Roll up your sleeves: SFU–Siemens program offers a jump-start on high-tech jobs

Program gives students and professionals hands-on experience in advanced manufacturing

July 08, 2019

Robots self-correcting for manufacturing errors and self-driving cars adjusting their route in real time to avoid nearby collisions may seem like the future, but it’s a reality that’s fast approaching. It’s called the fourth industrial revolution — or Industry 4.0 — and the Siemens Mechatronic Systems Certification Program at Simon Fraser University is preparing its leaders.

“Our goal is to help bridge the gap between what academia teaches and what industry wants,” says SFU mechatronics instructor and coordinator for the Siemens program, Amr Marzouk. "We take a hands-on approach to teach students about machinery and automation in a manufacturing environment, so they’re better prepared for co-operative education internships and jobs.”

Participants use high-tech equipment such as this state-of-the-art robotic arm throughout their training.

The program, now in its third year, is a unique partnership with Germany-based, multinational industrial engineering firm, Siemens. Less than 30 institutions worldwide offer the program, which teaches industrial automation using Siemens’ world-class equipment. SFU’s School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering offers the program a few times per year.

SFU will soon be the only institution outside of Siemens’ German headquarters to teach the design of automated systems through level 3 certification in the program. Levels 1 and 2 equip participants to understand, service and plan automated systems, with each level building on the other. Many of the program’s participants are SFU students but interested members of the public and industry can also apply.

This month, a cohort of students are visiting from China to take part in level 1. They’ll interact with classroom-sized industrial training systems and learn to troubleshoot when things go wrong — such as when a part gets stuck in a stack, or a component loses power. The training systems they’re using mimic today’s automated factories.

“Through the Siemens program, I got to see how the theories and practices from my engineering classes are actually implemented and applied,” says Angela Wong, a graduate of both the level 1 and 2 certificates and an SFU mechatronics student.

“The knowledge and hands-on experience from the Siemens program helped me to realize I want to pursue a career in automation and controls. I may not have realized that if I hadn’t had the chance to try it for myself through the program,” she says.

Participants interact with and troubleshoot equipment that simulates a real-life automated manufacturing process.

The curriculum follows Siemens’ industry-leading “systems-based” approach to teaching where students must first understand the machine as a whole before zooming in to learn about the individual components, then relate their knowledge back to the big picture. Participants walk away with what Siemens calls Handlungskompetenz: technical, ethical and professional competency.

Program alumnus and fourth-year SFU mechatronics student Daniel Tran agrees. “The program showed us software and devices that I’m now using at my current co-op,” he says. “It’s been very beneficial to have had hands-on experience and familiarity with the technology because I have the Siemens certificate.”

In fact, demand for high-tech manufacturing skills is reaching fever pitch: a new Walmart distribution centre in Surrey promises to use advanced automation and employ up to 120 high-skilled workers to operate and maintain its systems. Other nearby employers such as Ballard Power and Vancouver International Airport also use advanced automation. Globally, the Industry 4.0 revolution is in full swing.

“In the near future, all the components of the manufacturing cycle will be connected to, and communicate with, each other,” says Marzouk. “The Siemens program gives a peek into that kind of manufacturing environment and shows participants not only what it is, but how to work in it.”