PR2 – Product Hackathons Case Study

Implementation and Validation of the PH Methodology

This case study presents an overview of the implementation of product hackathons in the 2022 1-semester academic course, giving an in-depth insight into the structure and the organization of product hackathons. By evaluating the project structure, each hackathon objectives, and learning outcomes, this study aims to provide insights into the effectiveness of hackathons as educational tools. Additionally, it explores key aspects for implementation, including considerations for defining participant groups, setting objectives, involving stakeholders, and organizing hackathon events. Furthermore, the study explores the distinction between online and live hackathons, shedding light on the dynamics of virtual collaboration and tools in innovative product development. The findings of this study aim to offer practical recommendations for enhancing the educational experience and fostering skill development among engineering design students through the application of product hackathons.

1. Course structure and organization of Product Hackathons

The Pro Hackin’ 2022 course was structured to align with distinct product development phases, whereas each phase was initiated by a product hackathon and had planned lectures and tutorials to deliver a theoretical background to the development process. Figure 1 shows the course milestones, aims of each phase and hackathons and which areas were supported by lectures. 

Figure 1: Pro Hackin’ course structure

As can been seen in Figure 2 the course started with an introduction event to familiarize students with the task set by the industrial partner, introduce lecture contents for the first hackathon, as well as dedicating time for students to form as teams, build an identity and to get to know the ICT tools. Each hackathon was closely followed up by a design review, where students had to present their outcomes to a panel of experts from the industrial partner and lecturers to guide outputs to a feasible product. Originally it was intended to hold the second product hackathon as live event since tasks during the concept generation phase demand for extensive collaboration, brainstorming and creativity. However, since Covid-19 restrictions were still partly in place during that time period it was decided to shift the live event to the third product hackathon.

Figure 2: Course timeline

2.  Product hackathons case study findings

The insights from the first project year allowed for the establishment of a few important considerations when conducting a product hackathon in a higher education course setting:

  • Defining a target group of participants of the hackathon
  • Defining objectives and setting attainable goals / Learning outcomes
  • Involving a stakeholder to guide the projects to feasible outcomes
  • Organization during hackathon

2.1.        Defining a target group

Students were recruited from all four participating universities. The qualification profile required students to be enrolled in a master programme or advanced bachelor studies for mechanical engineering, as well as having prior experience with the product development process and computer aided engineering applications.

The rationale of including students with a similar background in mechanical engineering was based upon two reasons, lecturers accredited regular curriculum courses for the participation and academic tutors were able to give closer supervision and assistance within their knowledge domain.

Each university recruited 10 students which were randomly assigned to one of five teams, consisting of two students per university. The teams were supervised by academic coaches throughout the project.

2.2.        Defining objectives and setting achievable goals

Given a hackathon’s nature of a fast-paced, problem-solving event, while also addressing intended learning outcomes which were defined in the scope of the course, each hackathon had precisely defined learning objectives and outcomes. This not only helped to match expectations of students and teachers when interacting, but also supported educators in designing their course activities.

PH1 „Problem definition and requirements clarification”:

Intended Learning Outcomes:

  • Analyse a market within a specific industry regarding competitors, market developments, and important trends
  • Analyse the context of application for a solution and the characteristics of potential user requirements
  • Synthesize knowledge from market and user research and use creativity to produce product visions

Hackathon Outcomes: Product visions, functional requirements

PH2 „Concept Generation”:

Intended Learning Outcomes:

  • Apply previous knowledge on mechanical design for the development of technical solutions
  • Create a concept map that highlights the relationships between problems and solutions
  • Compare competing solutions to select the most suitable one

Hackathon Outcomes: Product concepts, preliminary solution structure, sketches/ preliminary cad models

PH3 “Concept Evaluation and Embodiment design”:

Intended Learning Outcomes:

  • Utilize computer aided engineering tools necessary to create a virtual prototype
  • Validate the product design with regard to manufacturability and feasibility

Hackathon Outcomes: Virtual Prototype, Simulation results (FEM, CFD), considerations on feasibility and manufacturability in a report.

2.3.        Involving a stakeholder

The communication with the stakeholder Siemens Mobility Austria GmbH took place via emails, MS Teams as well as by telephone. The roles were divided between the two organized student employees. One person was more concerned with the communication with Siemens and their internal processes. The second person took care of the communication with the other universities and the students.

During the course, Siemens provided the students with contact to senior experts. This enabled the students to ask questions about rail vehicles for their project. Furthermore, there were also insights into the chosen markets from Siemens.

In the course of the review meetings, the ideas and concepts were evaluated by the experts and they tried to give them help.

In the course of the final presentation, an award ceremony was held for the best concept. The decision was made by the senior experts from all specialist groups.

