Study programmes must continuously adapt to market evolutions

Interview with Thomas Röhr, International Director and DigiDemo coordinator at ESTA Belfort, France

In 1986, some big companies around Belfort/France established ESTA Belfort, – a private school, which main purpose was – and still is – to educate sales engineers, or to graduate students with both technical as well as commercial skills.

The companies were looking for employees who were able to sell their highly technological products on international markets. As they couldn’t find the right profiles in French higher education institutions, they decided to create their own school and to build up a sales engineering degree including technology, sales marketing & marketing, and management elements with a strong focus on internationalisation, and all in one study program. And the ease with which students find a job after graduation, in France and abroad, is the best proof of this still unique study programme, Thomas Röhr explains.

Study programmes must continuously adapt to market evolutions. The DigiDemo project is a mean to develop new interactive technological teaching content to catalyse the education of the companies’ future employees.

With the DigiDemo demonstrators we evolve our technical teaching and teach skills that are similar to those, students need when they are selling connected products and need to understand all of its technological aspects in their negotiation with the customer.

Thomas Röhr precises: We discovered that only few local companies were working on connected products that could be used for teaching. And he continues: It was difficult to get companies involved in DigiDemo as direct project partners. The local industry’s focus still lays on high tech products in the transport and energy sectors, and connected products in these domains are not what we were looking for as demonstrators.

However, these suppliers of energy and transportation companies are well aware of the importance of developing connected products, as well as of integrating connected products in a connected production. In consequence, they are very keen on recruiting students who dispose of necessary skills and are able to understand functioning and added-value of such products .

In that transition towards Industry 4.0, Thomas Röhr explains the students’ hands on-experiences in the companies:

DigiDemo demonstrators have been used with our third- and fourth-year students. Sutdents worked in groups and had to develop the demonstrators under supervision of ESTA teachers. They had to apply and combine different skills learned in the previous study years, and to acquire additional ones. This was also an opportunity to bring students from the Industry 4.0 and the Digital Transformation specialisations together in one mission. So, they mutually learned from each other and enhanced their understanding of the “other” specialisation.

To further create a close-to-reality situation, working on the DigiDemo demonstrators had been combined with the Project Management lecture; students had to develop and apply, e.g., planning, risk management, team organisation, kick-off- and progress meetings…

While some of the students take their new skills abroad, others will join regional companies as employees and let them benefit from these enhanced skills about connected products. Mission from the founders accomplished.

“The aim is to provide the students with essential competencies with a high degree of generality”

In this interview, Cristian-Paul Chioncel, Associate professor, from “Babeş-Bolyai” University Faculty of Engineering, gives his reflections on the conditions and the prospects of the educational system in Romania.

Muzeul Banatului Montan în Reșița (© Ap bullet/wikicommons)

In general, Cristian-Paul Chioncel notes an educational system with a potential for further development: In Romania, there is a potential for further developing the educational system, supporting the companies and the economic changes. One aspect could be to focus even more on developing long-term national economic and education strategies.

He continues that another area with potential for development is a strengthened collaboration between academia and companies. In this process, demonstrators can play an active role in providing students with real-life cases and, hence, supporting the development of competencies demanded by SMEs. The demonstrators developed in DigiDemo are integrated into the teaching process as well as the applied laboratory work. Due to their cross-disciplinary nature, they help to develop additional competencies related to the disciplines covered. The use of demonstrators gives students the possibility to have a more direct perspective on the industrial environment. According to Cristian-Paul Chioncel, the DigiDemo project facilitates digitization at two levels: It strives towards using more of these demonstrators in the teaching process. Moreover, it aims to apply digital tools in companies.

Finally, he considers the future of education in a Romanian context: In general, the aim is to provide the students with essential competencies with a high degree of generality. We encourage students to be able to understand principles and different phenomena. In addition, the students should be supported in personal development.

TechTalk on Circular Economy is online

Industry needs to become much more sustainable in developing and producing products that use less resources and energy, base on recycled or renewable materials, produce less waste, and can be used for long time.

DigiDemo partner Esben Laursen from UCN presents the concept of circular economy, one of the pillars of a sustainable industry.

The video targets students and interested people that want to discover the concept. See the video here.

“As educational providers, we experience that dual studies are getting increasingly popular”

Interview with Horatiu Pilsan, Professor for Electronic and Computer Engineering at FH Vorarlberg

<a href="">Image by lcd2020</a> on Freepik
Electric radio elements printed on old vintage paper as background for education, electricity industries, repair footage etc. Selective focus with depth of field (Image by lcd2020 on Freepik)

In this interview, Horatiu Pilsan considers and discusses how the DigiDemo project supports the development of educational programs that meet the current needs of students and companies.

