Cooperation between students and companies produces open-minded ideas

Study projects are being arranged with the aim of finding fresh solutions to challenges facing companies, and to amass skills that stand out in working life.
pdp course 2018 Team Atarum / Murata photo Mikko Raskinen
Student team presented a prototype of a stabilized patient transport platform, a solution for the product design challenge given by electronic components manufacturer Murata, in the Product Design Gala 2018. Photo: Mikko Raskinen / Aalto University

Elevator technology, fishing, treatment of memory disorders, and dog training – students are again searching for innovations for meeting the challenges of product development in different fields in a Product Development Project (PdP) course.

Multidisciplinary teams have been working with a challenge set by 12 companies involved in the cooperation in the current academic year. The task will culminate with a Product Design Gala where the various teams will present their solutions.

Aalto University is holding several courses and minor studies putting cooperative projects between students and organisations in centre stage. In the project, participants focus on solving tasks emerging from the needs of real life, from market research and strategic planning through product development.

‘Projects have become an increasingly common form of work everywhere, both in education and in professional life. The amount and the availability of information have increased so much that lectures as a study method are not in as predominant a role as they used to be’, says Professor Kalevi Ekman, who has directed a PdP course for more than a decade at the Aalto Design Factory.

In wide-ranging projects, skills and knowledge in technology, business and design are enhanced, and so is the ability to work in a group with people from different fields. Students learn to find their own roles in a team and their own ways of communicating, planning, and implementing their work.

‘These are skills enabling a person to achieve professional distinction’, Ekman says.

The project courses give companies the opportunity to learn to know the makers of the future - and to test development ideas that might even seem rather wild, which might never be implemented with the company's resources alone.

‘Sponsor companies often say that they like to see familiar practices challenged by students who offer a fresh perspective. A multidisciplinary student team of ten participants is a massive resource for a company’, Ekman says.

Aalto_University_PDP_Gala 2018 Pizzarobot_photo_Mikko_Raskinen_007
Pizza robot was created together with the restaurant company Restel. Photo from Product Design Gala 2018. Photo: Mikko Raskinen / Aalto University

Learning by doing when support is available

On his PdP course Mechanical Engineering student Aamos Varesmaa and his team are developing a welding mask with augmented reality that makes the work of a welder easier.

The project began with research work - by grabbing a welding stick and by learning about the variety of technologies available. A prototype of the product has been developed through trial and error.

‘No set formula is needed for the course. The team can simply look for working methods that are suitable for the situation and learn through experimentation. Help is always available from the course personnel, if needed’, Varesmaa says.

Haapaniemen Tietotekniikka is a corporate sponsor that has been actively involved in the work. According to Varesmaa, it is important for a sponsor company to be genuinely interested in a project, and that it is easy to get in touch.

The international team includes students from areas such as occupational therapy, mechanical engineering, and design both from Aalto University, as well as Swinburne University in Australia.

‘Working with different kinds of people has taught me to walk in the boots of others and to listen to different points of view. I think that it's important that when the course is over, everyone will have a good feeling and a desire to continue to take part in similar projects, even if the final product might not be quite what they were thinking at the beginning’.

pdp halfway show 2019 presentation photo source design factory
Presentation is one of the important skills that a product developer should have. Aamos Varesmaa presents his team's work in the 2019 PdP Halfway Show. Photo: Aalto Design Factory

Students’ enthusiasm spreads to the sponsor

More than 150 sponsors have taken part in a PdP course, ranging from big companies such as Wärtsilä, Kone and SAAB, to start-ups, as well as small and medium-sized enterprises, and aid organisations. The cooperation is applicable to companies of all sizes which are ready to commit to cooperating actively.

Sanna Kotisaari, a neurologist working with patients with memory disorders, is one of the sponsors of this year's PdP course. The challenge that the team has taken up is the development of new kinds of rehabilitation methods supported by technology, which make it possible to slow the progression of memory disorders and to maintain functionality.

‘I had long thought that it would be great to create a nursing home that would meet the needs both of patients and their relatives. The PdP course offered a broad point of view for the subject, as well as a multidisciplinary set of skills. Memory disorders are a global problem that cannot be solved through medicine or nursing science alone’, Kotisaari says.

A new company, Future Memory Care Oy, was set up around the PdP course.

‘Students have put a 100 percent effort into this course at the very least! I think that this year they have taken an in-depth look at one of the most significant societal challenges, and they will end up with good possibilities to apply for multidisciplinary tasks and projects dealing with the issue.’

According to Kotisaari, the cooperation will offer sponsors the possibility to jump into the wave of technological development and to update their skills and knowledge more broadly from outside their own specialist fields. Regular meetings with students also develop her own thinking and problem-solving skills.

‘Simply visiting the Aalto Campus is inspiring and increases my work motivation! Students are open-minded in their ideas, which should be allowed to mature and develop on their own. It is the task of a sponsor to occasionally evaluate, from a professional point of view, what kind of a course the ship is taking, so to speak. Then the project can proceed with new enthusiasm.’

Study Projects

In study projects, students solve real-life cases together with companies and other organisations.

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students around table

Product Development Project

Product Development Project (PdP) is a five-period-long course that invites Master’s students from all backgrounds, but mainly engineering, industrial design, and business, to tackle challenges of collaborating companies. The teams form in September and deliver a functioning prototype in the final Gala in May.

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Aalto University / picture: Unto Rautio
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