The day-to-day work of a development department leaves little room to explore the seemingly impossible. That’s why I find it so refreshing to take part in the ten-week project module with the students from Reutlingen University. We give the students a real-life design assignment and they develop ideas and potential solutions. Sometimes their ideas sound crazy and well outside the box, but often they result in something genuinely useful.
The purpose of the Strategic Product Development division at MANN+HUMMEL is to improve and optimise existing products, as well as developing of new one. Since 2014, we have been working together with the mechanical engineering course at Reutlingen University, to run a special project module. This was developed by Prof. Dr. Steffen Ritter and Prof. Dr. Paul Wyndorps and is organised as follows: In their sixth semester, we give the mechanical engineering students a real-life design project which they work on for ten weeks in small teams of three or four. Every two weeks, they present their interim results to us and at the end of the module all their findings are handed over to us for use in our in-house research.
This educational partnership has many benefits for us: The students have very little practical experience, but this means that they are often extremely creative. They get stuck into the task without any preconceptions and so frequently develop ideas and solutions that are so unconventional that at first glance they do not appear feasible. We would almost certainly not have the in-house resources to explore them ourselves! Prof. Dr. Ritter’s module also allows us to pursue ideas in more depth, resulting in some surprising solutions, some of which even make it as far as series production. Moreover, because we have up to ten teams (a total of 40 students) working on the assignment for a whole semester, we can explore several directions at the same time, and only later do we need to decide which ones to use. Again this approach is not really feasible in-house. In short, we assign a task to a large team of creative students for two and a half months, and at the end we have up to ten different solutions to choose from.
It is a real pleasure to work with both the students and the university, and the partnership brings new insights to our work. We have visited the campus in Reutlingen on several occasions and enjoyed getting a taste of the student atmosphere. One of my colleagues actually studied at the university so he had great fun returning to his student roots. Such nostalgia is, however, not the main purpose of these visits. The students need (and want) to experience what it’s really like to work for a company and make a pitch to a potential client, which is why we attend the fortnightly presentations in the role of the client. We explain clearly which solutions would be dismissed during a tender process and give honest feedback on the positives and negatives of an idea and how well the information is presented.
So far we have run two project modules for the students from Reutlingen University. In our experience you need to be open to unconventional solutions. Many apparently infeasible ideas have made it through to the test stage or even further, and other ideas needed two or three different attempts before we achieved our goal. As Albert Einstein once said: “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” I couldn’t have said it better myself!