Engineers and computer scientists: How do they work well together?

Apparently, many experts are of the opinion that cooperation between engineers and computer scientists can definitely be improved and that there is a need for action in this area. As a result of advancing digitization, it is clear that these two professional groups in particular will have to work together even more closely in the future and that it therefore can't hurt to approach each other and prepare as well as promote this cooperation. On the Computerwoche website, under the heading "Industry 4.0 and AI," Michael Sudahl reflects on how engineers and computer scientists can function together as a team. He quotes the technical director of the Saarbrücken-based company DeVeTec, Dominik von Lavante, who believes that computer scientists and engineers speak a very similar language. At the latest since Industry 4.0, the boundaries between hardware and software are becoming increasingly blurred. Dominik von Lavante himself comes from the field of mechanical engineering and has been leading a team of specialists from different areas for some time. For almost 20 years, DeVeTech has already been manufacturing systems that serve to utilize waste heat. Below we summarize the article for you.
A man is looking at a laptop, yellow machines can be seen in the background.

From engineer to all-round technician

The technical director of the small successful company loved to program himself as a teenager, kept himself busy with his computer and even took part in programming competitions. Nevertheless, after graduating from high school, he decided against studying computer science. His reason for this is that he was always convinced that programming would always remain just a tool for him. So he opted for mechanical engineering and earned his doctorate in Stuttgart on the subject of fault simulations at nuclear power plants. Later, the now 35-year-old developed software for TÜV-Rheinland that was used to track residual material flows during the dismantling of nuclear power plants. He wanted to help prevent disasters like the one in Fukushima by planning a safety system that could be retrofitted in older nuclear power plants to prevent such accidents. With this idea, the young engineer went looking for investors and came into contact with the Goffin Group, which recently acquired DeVeTech. Now, von Lavante is involved with waste heat power plants, which can convert up to 90% of the process heat of more than 250 degrees into compressed air, into electricity or even into cold. Von Lavante received a job offer to continue working on this idea of compact and efficient heat recovery machine. Technology transfer is therefore one of his hobbyhorses.

Even better as a team

Technology transfer is a good keyword, because Dominik von Lavante complains that his company is hardly able to find computer scientists on the market who have studied and have sufficient knowledge in the field of mechanical engineering. For a start-up company in particular, it is naturally difficult to find specialists with this dual focus. Yet it is so important to have both represented in its team: Computer science knowledge and mechanical engineering knowledge. Currently, it's the engineers who develop the power plants at DeVeTech and oversee their construction. At the same time, the computer scientists are working on networking the plants with the cloud and databases. After all, it must be ensured that maintenance can be carried out remotely and predictive maintenance with intelligent systems can forecast the condition of the machines. That's why Dominik von Lavante knows full well that it's incredibly important for engineers and computer scientists to work closely together, precisely because there are no university-educated specialists who have both prerequisites. However, this collaboration could be made much more efficient. He is thinking of Deep Learning, which could make simple tasks such as finding pipe routes easier for mechanical engineers. AI could also be used profitably to detect errors in the production of certain parts. Experts like Dominik von Lavante have been busy optimizing plants for many years in the context of cyber-physical models and in virtual power plants. He emphasizes the importance of complete documentation, because owners and operators of these plants have an increasing need for information. Thanks to ever-improving networking, operators can now access all process data in real time and view information on every component of the plant, no matter how small.

The search for computer scientists

Von Levante emphasizes that in the area of sensor technology, the need for networking is still very high. In individual processes, engineers ask their computer scientists for smart solutions to individual problems. But measurement technology has other requirements, and here both professions must be involved right from the start. Which data can we best collect with which method, and how do we process this data? At what point in time? Many engineers reach their limits here with their experience, and they often find it easy to acquire basic knowledge in the field of information technology. He expressly welcomes the fact that many engineering degree programs now include courses in programming. As a start-up, however, it is not easy for his company to recruit computer scientists who know a little about mechanical engineering. Specialists who have acquired knowledge in both areas during their studies are rare and prefer jobs with large corporations. In addition, university graduates lack practical experience.

An increasingly complex world

Michael Sudahl agrees with Dominik von Levante that it would be desirable to make the boundaries between engineering and computer science a little more fluid in the course of study and to give students from both fields more access to each other's courses. In a digital world full of AI and an ever closer link between hardware and software, more and more specialists will be needed in the future who are able to combine engineering knowledge and IT and apply it in combination. In addition, everything is becoming more and more complex anyway, and the interconnections between areas are gaining in importance. New interfaces are emerging every day that require experts who are familiar with both worlds and are able to think outside the box.
Author: IAPM internal

Key words: Project management, Team, Software, Field report

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