Mahidol Engineering Design Challenge: 25 - 27 November 2022
By Graham K. Rogers
Over the weekend of 25 to 27 November students from the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University, Thailand, were asked to find rail systems problems and provide solutions that could lead to improvements. The workshop was supported by Alstom. Some of their management team attended as mentors with Engineering instructors and Alumni. Mixed groups of students had to analyse, discuss, develop and then present their solutions to a group of Alstom experts. The students were able to gain valuable experience outside the classroom.
Design and engineering are closely linked. The co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, used to talk of their products being at the crossroads of Technology and Art. Apple's former Chief Designer, Sir Jony Ive was influenced by the Bauhaus School and modernist design. Some of the products designed there, like the Wassily Chair, are still sold today.
Recognizing the importance of design, the Faculty of Engineering at Mahidol University formed a plan to provide design skills opportunities. This has seen the development of two design labs: Innogineer (Innovation and Engineering); and the Imagin studio [sic]. The necessary equipment, such as 3D printers, and a good working environment have been made available to students as well as expert help.
With international contests, like Invent for the Planet, students from the Faculty have seen some success, with one group attending Texas A & M earlier this year to compete in the finals. It was felt that some better introduction to the types of skills that are needed for such a contest and for real world engineering was needed.
With this in mind, members of the Department of Electrical Engineering developed a workshop, with some backing from Alstom. As well as the basics of engineering, the Faculty has a strong interest in Railway Engineering as well as development of medical solutions.
This event took place over the weekend of Friday 25 November to Sunday 27 November. Despite the closeness of the final exams, around 30 students (the target number) signed up for the workshop, two of whom had attended the Texas A & M contest earlier in the year.
The Design Challenge workshop was open to students from all departments. Students from Bio-medical, Civil, Chemical Electrical and Mechanical Engineering took part.
With an online introduction from Lucien Grant Peters, Innovation Manager at Alstom, some of the problems that face railways and passengers were outlined. Students were asked to consider two areas: the circular economy; and digital problems. These ideas were later expanded by one of the mentors.
Four groups were formed, each with a mix of students from years 1-4 and the different departments. At times discussion was excited, but the analysis carried out by the groups soon found problems that could be addressed and began to develop solutions.
Over the next couple of days, the work continued and by Sunday morning, things began to take shape. Each group pitched its ideas to mentors who suggested ways to refine the ideas and the presentations.
After a working lunch, the final presentations were made to a panel of experts led by Walaiporn Leelawannee, Alstom's Techno Center Director, who made positive comments along with the constructive criticism and the winning groups were announced.
Overall this was as positive experience for the students. Working in a safe environment like this gave them some experience of teamwork, analysis, discussion and satisfying stakeholders, all of which will be important for when they graduate.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)