but not least, the research projects also offer the opportunity to demonstrate the strength of FHWS’ research, which can stretch from projects through final theses to doctoral theses by research assistants.
Schiffler, Platen and Köpken agree on this: “It is an excellent collaboration – also on the personal level.”