Oakhamians win Engineering 'Innovation Award'

A team of students from Oakham School have won the prestigious ‘Innovation Award’ for their work in the Engineering in Education Scheme (EES), beating over 100 schools from the East Midlands who took part in the competition.

Robert, Varvara, Sammy, Maksim, and Michael won the accolade for their impressive work with a local engineering firm, CBS Products, who have a worldwide reputation for producing specialist equipment for the construction of power transmission lines and telecommunications networks around the world.

The team were tasked with improving the design of the ‘Airstream’ machine, one of their leading products, which had not been updated for nearly 10 years.  Their challenge was to reduce complexity and production time and to solve problems of water getting into the electronics and causing malfunctions.

“The students did an absolutely amazing job,” enthuses CBS Products Managing Director, Robert Davidson.  “We were looking for creative thinking that was unhindered by preconceived ideas to develop our product further.  The students came with open minds.  They weren’t clouded by what couldn’t be done – they only focused on what should be changed, then worked to find solutions.”

The winning team certainly found solutions as they reduced the construction time by 11 hours – from 26 hours down to 15 hours - which has a very positive impact on future profitability.  The team also redesigned the user interface panel to make it waterproof and more ergonomic, they simplified the internal wiring by designing and creating a printed circuit board (PCB), and additionally, they wrote a computer program to further improve the design in future. 

“Using a PCB was a logical path, but we just didn’t have the development time to invest in this,” says Arron Graham, Mechanical Design Engineer at CBS Products.  “For the students to go away and create their own PCB was impressive – they then went even further and used membrane switchers and added a digital display – which was a totally new way of thinking. We are experts in mechanics – they picked up the electronic challenges and really ran with them from a totally fresh point of view.”

“The winning team worked together fantastically throughout the year,” adds their Design and Technology Teacher Christopher Edwards. “Their success is a testament to their hard work and is very well deserved. The students are delighted to have put their knowledge and skills to use in a ‘real-life’ example, to not only see their ideas come to life, but to also know that they have made a tangible difference.”

Impressively, and a testament to their success, the initial changes the students’ proposed will be immediately adopted by the company in all machines going forward, with their other design plans being implemented in future.

The School has a long history of working with local engineering firms to take part in the Engineering in Education Scheme (EES), which specifically challenges students to students to work with an engineering company to solve a real-world problem. In previous years students have been tasked to develop engineering solution by Mecc Alte – who again successfully worked with a team of Oakhamians this year. 

Both teams of students, those who worked with Mecc Alte and those who worked with CBS Products for the first time as part of the EES, were challenged to present their projects to a panel of judges and engineers, along with showcasing their project to other schools, parents, engineers and teachers.   “The judges said that the CBS Products team were "exceptional" across all areas: in their report, presentation, knowledge and understanding of the problem; in their innovation in designing and actually realising a solution; and in finding an additional solution to improve the product further,” concludes their Physics Teacher Hannah Edwards. “Even with this glowing praise, it was still with the utmost surprise and delight that the team greeted the news that they had won the overall ‘Innovation Award’.”

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