ETH students accelerate private sector innovation

March 05, 2024

This works best if they have the opportunity to contribute to real projects, he adds. Instead, they are approached with ideas for innovation projects by the 24 business units at Bühler. Students have a lot of freedom to prioritise the projects as they see fit, with curiosity and expertise being the decisive factors. The students work closely with engineers from Bühler when developing their solutions. Recognising critical factorsOne of the first business units that approached the students was responsible for grains and pulses.

Practical application is key

“This is a great example of how our students can translate crazy ideas into prototypes that focus on obtaining key insights,” says Kai von Petersdorff-Campen, one of the three project leaders at the Feasibility Lab. "Measuring the results of these experiments creates a foundation on which the prototype can be developed into a real product in a series of sprints.”

Professor Meboldt is pleased that the methods from the lab also work in a real-world setting. “For us it is absolutely critical to work on real projects that show that new methods can achieve results,” he says, adding that private sector researchers also need to devote extensive attention to these methods to ensure their success. This works best if they have the opportunity to contribute to real projects, he adds.

Driven by curiosity

Students aren’t assigned any issues to work on from project leaders or professors. Instead, they are approached with ideas for innovation projects by the 24 business units at Bühler. Sixty projects have been set up to date, some rather simple and some more complex. Students have a lot of freedom to prioritise the projects as they see fit, with curiosity and expertise being the decisive factors.

The students work closely with engineers from Bühler when developing their solutions. First, they pester the engineers with questions until everyone has the same level of understanding of the issues behind the original idea. Depending on the complexity, the ideas are explored in different formats ranging from one-hour workshops to weeklong projects.

Recognising critical factors

One of the first business units that approached the students was responsible for grains and pulses. The issue at hand was developing a device that milling companies could use to determine the quality of oats when on delivery in order to determine an appropriate price.

The students’ first question was what exactly a device of this kind would need to measure. In addition to the grain to chaff ratio, the quality of oats is also determined by how easy it is to separate the husks from the grains, as this affects how easy they are to process. This means that the goal of the project was to translate these processing criteria into a small testing device.

“Here we were able to identify the acceleration of the grain as a critical function,” explained Arne von Hopffgarten and Diego Verzaroli when presenting their first prototype, which they crafted out of cardboard and powered with air pressure. Following several successful tests, they built a second prototype – using products from a hardware store – which was designed to mimic the de-husking process. Then they built a third, more sophisticated prototype, with de-husking results comparable to that of an industrial machine.

The source of this news is from ETH Zurich

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