Westermo and Southampton Solent University have teamed up to help address the digital skills shortage affecting the UK industrial and manufacturing sector by introducing students to data communications technology that will be used to support the widespread applications of the industrial internet of things (IIoT).
Westermo has provided the university’s computer networking department with a range of data communications technology, enabling students to broaden the scope of their studies by focusing on the design and implementation of industrial networks. Equipment that is used to create resilient, reliable and secure networks in harsh industrial environments will help undergraduates learn how the latest IIoT technology is being deployed in railway, offshore oil and gas, and utility applications.
“There is currently a skills and digital expertise shortage within the UK industrial and manufacturing sector,” said Alan Bollard, managing director of Westermo Data Communications. “The increased connectivity and data delivery made possible by the IIoT is a game-changer across many industries in terms of operational improvements, but it places greater demands on industrial networking infrastructure. By introducing students to networking technology specific to industrial applications, we hope to highlight some exciting new career options and steer talented young people towards the industrial sector.”
Westermo specialises in the design and manufacture of industrial networking equipment for use in demanding environments. It has supplied the university with networking equipment including industrial Ethernet extenders and managed Ethernet switches with routing functionality. The equipment enables students from within the university’s computer networking courses to develop solutions for typical industrial networking-related problems based on real-life installations provided by Westermo.
“The equipment donated by Westermo enables a complete industrial networking scenario to be configured within a dedicated computer networking laboratory at the university,” said Neville Palmer, senior lecturer in communications engineering at Southampton Solent University. “The partnership with Westermo will play an important role in diversifying the education and possible career paths of our students. Previously, our focus has been mainly on data communications technology within office environments, but the experience gained with Westermo’s industrial technology will ensure that graduates are better equipped to handle roles within industrial environments.”
Antony Lane is one of the university’s computer network management graduates who is already working in the industrial data communications field, as a technical support engineer at Westermo. “The idea behind the lab exercises is to assist the students in thinking as industrial network engineers rather than as commercial network engineers,” Lane said. “With their ‘industrial hat’ on, they need to think about why products need to last for extended periods of time without failure and why they are manufactured differently. The students are in the process of completing a test to become Westermo certified engineers. This knowledge and qualification can assist their employability prospects over the coming months – something that has been underlying this project from the beginning.”