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Provision of a college-plant interface.

Provision of a College-Plant Interface

Discontinuity between college and industrial work contexts arises from a difference in philosophy. Proof of this is the selection process: Academic grades are the one thing; company preferences are another. Many dream of a common evaluation system that would smoothen the transition and approximate both parties. Due to the great diversity, as much on the college side as on the company side, this ideal situation remains utopic. At best, we may attempt to come close to it. In the specific context to be described, this approach is achieved. Students are confronted with industrial type assignments and required to assume the corresponding responsibilities. The initiative passes from the instructor to the student. Functional training subordinates content and means to the intended practical application. Constant quality control and instant feedback maintain the activities on the correct course. The goal is to form creative and confident individuals who naturally cross over from the academic to the industrial context. Academic and industrial training combine into an integrated process of human resources formation. New knowledge is acquired and useful work is produced.

Learning Methods

Methods from various sources are combined and adapted to form a directed learning system. Functional training[1] and behaviour management[2] have been retained from industrial practice. Experience has contributed the assignment of responsibilities, quality control and peer evaluation.

Functional training means the learning process is directed specifically to the performance of a certain function. The final goal is invariably solving some practical industrial problem. The procedure is spelled out and divided into stages. Material to be learned is selected for each stage. At the end of the stage, the success of learning is measured. The participant submits his or her report on the partial solution pertaining to the stage. Learning means constructing. Having the final goal in mind, the participant divides and subdivides the work with increasing detail. As the subdivisions are solved, they are put together until reaching the finished structure of the whole solution. Quality control and constant feedback maintain the rate and direction of progress.

The aim of behaviour management is to keep the student motivated. The individual work progress is measured against the global objective of the programme. Weighted stimulators of various kinds increase dedication and quality of output.

It is through the assignment and acceptance of responsibilities that the initiative is transferred to the learner, who produces useful results and presents them in a required format. Useful results are those readily transferred from the paper to the practical application. No futher interpretation or detailing is necessary.

It is up to quality control to guarantee the usefulness of results. The individual initiative is directed and reinforced. Control is not eliminative, but corrective. Partial solutions that are unsatisfactory or useless to achieving the final goal are returned for correction. Apart from assuring the quality of the work, this creates the right amount of time pressure to underline the seriousness of the endeavour.

The last on the list of learning methods is peer evaluation. It develops selfconfidence. Each participant is asked to prepare an oral presentation and a written report on the work and its results. The report goes into the project library. Succeeding groups will use it as reference and starting point. The report or parts of it represents the return on the invested time and effort. It conforms to industrial standards and is the basis of evaluation.

Programme Preparation

The five methods mentioned previously are the anchor points of the learning programme. In its essence, the learning process is independent of place and time. The practical application of what is to be learned needs to be visualized. The contact does not need to be long nor profound. The learner needs to observe the structure and operation of a production line similar to the one which is the subject of the learning programme. The idea is not to copy an installation, but rather to create one. At the time of the contact, the participants have already chosen their topics. They know in general terms what kind of information they need. During the visit, each learner restricts himself or herself to obtaining the data specific to his or her topic. The industrial contact is planned, efficient and brief. One day is considered adequate.

Application Example

At present the learning system is being applied to subjects related to process unit design and control. The industrial contact is an alcohol-from-sugar-cane plant. Presented is the system used for the design course, although there is much overlapping. The instrument and piping diagram may be developed from the process flow sheet. Most measuring devices may be detailed to some extent from this diagram. Before picking controllers and control valves, however, it is usually necessary to wait until the dimensions of vessels, pumps and pipes are available.

The specific objective is to design units of an alcohol plant. The general objective is to learn. Consequently, the programme aims at learning how to design units of an alcohol plant. The range of subject matter is fixed (or left open) by the needs of the project, not by the contents of some book. The project lasts for several semesters. It requires individual contributions. Each semester detailed topics are suggested which satisfy the requirements of the project at this specific point in time.

After choosing the topic, the participant defines his or her objectives, outlines his or her plan of attack and elaborates his or her time schedule. The instructor provides the necessary assistance. At fixed time intervals, the participants exchange information through oral progress reports. Each section of the individual report is presented in writing in its final form and is promptly evaluated. Texts judged deficient are returned for improvement. Quality control is strict. Due to the learning context, the global project progresses in various directions. Topics are always available on balancing, process and utility flow sheets, equipment design, pipe detailing, instrumentation, lay-out and processing options. This limited diversity responds to behaviour management.

