Getting started … success factors for collaboration between Universities and Corporations on sustainability projects

Getting started … success factors for collaboration between Universities and Corporations on sustainability projects

A typical situation: Let’s say his name is Michael, working for a medium sized production company, trained as an engineer and responsible for running the operation smoothly and efficient. Approximately 30% of his working time Michael uses for environment, health and safety issues, related to regulations and reporting. The company is facing challenges like high energy cost, rising cost for primary raw materials. Furthermore, a competitor provides carbon footprint information to the customer with the quotation. Michael is convinced that his operation is already very efficient, and he is also confident, that if measured the carbon footprint of his product will be at least as good as the competitors, but what is missing are the hard facts! How to proove this and how to be really sure, that the company is operating as efficiently as it could?

At least 10% saving potential you can find in every production company
Michael read on a website, that at least 10 % any production company could still save, by using the appropriate methodologies for analyzing the production system. Michael has already heard of resource efficiency and carbon accounting related activities, but had neither experience with assessment methods nor the budget to hire a consultant and too little time to work on those topics himself.

Factors for Successful Student projects
According to ifu Hamburg’s experience in Michael’s situation, working with a student to get started is a common approach. And this can indeed be very successful, if some success factors are considered when starting:

  • Define the project goals clearly.
  • Involve the responsible Professor in defining the project goals and deliverables in order to benefit from experiences he or she has from other University-Industry Collaborations.
  • Make sure that the selected student has already been trained on the tools, methodologies and software you want him or her to apply at the University.
  • Plan the knowledge transfer from the student to the corporation right from the beginning.
  • Make the planning of the mid and long term implementation after “getting started” to one of the deliverables of the project. And be prepared also to plan related man power, training and budget needed for realization.

Win-win-win for the company, the student and the university

Several of ifu Hamburg’s University Partners, e.g. the Umberto University Competence Centers, show excellent examples in collaborating with industry. Such collaborations provide mutual benefits:

  • The company gains experience in and know-how for sustainability and efficiency projects using appropriate tools and methodologies at low costs.
  • The Student links theoretical knowledge with practical experience.
  • The University can demonstrate the relevance for industrial practice of their research and teaching activities.

Current examples for very successful student projects are two of the winners of the Umberto Student Award 2011: Steffen Witte from University HTW Berlin, developed a simulation model for evaluation and planning of a paint shop for the automotive company Volkswagen and Christian Hasenstab, MBA student at Leuphana University did an integrated pinch analysis with material flow modeling for the beverage company ‘Bionade’ (slides available for download, registration required).
Successful collaborations between Universities and Industry are not limited to student projects. The exchange of competences and insights within research collaborations can be very fruitful as examples like EnHiPro or KOMSA demonstrate. The connection between scientific research and practical application knowledge is proven to be the best breeding ground for developing innovative solutions for increasing energy efficiency or optimizing complex production systems.

Michael will find out soon…


Article image by hpeguk

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