2016 SAE Congress: Engineering education gets industry boost

  • 14-Apr-2016 10:23 EDT
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Dr. Paul Venhovens told the SAE Tech Hub crowd that preparing the next-generation of engineers is multi-faceted and needs to emphasize collaboration.

Deep Orange sounds like a top-secret code, but Clemson University engineering students have known it as their pathway to greater automotive knowledge and real-world experience. Over the past two years, the university's International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) has completed six development projects under the Deep Orange name—orange being the South Carolina school's official color—each one in partnership with an automaker.

The highly successful program has helped student engineers sharpen their skill sets and prepare themselves professionally for careers in the industry.

Recently the final project, Deep Orange 6, involving 18 graduate students (including two from ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, CA) was unveiled at the 2016 SAE World Congress. Developed in collaboration with Toyota Motor North America, the Ubox concept vehicle has many clever and innovative design, engineering and manufacturing features (see http://articles.sae.org/14726).

As in the five previous Deep Orange projects, the students applied their ongoing classroom learnings to the Ubox development, according to Dr. Paul Venhovens, endowed chair for automotive systems integration at CU-ICAR, who spoke at a Tech Hub session during the SAE Congress.

“As an educator, I’m never able to capture everything that goes on in this industry today,” Venhovens told Automotive Engineering, underscoring the importance of the school’s immersive, student-led vehicle development program. Twenty technology and supplier companies mentored Deep Orange students and provided products and/or financial aid, including Aisin Group, Altair, Diversified Structural Components, Kicker, Michelin, Mitsubishi Chemical, Prettl Group, TM4 Electrodynamic Systems, and Toyobo.

For the Deep Orange 6 group, learning the Toyota brand message was imperative “so the students could justify their engineering decisions,” Venhovens explained. He noted that Toyota professionals regularly challenged the students by asking, "Why did you come up with this? Is this good for our customers? Is this solution the best solution?"

“A lot of [professional] engineers still think they are the customer,” Venhovens said, adding that often “the actual customer doesn’t have an engineering degree and really thinks completely different, and has different priorities.”

Throughout the two-year program, engineering and design students worked closely, as they would in industry, to tackle a variety of design and engineering challenges and the inevitable trade-offs that exist in every vehicle program.

“It’s important to have a common language because talking in equations to an ArtCenter student doesn’t work,” said Venhovens. Sketch boards and other visuals can be a big assist to engineers and designers communicating, and the so-called 60-second elevator pitch is also a noteworthy communication tool.

“It’s especially important when dealing with management and capturing attention for your ideas,” he noted.

Deep Orange 6 illustrates how engineering education is evolving. “We really need an engineering force that is able to capture and to master something that is dramatically different than 20 years ago,” said Venhovens. “Give the engineering students the opportunity to explore, to imagine, and empower them with making decisions.”

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