Since 2016 Teesside University’s School of Computing, Engineering & Digital Technologies has enjoyed a successful multi-layered, multi-project, relationship with global technology company Siemens: with collaborations spanning Siemens Digital Industries Software, Siemens UK Education, and Siemens Smart Infrastructure.

Associate Professor in Materials Engineering Dr David Hughes, who leads enterprise activities in the University’s Department of Engineering, has applied Siemens Digital Industries’ Fibersim portfolio of software for composites engineering in its teaching and research since February 2019. The Fibersim-Teesside University success story has seen the School fully embed Fibersim in its aerospace engineering courses, the only UK university to do so.

 With Fibersim, students learn how to create a digital twin of a composite part that links analysis, design and manufacturing – everything needed for composites engineering. The University also uses Siemens’ NX software for product development and NX Nastran software for structural simulation, as part of a comprehensive instruction programme that includes practical hands-on projects and facilities for composite lay-up, manufacturing and testing.

Closing skills’ gaps in composites engineering

As a result, Teesside has directly addressed skills shortages of people who can design in composites, has achieved exceptional engineering and aerospace student employability, and conducted research to help companies transition to composites from traditional materials.

Siemens Digital Industries’ Director of PreSales and Business Development, Ross Caddens, who is also a Visiting Professor in Cyber-Physical Design at the University, said: “Teesside University has been on our radar for a few years now. A colleague of mine first did some composites design and simulation work with David, and that was considered groundbreaking in terms of where we were at that time. It also enabled us to hear about what they were doing in adopting solutions to support engineers of the future, originally in mechanical engineering, but now moving into the Internet of Things (IoT).

“Teesside has put the Fibersim digital twin concept into practice and taken it forward at a time when other universities are still teaching point solutions. Teesside teach and show the value of a process-based approach. They seem to be really going for it and have taken it to the next level. The new Industrial Digitalisation Technology Centre (IDTC) which brings local SMEs together, showing business benefit and breaking down barriers, is very different to what we have seen elsewhere. Additionally they are looking at cyber-physical systems in construction, control systems and process industries – again, this is also refreshing to see, supporting adoption and driving value in sectors beyond mechanical engineering.

“They are also respected as a model of good practice in our Connected Curriculum steering group, which brings our partner universities together and supports learning from each other.”

Integrating technology into the curriculum

 The University joined Siemens UK Education’s Connected Curriculum, which aims to bring academia and industry together by integrating Siemens’ and Festo’s industry 4.0 technology into university curriculum, in February 2020. Connected Curriculum partners with 10 UK universities, supporting academic staff to tailor industrial hardware, software and learning materials to meet the needs of their students. In Teesside’s School of Computing, Engineering & Digital Technologies, the Siemens Connected Curriculum delivers industry-leading digital skills across all its engineering degree programmes.

Steve Jones, Connected Curriculum Lead, explained: “Our mission is to improve the relevance of training that learners receive, especially in digitalisation, as there is a sea change in industry and we need graduates to be better prepared for it. We recruit large volumes of graduates right across our businesses – some are not as ready as they could be – and we have to support their further development when they join, particularly around technical competencies where there is a shortfall in understanding en masse. The only way to improve that is with academia directly involved in the process with us.

“Teesside University is very good at engaging with industry. Industry focus is very difficult in my view, you have to want to do it, and it is a strategic decision to want to address that which Teesside has taken. David, in his partnership role, is very responsive. He is switched on, articulate and technically competent, and contributes to Siemens’ push forwards with his ambition to advance and promote industrial IoT. There is a whole team around him who are the same and also have that same drive.

“From our experience of Teesside it is very industry engaged and initiatives are backed up by competencies. Connected Curriculum is the ideal opportunity for further partnerships, as there are multiple strands of engagement, and the IDTC is a great example of how we can draw on collaborations like ours to support industry niches.”

As part of the IDTC, Siemens won a tender to supply its industrial IoT solution MindSphere which supports operational decision-making. The platform offers Tees Valley SMEs free access to connectivity, data management, analysis and advanced analytics, and also involves development of digital twins and smart monitoring.

Embedding cyber-physical design expertise

From September 2021, in his three-year role as Visiting Professor, Ross has supported the embedding of cyber-physical design thinking, which considers both the physical part and the computational part of a system into Teesside’s engineering design courses. Bringing over 30 years’ experience supporting industry improvement processes via digitalisation to Teesside, Ross’s appointment is supported by a grant from the Royal Academy of Engineering.

This is an extension, upon request by the University, of the relationship created through Connected Curriculum. “I am really enjoying working with Teesside University as a Visiting Professor,” Ross said. “It gives Siemens a presence in the School of Computing, Engineering & Digital Technologies’ courses, and in 2021-22 I have lectured or run labs in areas such as construction, digital control systems and additive manufacturing/3D printing. It brings opportunities to open up teaching, to think differently, and seeing the adoption of Siemens’ Xcelerator portfolio, tools to work smarter, faster and more efficiently, is clearly one success factor. However, we are not too specific on outcomes, as this supports our overall approach to academia and giving back, inspiring entry level talent around digitalisation.”

Ross added: “I would definitely recommend Teesside University as a partner to business. David, as a character, is someone I was immediately drawn to because he is pragmatic and wants to get things done, but we have gone on to build good relationships with a number of course leaders and accessed their expertise. We want engagement to be as rich as possible.”

Intelligent smart energy systems

Meanwhile, Professor in Control Engineering and Systems Informatics Dr Michael Short, who leads research activities within the University’s Department of Engineering, has been engaging in collaborative research and innovation projects to develop tools for smart energy systems with Siemens Smart Infrastructure for five years.

Tools developed by Teesside researchers for supply/demand prediction, optimal control and economic dispatch of energy assets within an IoT-based energy management system have been adapted and integrated with Siemens commercial products to form an ICT solution for co-ordinated demand response for HVAC and Heat Pump systems in blocks of buildings within the €5.14 million DR-BOB (Demand Response in Blocks of Buildings) project.

Innovation work continued with the €15.64 million inteGRIDy (Integrated Smart GRID Cross-Functional Solutions for Optimized Synergetic Energy Distribution, Utilization Storage Technologies) project, which again saw a collaboration between Teesside University and Siemens to integrate cutting-edge technologies, solutions and mechanisms in a scalable cross-functional platform for optimal and dynamic operation of the wider distribution grid. The application of the tools developed in the projects resulted in 15-23% reductions in electricity bills across multiple pilot sites and reductions of up to 37% in electricity demand peaks, with CO2 savings of similar percentages recorded.

Justice Agbo, former senior consultant at Siemens, said: “Siemens worked collaboratively with Teesside University on a Horizon 2020 innovation project which resulted in the enhancement of energy management software and predictive algorithms that enhanced the accuracy and magnitude of forecasted demand response in blocks of buildings. This elevated the TRL of the software and enabled its entry into the UK market via a Siemens and Teesside University joint solution offering to the UK market.”