No matter how far and how fast the world progresses, the stereotypical image of the mad, eccentric scientist or engineer still persists. Arguably, it has been responsible for undermining many an attempt to make the subjects cool and attractive. And, think of the number of bright ideas that may have changed lives but instead have been dismissed either because of this view, or more likely, because the talented individual in question just didn’t know how to communicate and “sell” their ideas.
One institution that has done its utmost to turn these preconceptions around is Technische Universität in Munich (TU München), one of Germany’s top ranking universities. Mindful of its position in one of the leading industrial and commercial regions in Europe, and with the help of the entrepreneur Susanne Klatten, in 2002 it founded UnternehmerTUM GmbH, the center for entrepreneurship at the university. This independent, non-profit making private company helps TU München student scientists and engineers gain the right skills to develop their ideas into tangible products and services and then to take them to market.
One of the key goals of the center is to guide students to the point where they can make a prototype of their business idea. “Prototypes not only win over potential customers, they also convince team members that they are on the right track,” says Ferdinand Heindlmeier from the Centre’s department of innovation and prototyping.
To help achieve this, the center has become the latest educational establishment to take advantage of Autodesk’s new Creative Curriculum and the Digital Prototyping capability of Autodesk Inventor manufacturing design software. “The students have been very excited about being able to see and actually experience their ideas, first on paper and then on screen,” says Heindlmeier.
Each year 1,000 students and post-graduates attend the UnternehmerTUM to acquire the business skills necessary for professional success. These span a range of university faculties from engineering to economics and form inter-disciplinary teams so that each can benefit from the knowledge of others.
The Manage&More entrepreneurship program is designed for a small group of particularly keen and promising students and comprises a three-semester program of projects and workshops with the aim of creating a real, marketable product. As Autodesk education program manager Stephen Stott explains, the Autodesk Creative Curriculum was taught this year in the form of a two-day workshop as part of this scheme.
“The curriculum is a new, visionary educational initiative with the goal of encouraging a more holistic, creative and original approach to product design and engineering using 3D Digital Prototyping. It has been developed in close collaboration with engineers, designers, teachers and university lecturers” says Stott, himself a former university and technical college teacher.
“Manage&More focuses on teamwork and entrepreneurial skills like product and business development but also on creativity and design,” says Heindlmeier. “We also put a big emphasis on prototyping so the Creative Curriculum was a perfect workshop for our students to learn how to create these digitally and so enhance the accuracy and quality of their subsequent physical prototypes.
“To enable creative and effective work, UnternehmerTUM was looking for the right CAD software. We needed an industry standard product but one that could be easily learned to a usable level during one workshop. Of course, it also needed to be one that enabled digital prototyping, allowing students to test and analyze their designs on screen as well as see them. Inventor was by far the best fit.”
Stott describes how, on the first day of the workshop, he worked with a group of ten students, gaining an understanding of their individual products and helping them turn their design briefs into drawings and sketches or basic 3D models. “It was a day of high energy and much activity,” says Stott. “At the end of it they all had an impressive portfolio of artwork that became a stepping stone to CAD.”
Heindlmeier agrees: “It was valuable for the students to work through the whole process with Steve – he taught them to find inspiration in art, sculpture, organic or scientific form and to evolve this into a usable form. One of our focuses is handheld electronic devices like small GPS systems, handheld scanners for business people and small instruments of households to measure energy consumption. Therefore, we also have to concentrate on how to integrate the electronics into the design.”
The second day of the workshop focused on teaching the engineers in the teams to use Autodesk Inventor to digitize the design and create a prototype on screen. Although students still need to create a real, “touchable” prototype, Inventor enables them to develop the model to an advanced stage to ensure its accuracy. This eliminates the need to make and subsequently destroy a series of physical models before the final prototypes are created.
UnternehmerTUM has also invested in a rapid prototyping machine so the Inventor model can be exported into this directly.
“The workshops enabled students to complement existing skills and technical knowledge with methods that open their eyes to creativity, giving them a fuller toolbox of skills and enabling them to turn their concepts into profitable products,” says Heindlmeier.
Stott adds that using Inventor moves this process forward. “It gives users far more freedom than they have with traditional CAD and other more cumbersome 3D modeling solutions. It’s an intuitive tool that gives them the opportunity to transform a concept that exists in the imagination into reality, offering sculptural creative freedom aligned to engineering accuracy.”
Now UnternehmerTUM has been introduced to Inventor and the concept of linking creative designing strategies to the software, they have decided to invest in commercial licenses.
As for the Creative Curriculum, Stott has been invited back to see how the students’ products are progressing – and also to repeat the workshops for next year’s course.
In the meantime, however, the Unternehmer TUM students can build on the skills they have learnt as part of the Creative Curriculum by joining the Autodesk Student Engineering and Design Community. The community allows students to download free version of Autodesk software, such as Inventor and learning resources to tech them how to use it. The community also acts as a forum allowing members to share examples of their best work, learn from educators and experts around the world and search for jobs.
“The diversity of disciplines meant students already came to the course with a different perspective on design,” says Heindlmeier. “The Creative Curriculum’s original approach and Inventor’s flexibility has opened up ideas even further.”