The Pro Hackin’ project encompasses two main objectives: improving teaching and learning methods in engineering education and enhancing the collaboration between industry and universities. Through this project we will develop a methodology that will encourage open innovation between universities and companies. This will be achieved by implementing product hackathons in the otherwise linear product development process, as a key activity which enables rapid generation and sharing of ideas.
The concept of product hackathons is adopted from software engineering and it represents intensive problem-solving events which are, unlike the programming hackathons, focused on design of physical/tangible technical products. Currently, this concept is not commonly used in mechanical and industrial engineering due to (i) the lack of knowledge about the techniques and tools which enable quick creation of high-quality design solutions; (ii) lack of educators’ experience in defining first the appropriate design task and then structuring and conducting the hackathons towards innovative solutions.
The objective of the project is to find the most appropriate tools that are easy to use and learn quickly. In addition, the tools need to be able to support efficient collaboration in physical and virtual environments in order to enable companies to involve participants working remotely from all over the globe. To address these concerns, in this project we will explore various digital technologies, especially the tools for virtual prototyping, conceptualization and collaboration in order to identify the most suitable ones for design applications.
The developed methodology for product hackathons will be tested during a joint product development course organized each project year by one of the universities in collaboration with one industrial partner, who will provide a design task for product innovation (innovation challenge). The overall goal of a product hackathon is to acquire numerous ideas from a large number of external participants (engineering students) in a short time period. First the industrial partner should identify a design problem they want to solve in collaboration with the educators, then the students collaborate in teams to propose solutions. The industrial partners are highly involved in the process and provide the students with feedback to their solutions. At the end, the companies will gain many ideas and prototypes that can become new products. On the one hand, working on real-life assignments gives students the opportunity to learn the appropriate skills required by the industry and they will experience working in intense problem solving environments. On the other hand, through open innovation challenges, the industrial partners obtain out-of-the box ideas that come from outside their enterprise. Including product hackathons in engineering curriculum can bring numerous advantages and students can easily learn new knowledge and gain various hard and soft skills. Collaborative design-thinking format promotes networking, resourcefulness, productivity and supports new product innovation.
Through product hackathons students get to create new concepts and ideas working with people from various backgrounds. Research has shown that time constraints make the tasks more exciting, the students are more motivated and committed. Moreover, hackathons have a positive influence on a company’s branding. Working on open innovation projects, the companies can increase their name recognition and people get acquainted with their work. However, hackathons and other open innovation projects typically offer financial or other stimuli to attract the contributors. With the aim to improve educational practice, through this project a new concept will be introduced: we will combine product hackathons with university project-based (PBL) courses for product development so that the students can get rewarded with ECTS credits for their engagement. With this approach, the universities are the essential link between students and companies.