Training the next generation of chemical engineers (Day 339)

I think I may be a little unusual amongst chemical engineering professors in that I started out in academia, before switching to a career in industry and then switching back again. I recounted the story in my presidential address: Chemical engineering matters everywhere – reflections on a journey from academe to industry, and back again

Based on these experiences, I am always keen to initiate and promote new relationships between industry and academia.

However, I am by no means alone in valuing the importance of such relationships.

Delegates who attended ChemEngDayUK2015 in Sheffield, UK last month, heard from a range of industry speakers.  The main conference sponsor was the German industrial conglomerate Siemens.

Sean McDonagh

Photo Credit | Siemens
Sean McDonagh

Sean McDonagh, who leads the chemicals team for Siemens Digital Factory Process Industries & Drives, gave a very insightful contribution during the opening session.  I caught up with him shortly afterwards and he told me about one of Siemens’ latest projects –  which focuses on strengthening those all important links between industry and academia.

Last year’s ChemEngDayUK, hosted by the University of Manchester, saw the official opening of a new pilot plant situated within the James Chadwick Building. The plant features Siemens’ distributed control system’. It is designed to help students learn about advanced process automation.

Siemens is a huge business, with a presence in 200 countries, employing 340,000 people and with revenues totalling UK £72 billion in 2014.

In the UK, Siemens plays an active role, both as a significant employer of engineers and also by promoting of the importance of manufacturing, good engineering design and research to the British economy.

Siemens has joined forces with the University of Manchester to launch a technology partnership, designed to help students experience the advanced technologies used in the chemicals sector.

The distributed control system installed by Siemens at University of Manchester

Photo Credit | University of Manchester
The distributed control system installed by Siemens at the University of Manchester

Siemens supplied the School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science (CEAS) with the latest technologies for use by students and local apprentices.

Practical experience gained in the new control room at CEAS provides great preparation for a career in manufacturing. It will feature strongly in Manchester’s chemical engineering curriculum.

The Siemens PCS7 process control system provides powerful tools, functions and features for cost-effective and efficient operation through all stages of the plant life cycle.

I anticipate that this exciting collaboration will enhance regional R&D capacity and further strengthen existing partnerships between industry and academia.

In March 2014, a similar automation suite was opened at Trafford College, also in Manchester, as part of Siemens’ drive to develop skills in North West England and elsewhere.

Siemens has already invested in the up-skilling of young people interested in engineering and manufacturing through the sponsorship of a number of universities and colleges across the UK.

Today, the company employs 500 apprentices in a scheme that is bigger than their graduate intake. Siemens recently launched its own Junior Factory, a production line managed entirely by a team of apprentices at its world-leading Congleton facility, which makes electrical drives and inverters.

This YouTube video provides some insight:

Sean McDonagh says: “We know that we face an issue with the skills gap, both locally and globally.”  That’s why Siemens: “Are committed to training the next generation of engineers”.

I think this is a brilliant partnership. Siemens’ commitment to education and training through initiatives like the University of Manchester pilot plant deserves high praise and I am delighted to feature them in my blog.


If you are working on an industry-academia collaboration why not get in touch and tell us about it.