Experiential Learning: An effective tool to enhance subject knowledge for mechanical engineering students


Mechanical engineering serves as the foundation for all other engineering disciplines with mechanical engineers designing and constructing innovative products, processes, and mechanisms, shared Dr. Sudheer Reddy J, Dean – International Relations, Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology, Bengaluru in an exclusive interview with Sheeba Chauhan of Elets News Network. Edited excerpts:

How is the National Education Policy (NEP) aiming to bridge the skills gap in the mechanical engineering sector?

Building a pedagogy appropriate for 21st-century abilities is essential for making education more immersive, comprehensive, integrated, discovery-oriented, learner-centred, discussion-based, flexible, and of course, fun. As a result, the purpose of technical education must be to create transferrable cognitive skills for designing, creating, and managing engineering products, systems, and processes.

The concept of allowing students to study in a single stream at institutions will no longer be acceptable; instead, the curriculum must bridge the gaps between sectors and disciplines. Multidisciplinary studies relate to curricular approaches that integrate subjects and develop new knowledge applicable to new professional tasks.

NEP would undoubtedly assist students in developing cross-disciplinary knowledge and in carrying out interdisciplinary projects with appropriate applications to society and mankind as a group.

2. What are some of the initiatives engineering colleges can take to make their curriculum industry-ready for mechanical engineering students?

Mechanical engineering serves as the foundation for all other engineering disciplines with mechanical engineers designing and constructing innovative products, processes, and mechanisms. As a result, creativity is a crucial talent for them. In addition to generic qualities such as communication, leadership, and mathematics, design and problem-solving skills are important to collaborate with engineers in other areas.

Integration of Curriculum: Replacing outdated subjects such as FEM, CFD and CNC and introducing subjects such as MEMS, Micromachining, and Advanced Mechatronics. This can help students learn how to fabricate electronic components and their application in various fields.

Inclusion of AI tools: Prioritising AI tools and their applications in different fields like agriculture, medical applications, and weather forecasting. Institutions should introduce competent courses related to AI and ML.

Focusing on emerging trends: Focusing on the latest technologies like IoT and Industry 5.0 and incorporating them into the syllabus ensures that students are up-to-date with current trends.

Design thinking: The curriculum must provide opportunities for students to apply the “Design thinking” technique, which offers an entirely new way of thinking and gives a set of hands-on tools for envisioning an innovative product/process. Design thinking aids in understanding user requirements, redefines challenges, and generates innovative ideas for prototypes and testing.

Utilizing software tools: Experiments in laboratories on tools and equipment that are being used in industry, as well as research-oriented experiments with data processing and interpretation utilizing various software.

3. How do you think the current skill gap in the mechanical engineering sector is impacting the employability of graduates in India?

According to a Deloitte report, India’s manufacturing sector is predicted to expand dramatically, creating countless new possibilities for mechanical engineers. However, the salary packages of these mechanical engineers will be determined by their talent and competence in the industries’ latest tools and technology.

Skills expected:

The industry expects incoming graduates to have strong fundamental concepts as well as some competence in particular areas. Hence, the institutes must improve the skills of mechanical engineering graduates by providing short-term industry sought specialised courses such as Automotive Body Design, Electric and Hybrid vehicles, BIW analysis, that enrich students’ resumes.

Employment strategy:

The Mechanical Engineering industry’s employment strategy must be reinvented and scrutinised down to the smallest detail. The graduates should receive extensive information about their career development in the industry. Furthermore, the starting wage for incoming mechanical engineering graduates must be competitive. The sector must include internships, projects, and rewarding compensation with lucrative job roles for the graduates.

4. Can you explain the importance of experiential learning and industry visits in enhancing the skill sets of mechanical engineering students?

Experiential learning can be an effective tool to enhance subject knowledge for mechanical engineering students. Students may struggle to grasp concepts through traditional lectures and textbook learning alone. By incorporating experiential learning, students can apply theoretical concepts in a practical setting, which can help reinforce their understanding and improve their performance.

Experiential learning can take many forms, such as lab experiments, design projects, internships, and cooperative education programs. These experiences can help students gain practical skills, develop problem-solving abilities, and improve their communication and teamwork skills.

Industry tours provide students with a more refined learning experience by allowing them to witness on-site workings, assembly, machinery, production processes, manufacturing units, and the newest technical breakthroughs, among other things.

Industry visits can provide students with networking opportunities, allowing them to meet professionals in the industry and learn about potential career paths. Industry visits also expose students to emerging technologies and trends in the industry. This can help them to stay up-to-date with the latest developments and better prepare for careers in the industry.

5. In addition to technical knowledge, what soft skills are important for mechanical engineers to succeed in their professional careers?

To prepare mechanical engineering students for the modern job market, institutions should consider the following strategies:

Improving soft skills: Soft skills such as communication, leadership, creativity and adaptability are becoming increasingly important in the job market. Institutions should offer training and opportunities for students to improve these skills, through public speaking, teamwork, and leadership workshops.

Imparting AI and Related Domain Skill Set: The field of mechanical engineering is rapidly evolving, and AI is becoming more important in various applications. Institutions should introduce AI and related domain skill sets to students to help them stay ahead of the curve and prepare them for future job opportunities.

Incorporating Management Subjects: Management subjects such as supply chain management, financial management, marketing management, engineering entrepreneurship, and risk analysis can help students become more mature and professional during their college stay. Encouraging students to participate in college/cultural activities organised in the institutions can also improve their interpersonal, planning skills and teamwork.

Knowledge on Entrepreneurship Skills: Many mechanical engineering students are interested in entrepreneurship and starting their own businesses. Institutions should offer courses on entrepreneurship to help students gain the skills and knowledge needed to start their own companies.

By adopting these strategies, institutions can provide mechanical engineering students with a well-rounded education that prepares them for the modern job market.

6. Please tell us about special initiatives taken by the NMIT mechanical engineering department to enhance the skill sets among students.

Softwares introduced:

Introduced coding software such as Python, R, C++ and JAVA as an elective subject for the students, preparing them to apply for Design Automation and ‘Product Life Cycle Management’ principles at the design level. Research and industry application software such as COMSOL Multiphysics, MATLAB, and others have also been introduced.

Laboratory opportunities:

In the first year, a lab-based course called “Innovation and Design Thinking” is offered in conjunction with a specialised laboratory called “IDEA” (Idea Development, Evaluation, and Application), which is supported by AICTE. The curriculum also includes specialised laboratories in Additive Manufacturing, Mechatronics, Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning, as well as EV vehicles.

The department has research-based equipment such as ‘Servo Hydraulic Fatigue testing Machine’, Scanning Electron Microscope, Injection Moulding Machine, CNC turner and more.

Industrial approach:

Two industrial internship opportunities are provided in conjunction with the student projects. And every student project must result in a Scopus/Wos indexed article or a patent.

On a regular basis, industry professionals teach the course content. Students are also mentored academically by NMIT alumni who work in industry.

Multidisciplinary approach:

Students can take up courses and pursue minor programs in Microcontrollers, Energy Environment & Sustainability, Electric Vehicle Technology, Cryogenics, AI & ML, Data Analytics, Python, and other topics. Courses on skill development and ability enhancement are also included in the curriculum.

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