Peer evaluation is achieved through literature review. Reports of previous semesters form the bulk of knowledge acquired and results generated in the context of the project. The design is completely autonomous. There is no intention to reproduce any part of the plant visited. It merely serves to supply certain reference points that are not available from other sources.

The following example serves to illustrate the progress made in the various units of the plant design. On designing the first of the four distillation towers, work started from the total mass balance diagram. In the initial task, number of plates, plate spacing, height and diameter of the tower, pipe connections, man holes and the minimum instrumentation system were specified. At this stage, tower diameter was determined from the classical empirical graph that gives flooding velocities as functions of vapor and liquid flows [3]. This reference, like a few others on this topic, suggests to operate at 80% of flooding. The subsequent task performed on this tower was the hydraulic design of sieve trays. It was concluded there that the tower would flood. Next, the hydraulic design for bubble cap trays was done, leading to the same conclusion. The fourth person to work on the tower worked backwards from the tray configuration suggested by the hydraulic designs to determine an acceptable tower diameter and vapor operating velocity. This velocity was only 30% of flooding. On the occasion of the next visit to the plant, the calculations were confirmed: the new calculated diameter was very close to the existing one for the same capacity.

All other ramifications of the project move along the same path of learning.

Discussion

The sample case of the distillation tower illustrates how the learning process functions: it is supported and expands by asking the right questions. Four students working consecutively on this topic with a critical mind and submitted to strict quality control generated the result:for ethanolwater solutions, the adequate vapour operating velocity is 30% of flooding. No literature reference at our disposal furnishes this information. It is an outcome of the learning process. This is but an example. As a rule, at every stage of the project new knowledge or information is generated. Each participant works on her or his own topic and assumes responsibility for it. Although the student counts on total support and guidance from the instructor at every stage of the work, the effort, initiative and results are the student's. It is he or she who writes and signs the report. During the time of dedication the specific application of the results is known and serves as guide and motivator. The student is continuously challenged to put to use prior knowledge and to create solutions not found in books.

The constant quality control sees to it that the report is of acceptable quality in an industrial sense: it serves to sell talent. More than this: the corrective nature of the control offers the participant the opportunity to correct errors and improve the quality of the work as he or she goes along. Repeatedly, students considered weak in their general performance take advantage of this opportunity to learn, show motivation and produce excellent results. At the other extreme, first rate students learn to adapt their talent to the solution of practical problems for the first time in their career. This improves their professional confidence.

Technical learning comprises oral and written presentations which are the return of the investment. They are the basis for evaluation or grading and are the only visible signal of success or failure of the learning process. They are also common activities of the industrial life of an engineer. Thanks to instant evaluation and corrective control, the quality of the writing usually improves a lot from stage to stage. The grading system developed for this programme is not just a meter of the quality achieved. It is a guide leading the way to this quality. Experience has shown in classical exam grading systems, no relationship can be established between engineering aptitude and grade. A person may calculate a 2" wall thickness for a 1" pipe on an exam, get a poor grade but still pass. In the described learning system, quality control prevents this from happening. The calculation would simply be returned as unacceptable. Moreover, the practice related problem selection and need for initiative and good presentation invariably places persons with engineering aptitude first.

The very philosophy of the system makes a failure the rare exception. Corrective control is meant to lead students to attain the final objective, no matter how many attempts are required along the way. It has happened that people have dropped out during the early stages of the program for lack of discipline or attitude. Nobody who stayed on has needed to be failed.

Participants are challenged to contribute their own original ideas to the solution of practical problems.

The known application of what is learned maintains the motivation of the learner.

Corrective quality control assists the learner to overcome her or his weaknesses.

The student is prepared for her or his smooth transition from college to plant.

Positive measurable results have been obtained with the described learning system.

College becomes part of the real world of engineering.

Undergraduate work acquires maturity.

Industry-university cooperation is stimulated.

Organized directed learning is a key factor in human resources formation.

References

[1.] Estrada, V.F., "Train with a functional approach"

Hydrocarbonation Processing, August 1974 p. 58. [2.] Miller, L., "Behavior management makes performance

count", Chemical Engineering, July 17, 1978 p. 143 [3.] Van Winkle, M., Distillation, McGraw-Hill 1967,

figure 13-21.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Chemical Institute of Canada
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:college-industry relations help train engineers
Author:Fehr, Manfred
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Mar 1, 1990
Words:1922
Previous Article:A degree programme in geochemistry.
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