FE College students and apprentices create solutions

Over the summer Shoestring ran two hackathons with HND students at Dumfries and Galloway FE College and Make UK apprentices, who showed how quickly the future workforce can learn how to create a digital solution to solve an industry challenge.

Five 18-year old HND students at Dumfries and Galloway almost missed the opportunity to create a student project during their final year due to the disruptions of Covid. But thanks to their lecturer and the Shoestring team, they managed to join forces in the last 2 days of the summer term to create a fluid level and power sensing system that they could set up on the lathe in their college workshop. Andy Kirkwood, their lecturer, was impressed with the progress they made in only two days:

Once the students got going they stormed ahead on their own, able to alter the database and get Grafana working so that, for example, they could change the inputs on the dashboard. I was very impressed."

The students were excited to solve a problem in industry, and “set up a machine monitoring solution at a fraction of the cost”. For some “programming was the biggest challenge”, “I thought at the start the programming would be difficult but we got stuck in –  it was great to just see it all working at the end”. They “liked to see how coding works, learnt about different components, how to get different results and user interfaces, and see how to use the data and transfer it to other places”. It made them think about where else the solution could be used, “thinking about how our solution could be applied to other customers’ needs”, “It is easy to copy and paste it for use in another industry”. They all felt a huge sense of achievement, and liked the fact that their work could be applied directly in the “real world”.

We could programme it to do what we wanted and then see how it worked in the real world, the real world effect including measurements of the lathe."

Photos above: The Dumfries and Galloway students initially built their solution in the lab, connecting the power monitoring and fluid level and power monitoring sensors to a Raspberry Pi, displaying the data on a dashboard built using open source software, Grafana (as shown in the first 2 photos). They then took it down to the workshop and put the monitor on top of the lathe (third image above), and set up the power clamp and fluid level at the back of the equipment (last image on right).

The teaching team at Make UK were similarly proud of their group of 20 apprentices. The apprentices, who ranged from 16 to over 18 year olds, formed 5 groups and each group had to solve one of two industry challenges set. Three of the groups developed a bolt-on energy monitoring system for manufacturing equipment The two other groups chose to develop an inventory tracking system to help optimise stock levels.

Photos above: At Make UK the five teams built their solutions initially in a classroom (see the first and third image above). Then those teams building a a condition monitoring solution took their solution down to the workshop floor and installed it on a piece of equipment, the middle photograph above shows a fluid level sensor installed in the workshop. The third photo shows a team building a system to track cable inventory – the cable is dispensed from a box which is mounted on a load cell which is set up to track the weight of the cable (and alert when the cable stock is low).

Make UK’s Curriculum Manager helped organise the hackathon, and like other members of staff, was delighted by the commitment of the apprentices and the quality of the solutions produced in only two days:

In the six years I've worked here this is the proudest I've been in terms of professionalism, skill and effort of the apprentices."

Following on from the hackathons FE Colleges and Make UK are looking at how students can use Shoestring in their student projects, and ultimately bring their digital solutions into industry and help deploy them in companies.


Interested in finding out how you could run a hackathon?

Find out how your FE College, company or organisation can get involved in a Shoestring hackathon by emailing us at: contact@digitalshoestring.