2.4.        Organization

  • Lecturers role:
    • Set up the project schedule across the smester
    • Give lectures and tutorials

Provide learning materials

  • Coaches’ role:
    • Help to establish team communication
    • Suggest the first phase leader
    • Introduce the basic objective of the course
    • Introduce work methodology
    • Establishes the ICT tools and platforms for their team
    • Help to organize meetings in coordination with other coaches
    • Advise
    • Help to resolve disputes among team members
  • Help to communicate with the industrial partner
  • Students’ role:
  • Team Leader
    • Check progress of tasks
    • Report team issues to coach
    • Organize weekly meetings and Agenda

3.  Setting: online vs. live hackathons

In the 1st project year first and second phase product hackathons were organized online, in a virtual environment, whereas the third phase hackathon was held live in Vienna. The aim of changing hackathon environments was to test how the students utilize available ICT tools for design and if the virtual collaboration can efficiently substitute live interaction for innovative product development.

3.1.        Online hackathons

To hold the product hackathons in an online setting it was necessary to employ ICT tools for communication and collaboration during the entire project. Before employing the hackathons students were instructed on the use of several tools:

Figure 3: Collaborative tools for online product hackathons

Students were familiarized with the processes and expected outputs of the phase before each Hackathon through ex-cathedra lectures. Their respective coaches supported the teams by providing templates of tasks they would execute during the PH in advance in the online collaborative whiteboard tool Miro. PH1 and PH2 were held online for two consecutive days each.

3.2.        Live hackathon

The organization of the live hackathon event had to be tailored to facilitate a productive and collaborative atmosphere for participants. With a central focus on creating design embodiments, i.e. 3D models of the chosen concepts, the staff had to prepare computer classrooms equipped with necessary software and tools. Spatial division of teams was implemented to ensure minimal disturbances and optimal concentration.  Coaches proficient in 3D modeling tools, particularly Onshape, were readily available to assist students, especially those unfamiliar with the software. Ahead of the hackathon, comprehensive instructions and tutorial videos were provided to familiarize students with Onshape. Collaborative modeling tools were specifically chosen because they enabled students to work simultaneously and efficiently. Moreover, various other collaborative platforms were utilized for idea sharing and resource exchange. The hackathon lasted for 12 hours in one day. Recognizing the importance of sustenance during the half-day event, organized coffee breaks and lunch breaks were provided, offering students the flexibility to leave and return at their convenience, fostering a comfortable and accommodating environment for creativity and innovation.

4.    Hackathons within product development process

The challenge included 3 product hackathons, each focusing on one major phase of the design process: ideation, conceptual design and embodiment design. During the hackathons the students produced the majority of the tangible results. In the time between the hackathons the students had the time to consolidate the received feedback with their ideas, evaluate the results, identify potential improvements and clarify the direction they will take. Also, in that time they got new instructional materials for the next hackathon.

Product Hackathon 1: Fuzzy Front-End Phase

The first product hackathon took place on two consecutive days for 4 hours each. The teams were asked to collaborate in an online whiteboard and communicate in a recorded video conference. Students were allowed to choose from the proposed design methods (see Figure 4) and provided templates in the whiteboard tool under supervision of their respective coaches. Team coaches were tasked to supervise overall progression and timing and kept available for consultation on tasks and feedback on produced outputs during the hackathon.

Figure 4: Introduced design methods for the fuzzy-front end product hackathon

Product Hackathon 2: Concept Generation

The 2nd hackathon was conducted again as a virtual event. It was split in two consecutive days, 4 working hours each day in the afternoon, with the added breaks. The communication between the teammates was similar to the 1st hackathon, as well as the IT tools that students used for design work. More details on which exact tools the students used for certain activities in the concept generation phase can be found in the research paper.

Figure 5; Introduced design methods for conceptual design product hackathon

Product Hackathon 3: Embodiment Design

The 3rd hackathon was performed as a live event, with the goal of delivering embodiments, i.e. 3D models of their chosen concept. Figure 6 shows the design methods that were presented to students. They were also given the tutorials on the use of collaborative 3D modelling tool. Product hackathon was organized in a computer classroom at the TUW in Vienna, Austria and lasted for 12 hours in total. The students were using collaborative CAD tool Onshape to create virtual prototypes of their designs.

Figure 6:  Introduced design methods for the embodiment design product hackathon

The hackathon was concluded by a design review, where the virtual prototypes were discussed. After the third hackathon, students were given some time to finalize their designs and prepare pitch presentations of their ideas. The result of each team was a detailed product/service idea, which included multiple design solutions for different aspects of the design. Finally, the design solutions were presented to the industrial representatives and a wider audience at the final closing event.