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Engineering undergrads show innovation to employers

Posted on May 27th, 2017

Engineering undergraduates at West Nottinghamshire College have showcased their technical talents and pioneering inventions to industry chiefs.

More than 30 students nearing the completion of their university-level studies presented their final-year projects to employers, business figures and college leaders at its fourth annual Engineering Showcase.

All of the students work in the engineering sector and have studied on day-release at the college’s Engineering Innovation Centre after being sponsored by their employers. Courses studied include the Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, and the HNC in Mechanical Engineering, which form part of the college’s higher education provision.

They work for organisations ranging from Rolls-Royce, Thorntons, Premier Foods, Severn Trent, Boots, and BTROS Electronics – a subsidiary of the Bombardier Transportation Group – to Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Nottingham Trams and Glenair UK.

Projects spanned new product designs to innovative solutions that could be implemented in their workplace. Giving students realistic, work-related projects is considered an essential feature of the college’s HNC programmes, to help them develop the skills needed in today’s challenging and competitive business environment.

By showcasing their projects to a range of industry experts, including their own managers in some cases, students gain the employers’ perspective, which aids their learning experience.

Afterwards, students are required to write a reflective report about their project and consider feedback from visitors attending the event, held on Wednesday 25 May at the college’s Vision University Centre, who included employers, business figures, college principal and chief executive Dame Asha Khemka, senior college leaders, chair of governors Nevil Croston and fellow governors.

Employers attending the event included representatives of Rolls-Royce, Thorntons, Imtech, Aesseal, and Railway Electrical Services, plus a host of firms across Mansfield and Ashfield including Asmech Systems, Arromax Structures, Kuroda Jena Tec, Total Integrated Solutions, Ardagh Group, Plastek UK, Crown Packaging, Glenair UK and Synseal Group.

HNC Mechanical Engineering students Christopher Withall and Simon Oakes presented their projects to managers at Nottingham Trams, where they work in the infrastructure division, and to other visitors.

The pair joined the company as apprentices four years ago, studying a BTEC level 3 in the subject, and have progressed to higher education at the college.

Infrastructure technician Christopher’s project was to install replacement air-conditioning units to technical cabinets located at each tram-stop on phase one of the Nottingham Express Transit (NET) network. By fabricating and fitting a new unit within the equipment cabinets, the aim was to reduce their internal temperatures and prevent over-heating, which can cause faults.

The 22-year-old, from Nuthall, Nottingham, said: “This was a great opportunity to show off what we’ve made and demonstrate how useful it will be to our employers now that it’s in action. The solution I have made has been implemented on to 23 separate cabinets on the tram network, so in the coming weeks we should see the results and whether it’s been a success.

“This project has been important for me because I’ve recently had a promotion, and doing this as part of my actual work has shown my managers what I’ve learnt at college. Bringing the two aspects together is just perfect.”

Assistant infrastructure technician Simon designed a prototype device that potentially could be fitted onto NET’s existing road-sweeper vehicle as a replacement to its accessory brush, allowing for more effective cleaning of the grooves contained within the tram tracks, which collect sediment, dirt and litter.

This work is currently sub-contracted to a firm with special sweepers for track-cleaning, so incorporating the device onto NET’s own vehicle without major modifications would bring cost-savings and more targeted track maintenance.

Simon, 27, from Long Eaton, Derbyshire, explained: “The idea was to create something that allows us to use our current vehicle both as a normal road-sweeper or convert it into a track-cleaning sweeper that removes dirt and debris quickly and efficiently.

“The concept has been proven; my project has actually been all about the prototype and testing the design. The design has been found to work so now it’s a case of going into greater depth in terms of the safety aspects, ensuring it will be economical without damaging any of our infrastructure, and then ultimately its manufacture.”

Simon, who is returning to the college in September to study the Higher National Diploma (HND) in the subject, said: “This was a good way for me to show how far I’ve come; from being an apprentice to taking on my own project from start to finish. Some of the things I’ve picked up from doing this, I could only have learnt at college. It’s enabled me to get to where I am in my career.”

Vic Hammond, infrastructure manager at Nottingham Trams Ltd, said: “The whole process is vital for us and for the students. It’s an opportunity for them to show us the skills and knowledge they’ve gained, and for us to see what we’re going to get back in terms of benefits to the business.

“The range of topics covered at the event was vast and the technical information on display was exceptionally varied. It was great to see everybody so enthusiastic about their work and that a great deal of learning has taken place.”

Lucy Salt’s project was based on a product that her employer, BTROS Electronics in Sutton-in-Ashfield, already designs and manufactures – a safety system for driver-operated door systems on trains. Currently, passenger doors are monitored by a camera and images shown on a screen in the driver’s cab. However, if the screen develops a fault, the doors are not visible to the driver.

In response, junior draughtsperson Lucy designed a system that allows feeds from all cameras to be viewed on multiple screens.

“If one screen breaks, you can swap the input to a different one, so the coach controller can see the doors no matter what,” explained the 20-year-old, from Mansfield. “My solution has now been implemented on a fleet of trains, which is really satisfying.”

Lucy, who studied the HNC in Mechanical Engineering, said it was good to work on a “real-life project” and that the exhibition enabled students to show that “the younger generation can do these things.”

She said: “It’s important that young people have the education and the know-how to produce these type of products, otherwise we’ll lose out on employment opportunities to those with more skills.”

Garry Radford, drawing office manager at BTROS Electronics, said: “I think people who combine work and college-study have an edge on those in full-time education because they get hands-on practice, which is every bit as important as academic capability.

“In our industries, we need people who are qualified to do their jobs. It is vital for the local economy and for the nation as a whole that we nurture young people – and events like this are an important way that the college and local industries can support each other.”

Engineering tutor Andy Ryan, who is behind the annual showcase, said: “Students are required to present their projects to a diverse audience of technical and non-technical people, which enables them to become adept at conveying complex information on a range of different levels.

“By linking what they are doing in the workplace with what they’re studying at college, students add real value to their employers while furthering their own career prospects.

“It’s been another really successful event. The feedback from visitors has been overwhelmingly positive; they’ve all thoroughly enjoyed talking to our students.”