Under the Equipment Systems Engineering Academy and ECubers programme, SL Controls is educating students to the level required for Industry 4.0 and encouraging young people to study and pursue careers in engineering. Shane Loughlin reports

SL Controls is a market leader in Equipment Systems Integration. We work with clients across the pharma, medical device, healthcare, food and beverage and technology sectors, all of which require high-level software integration expertise and regulatory compliance. Currently experiencing a period of rapid expansion, SL Controls has welcomed our 54th team member this week and are looking forward to recruiting another 20 engineers by mid-2017. We work closely with Ireland’s top educational Institutions to attract talented graduates for our teams. However, more and more we find that the education system is struggling to keep up with real world advances.

The rate of these advances has been significantly accelerated by the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), which will totally transform how manufacturing facilities are being designed and supported.

Industry 4.0 Graphic

CLICK TO ENLARGE: Industry 4.0

Going beyond simply the automation of manufacturing systems, Industry 4.0 involves the union of information and automation technology to create cyber-physical systems, which virtualise and optimise manufacturing processes on a global scale. Technologies such as automation, autonomous robots, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing and additive manufacturing have recently evolved to enable this transformation.

Industry 4.0 will create exciting new career opportunities in the field of equipment systems engineering (ESE) for Irish graduates across the globe. The dramatic increase in the complexity of Industry 4.0 manufacturing systems requires specialist skills across a wide range of disciplines. These skills are in extremely short supply. By investing in educating the emerging Industry 4.0 equipment systems engineers (ESEs), Ireland is poised to capitalise on this unique opportunity.

At SL Controls, we want to ensure the continuous development of engineering in Ireland and to maintain Ireland’s reputation for educating top-quality engineers who are ready to enter the workplace. Under the ESE Academy and ECubers, we have created a number of programmes, to not only educate students to the level required to work within the ever-evolving industry, but also to attract young people to study and pursue careers in engineering.

The ESE Academy

SL Controls, with the support of Mark McConnell, engineering fellow and director of the Automation Centre of Excellence at Johnson & Johnson (ACoE), based at the University of Limerick, has made the ESE Academy a reality. By using our pooled talent, experience and resources, in the form of The ESE Academy it will be possible for us to proactively address the emerging Industry 4.0 skills shortage in the field of equipment systems engineering.
The ESE Academy is an industry led, not-for-profit initiative to advance the delivery of ESE education. The ‘Virtual Academy’ is hosted in the cloud, using cutting-edge collaborative tools based on Office 365 for Education. Working in a similar way to Coder Dojo, the ESE Academy is specifically focused on the advancement of education in the field of ESE.
The current approach to training engineers in this area is focused on academia, with generic texts and material available to engineering students. The ESE Academy hosts and facilitates industry experts to share their knowledge in a relevant and pragmatic way. Our approach uses real-world scenarios to present engineering challenges to our members.

This will help them find practical solutions to problems, which goes to the core of what engineering is about. This method has been proven to more effectively deliver operational and cost benefits to businesses in the manufacturing sector.

The primary objective of the ESE Academy is to efficiently develop ESEs to support Industry 4.0. One of the ways the academy is doing this is by supporting the new Master of Engineering in Mechatronics at University of Limerick (UL).

Dr Seamus Gordan is head of UL’s Design and Manufacturing Technology Department. Speaking on this new Master’s programme, he said: “We’re delighted SL Controls and ACoE will now deliver key subjects on the Master’s curriculum being launched in the University of Limerick next semester. This unique blend of collaboration between industry and academia will leverage the new Project Based Work Simulation (PBWS) training approach which has been researched and developed by the expert team at the ESE Academy.

“This approach will result in four functioning equipment modules, designed by the MEng students, with the guidance of industry experts. The equipment modules will use the latest industrial technologies and will be designed from the outset to achieve the very highest levels of efficiency in preparation for Industry 4.0.”

In the future, the ESE Academy will focus on working with key Institutes of Technology such as Dublin Institute of Technology, IT Sligo and Limerick Institute of Technology to develop a structured apprenticeship and a BEng(s) in Equipment Systems Engineering qualification.