According to Horatiu, educational institutions must facilitate up-to-date programs for students aimed at a context with ever-changing needs. He states: As educational providers, we experience that dual studies are getting increasingly popular.

However, the pre-knowlegde and skills of the young people leaving high school has changed over time. Horatiu explains: The young people leaving high school are not used to reading long texts: They are more used to watching short video clips. Moreover, they often only have little or no vocational skills.

A core area in the DigiDemo project is to develop demonstrators to be used in teaching. Using the demonstrators will create an opportunity for the students to improve their vocational and professional skills. Moreover, it will simultaneously make it possible for the students to relate their field of study to other domains, improving their cross-disciplinary understanding.

Besides the requirement for a dynamic approach when planning educational programs, the partners behind the DigiDemo project have discovered a need for an alignment in expectations. Namely, a discrepancy occurs when companies articulate their wishes for their future employees; Horatiu explains: Companies want us to concentrate on technical skills rather than soft skills. However, they want to hire people with good social skills and cross-disciplinary competencies.

Participating in a project like DigiDemo makes it possible for us to address these challenges, developing our educational programs. Overall, the DigiDemo project aims to develop a framework that enables the students to develop skills that match the everyday requirements of the companies.

3rd Transnational Meeting at FH Vorarlberg

On 12th and 13th September, DigiDemo project partners met at FH Vorarlberg. Participants worked jointly on issues such as sustainability, evaluation or the training concept for teachers interested in reusing the demonstrators in their classes.

Surrounded by mountains and spoiled by the sun, this was a new opportunity to highlight the added value of the project and the synergies that can be created by collaboration.

Participants at the TNM Dornbirn

We are continuing work and are looking forward to meeting us in January at our partner Centrul Universitar UBB Reşiţa (UBB) in Reşiţa/Roumania.

Presentation of DigiDemo project results during the ESTA Research Seminar

Monday 4 July 2022, researchers from the ESTA School of Business & Technology met to discuss research topics of colleagues and the future research strategy.

This was also an opportunity to present and discuss the DigiDemo results, and to use the project as sample when imaging new projects to be developed in the upcoming months through an interesting and active brainstorming process.

We’ll be ready for the Erasmus+ call for proposals 2023!

Presentation and discussion of DigiDemo results
(Credit photo: DigiDemo consortium/Sylvain Sagot 2022)

A useful demonstrator: Snow Depth Monitoring System

The first demonstrator developed by Fagskolen i Viken is built in such a way that it utilizes a full IoT architecture enabling students to develop their skills and competencies. It targets 2nd year’s students at EQF level 4 and 5.

The snow depth demonstrator is developed to measure current snow depth on cabin roofs by a laser distance sensor. The responsible owner of the cabin is notified by an app for smartphone.

Snow depth monitoring demonstrator developed by Fagskolen i Viken

This is a very common issue in Norway where many people own a cabin in the woods and need to supervise snow load in winter to avoid crashing it.

You can always learn and improve through European cooperation

Interview with Horatiu Pilsan, Professor for Electronic and Computer Engineering at FH Vorarlberg

You already have a Mechatronics degree at FH Vorarlberg allowing students to learn about smart, connected products. Could you give us some information about FH Vorarlberg and this degree?

FH Vorarlberg is a small University of Applied Sciences with approx. 1600 Students in the areas of Engineering & Technology, Business Administration, Design, Social Work and Health. In the field of Engineering, Mechatronics is the oldest degree programme with which the institution was founded, even though the name was not changed to Mechatronics until 2002. What was born out of necessity, in an attempt to provide the broadest possible education for a relatively small region, has become a unique feature over time, pioneering this education in the broader region.

Thus, what is your interest in participating in the DigiDemo project?

On the one hand, we have to keep our study programme at the cutting edge of technology, because mechatronic systems are becoming more and more networked and the role of cloud and IoT is growing. On the other hand, we can also learn a lot in the narrower field of mechatronics by participating in the project, sharing our experience with colleagues, and getting ideas and impulses from them.

You are responsible for the demonstrator framework. What is it, and what is it used for?

Even before the project started, we, the international project team, realized that there were different ideas about what a demonstrator is. This resulted in the need to define the properties and characteristics of a demonstrator and to record what information must be included in a description. We summarized this in the framework and validated it using a first prototype as an example. The suitability of subsequent demonstrators will be validated with the framework and they will be described according to it.

What is your first demonstrator, and how does it fit to the framework?

Our first demonstrator is the mechatronic setup used for the focus project (5th semester mechatronics bachelor). There is no doubt that it fits well into the framework, since it was described as a prototype in the framework. We have extended this setup and realized a cloud connection. This allows the students to learn which data to gather and how to analyse it in the cloud.