A new apprenticeship course has launched at the University of Limerick (UL), the Equipment Systems Engineer Masters by Research Apprenticeship. It was developed through a partnership between UL and the ESE Academy, with the ESE Academy taking the lead on the course.
The apprenticeship is part of a wider programme at UL to develop world-leading skills in Ireland. The new course, a level 9 apprenticeship, MEng by Research, is Ireland’s first apprenticeship in the new and increasingly important occupation, Equipment Systems Engineering.
Industry 4.0 Innovation
Shane Loughlin is the founder of the ESE Academy and is an Adjunct Lecturer at UL. He also founded SL Controls and is currently SL Controls’ Chief Digital Architect. Shane said: “This new apprenticeship programme is for experienced engineers in the fields of Industry 4.0 and high-end manufacturing in Ireland.
“The goal is to foster Industry 4.0 innovation in an environment that challenges conventional thinking and ways of working to develop solutions that are both disruptive and sustainable. The concept is simple to describe but challenging in practice, as it involves starting from a different position than the traditional approach. That traditional approach is to work out how you are going to do something. An Equipment Systems Engineer, however, will first look at what they are trying to achieve with digital transformation to determine the new digital business model.
“Take automation in the agricultural sector as an example. Currently, a large tractor with a driver will be deployed in a field to plant seeds. The traditional approach to automation is to work out ways of automating that tractor. However, when your starting point instead is ‘what am I trying to achieve’, you look at the problem differently. You are not trying to achieve the automation of a large tractor. Instead, you are trying to automate the seed planting process, so you begin looking at other solutions, such as using multiple smaller and lighter robots operating as a swarm while being controlled and synchronised from the cloud.
“It is this way of thinking that we need to develop in Ireland to stay at the cutting edge of Industry 4.0 and emerging technologies, particularly in relation to automation, machine learning, and the use of data. We also need engineers with the skills to see these projects through to delivery, where they have the abilities to develop the technical solutions that make innovative ideas a reality.”
Flipped Classroom Structure
The new Equipment Systems Engineer Masters by Research Apprenticeship has a flipped classroom structure where online learning is backed up by face-to-face sessions. This minimises time away from the job for those going through the programme. Run over two years, it comprises:
- Semester 1 – on-campus boot camp followed by remote disruptive innovation sprints to develop the research and thesis foundation.
- Semester 2 – technology provider sprints delivered remotely as well as an eEXPO on-campus event.
- Semester 3 – applying research to the innovative solution being developed and demonstrating proof of principle.
- Semester 4 – writing a research thesis in addition to writing and presenting a report on the innovative solution at eEXPO.
Those undertaking the apprenticeship will also be engaged with Communities of Practice (CoP) at every stage. The CoPs provide mentoring and peer learning as well as forums for discussion with industry experts.
“In Ireland, we cannot afford to take a backseat where we merely follow Industry 4.0 innovation,” said Shane. “We need to be at the forefront in the digital transformation of sectors where we are already strong, including high-end, high-speed manufacturing.
“This new apprenticeship will contribute to the skills development that we currently need. We want to go further, too, by building closer networks of experts and engineers coming up through the ranks who have an interest in this field. When this happens, the opportunities for innovation and digital transformation are endless.”