The second, but equally important, activity of the ESE Academy is the roll out of ECubers in schools across Ireland, to attract the next generation of engineers to occupations in ESE. ECubers strives to encourage girls and boys into further studies in engineering, with practical learning workshops as opposed to rote learning, which unfortunately is common in many academic environments.

In June 2016, we officially launched our new programme to encourage more students
to study and pursue careers in engineering. The programme aims to help foster the technical and organisational skills required for a career in engineering – using household favourite, LEGO. Through ECubers, SL Controls shares its knowledge with young people helping them build, program and invent better equipment using the fun, flexible and colourful LEGO TECHNIC and LEGO MINDSTORMS products.

The perception amongst some schoolgoing children and their parents is that engineering is typically a male-oriented subject that leads to careers in civil or mechanical engineering. However, there have been huge advances in the field over the last 20 years, with little done to explain how engineering has evolved and the exciting career opportunities it offers.

For the past six years, through the ESE Academy, SL Controls has invested substantial resources into the research and development of ECubers and PBWS. Facilitated by highly skilled SL Control’s equipment systems engineers, ECubers mentors share the concepts of excellence in equipment engineering to young students in primary and post-primary education, in a very effective way.

Through the workshops, the students build, program and invent better equipment using LEGO. The name LEGO originally comes from the Danish phrase ‘leg godt’, meaning to ‘play well’. It is ironic that the founder, Ole Kirk Christiansen, did not realize until later that the phrase also means ‘I study’ or ‘I put together’ in Latin. Our ECubers programme encourages students to put together equipment systems while working together in a collaborative and supportive environment.

This study path starts with ECubers Builder, where the mentor introduces young students, aged 11 to 14, to a structured approach to building high performance equipment based on LEGO TECHNIC sets. Students then compete in the OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) Games, which set a series of tasks to optimise the equipment. The ECubers workshops help foster organisational and teamwork skills along with learning other valuable engineering principles.

When the student has demonstrated competence at building the equipment, they progress to ECubers Programmer, where the mentor imparts the key concepts of programming with equipment based on the LEGO MINDSTORMS sets.

Finally, the best young students will progress to ECubers Inventor, where the mentor introduces them to working as a team to invent new equipment solutions which optimise existing equipment and increases it efficiency. This is hugely popular and students love to create!

Fostering excellence for industry

By focusing on excellence, and the key metric of overall equipment effectiveness during the OEE Games in a fun setting, the ESE Academy will help encourage and attract the best talent to equipment-system engineering careers in Ireland and abroad.

The ECubers model has been proven to motivate the best students and stimulate their interest in careers as equipment system engineers in the manufacturing sector. From our research, we know that Transition Year students experienced a better understanding of the existing professional engineering roles, such as systems engineers, mechatronic engineers, test engineers and project managers, through ECubers.

Some 75 per cent of students said they were surprised at how interesting they found the project, with 95 per cent saying they experienced great satisfaction from getting the equipment working.

With the correct supports and training in place, the opportunities for Irish engineers to provide high value services all around the world is increasing. It is essential to stimulate the interest of young people to study engineering, from a young age. It is equally important that once students have embarked on their academic path in engineering that the education delivered is practical, reflects the industry of today and prepares students for the exciting career opportunities that now exist for both men and women in the field.

See: www.slcontrols.com/@SLControls

Shane Loughlin, co-founder and CTO of SL Controls, has over 30 years’ experience in equipment systems integration. He is a leading figure in developing Industry 4.0 education through his current PhD studies at DIT. Loughlin created and runs SL Controls’ ECubers programme to increase awareness of the benefits and opportunities of engineering as a career for young men and women and to help address the shortage of young people pursuing careers in the sector

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SL Controls is a market leader in Equipment Systems Integration. We work with clients across the pharma, medical device, healthcare, food and beverage and technology sectors, all of which require high-level software integration expertise and regulatory compliance. Currently experiencing a period of rapid expansion, SL Controls has welcomed our...