Student in the laboratory

Industrial placements are a successful means of giving third year students work experience while also providing useful input from both students and departmental staff into industrial problems.

Projects are usually devised by the sponsoring partner in consultation with a member of the academic staff, although students are also welcome to initiate a project. There is no formal process for constructing the collaboration, rather it will emerge by consensus. The student typically spends 8 to 10 weeks during the summer vacation period working with the industrial partner on the project. This summer placement is governed by direct contractual agreement between the industrial partner and the student, and content and deliverables can be confidential to the company.

In the following autumn term, the student is then guaranteed a project with the academic supervisor on an independent but related topic in the same area, which is in lieu of the 4th year research project. Depending on the preferences of the industrial supervisor, this project can also have a close link or be a direct continuation of the summer placement.  

At the end of that term, the student makes an oral presentation and submits a final report on the college phase of the project upon which he or she is assessed.

Benefits to sponsoring partners

The benefits of the industrial placement scheme to the sponsoring partner include the following:

  • The sponsor benefits from a focussed attack on an identified problem area, with the leverage of the expert (and free) staff advice coupled with the high level of student competence characteristic of Imperial College London.
  • Industrial placements form a means of companies establishing contact with students as potential employees.
  • By working together on an industrial placement, company and department may be able to develop an ongoing relationship which can have considerable benefits in other areas; for example, in establishing a longer-term research programme.

How to proceed

The industrial placement scheme is outlined in far more detail below.

If your organisation is interested in partnering with the department through an industrial placement then the first port of call is the industrial placement co-ordinator (see left hand side of page for contact details). Alternatively, you may prefer to contact a member of staff with expertise in the research subject area of interest directly.

Further information

What are industrial placements?

The industrial placement scheme was set up in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London well over 25 years ago and has been a successful means of both giving students experience of working outside academia while also providing useful input from both students and departmental staff into industrial problems.  Basically, the scheme is as follows:

  • An academic member of staff interacts with the sponsoring partner (industry, research laboratories etc.) to devise a project of mutual interest where the benefit to the sponsor can be clearly identified.
  • A third year student is selected in consultation with the sponsoring partner and spends the summer vacation period with the sponsor, pursuing the identified project. Typical periods of attachment range from 8 to 10 weeks. This phase is governed by a direct agreement between the company and the student which covers e.g. remuneration and confidentiality.
  • The student carries out a related or closely linked project during the Autumn Term in the research group of the academic member of staff. The project forms the largest element of the course in that term, where four afternoons per week are dedicated to the project.

By early December in the Autumn Term, the student submits a report on the college project which is then examined and marked.

From the outset, appropriate members of staff are involved in discussing the potential project and advising the student during his or her summer attachment period.  This expert technical input into the industrial placements is extremely beneficial to the industrial partner.

Why are industrial placements beneficial to the sponsoring company?

Over the many years in which the industrial placements have been organised, the benefits to the sponsoring company have been clearly demonstrated and include the following:

  • The sponsor benefits from a focussed attack on an identified problem area, with the leverage of the expert staff advice coupled with the very high level of student competence characteristic of Imperial College London.
  • Industrial placements have traditionally formed a means of establishing contact with students as potential employees.  Students participate in it at the end of their penultimate year, thus making the time scale one in which the normal recruitment process takes place.  Many sponsors see this as the principal benefit of the scheme.
  • By working together on industrial placements, the sponsor and the department are able to develop ongoing relationships which have considerable benefits in other areas. Typically, these have included the development of longer term research programmes, involvement in software development and exploitation and joint development of innovation technology.  Of course, the process goes the other way in that companies who already have strong research links with the department are often very willing to sponsor industrial placements as part of the overall collaboration.

Perhaps the best way of illustrating the perceived benefits is to quote a typical letter from one of the sponsoring companies:

 "(The student) came to us with very little pertinent knowledge and skills but has acquired those skills as necessary during the course of time here. (The student) has proven to be a rapid learner, and has had to show great initiative in order to complete the task. (The student) is a credit to the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College, and we will be glad to accept (the student) or any members of the Department should they wish to work here as a placement or summer student.  We look forward to when (the student) graduates, when we hope (the student) will accept our offer of a more permanent employment".

What are the benefits to the student and to the Department?

The benefits of participation in an industrial placement for the student include the following:

  • The project provides an opportunity to work on a selected area where the problems are of industrial significance and typical of those which a new graduate might expect to find when joining industry.
  • The project offers the student an opportunity of actually using the material he/she has been taught and thus reinforces this material.  This reinforcement process is, of course, aided by the input from the academic supervisor.
  • The project offers the student the opportunity of working in an industrial environment (in some cases for the first time) and is an excellent preparation towards his/her post-graduation employment.
  • Carrying out an industrial placement allows the student to demonstrate his/her abilities within the sponsoring organisation; this often leads to employment opportunities and is therefore also beneficial to the student.

The benefits to the Department include the following:

  • Being able to offer students an opportunity of working directly with industry is an attractive feature of the MEng programme and attracts good students to this course.
  • The development of relationships with industry often provides opportunities for more in depth collaboration via research projects, funding of post-graduate students, software development and exploitation and consultancy.

Examples of industrial placements

In what follows, some examples of industrial placements are given.  It should be stressed that a very wide variety of projects have been organised and there is usually no difficulty in identifying a productive and important area in conversation with the company. Projects include both technical and managerial projects and examples of both are given below.

Optimisation of a Cooling Water System

During the industrial phase a full temperature and flow rate analysis was made on the water cooling system on a large and complex site, including cooling towers.  A mathematical model of the complete system was constructed during the second phase, which indicated potential for significant savings in overall water circulation rates through appropriate adjustments to the system.

Optimisation of Product Distribution by Road

Optimisation of a company's chemical distribution (by road) in part of the UK was carried out.  Data on order pattern and delivery frequency were collected during the industrial phase, together with details of the existing delivery system.  An existing road network computer simulation at the College was then used to optimise the route mileage for the observed order pattern.  Recommendations about transport fleet requirements and depot location were then made.

Tablet Coating

Three separate industrial placements have been run in consecutive years to investigate the optimum conditions for uniform coating of medical tablets.  Measurements on production and pilot plants were made in each project to investigate the effects of particular parameters on coating efficiency.  Data analysis and subsequent development of operating correlations have led to an increasingly improved understanding of the process.

Assessment of Impact of Microprocessor Technology

Students assessed the likely benefit to be gained by introducing microprocessor control and operation to a section of a large plant and included product packaging.  The assessment included technical and economic considerations, together with a study of the industrial relations ramifications of the microprocessor-operator interface, and potential job losses.

Optimal Operation of Crude Oil Distillation Column

A mathematical model simulating the behaviour of a crude oil distillation column was developed and tested against plant data collected in the industrial period.  At the college, the effect of certain changes in column feed stock blend on product distribution was investigated and proposals were drawn up on hardware modifications necessary to accommodate these changes.

Economic Feasibility of New Capital Plan

An economic feasibility study was made into the potential marketability and profitability of a novel waste heat recovery system.  The study included participation in pilot plant trials for collection of likely performance data; estimation of manufacturing and site installation costs; estimation of likely customer benefits and a market survey.  A marketing plan and associated profitability projections were produced.

Stability of Vaporisers

During the industrial period plant data were collected, along with information from the literature, on the transient instability of a specific type of vaporiser.  At the college, a small, well-instrumented rig was used to simulate the instability and investigate the phenomenon in more detail.  A unified theoretical model was developed which made it possible to predict the frequency of oscillations.

Optimal Site Security System

Students were asked to give advice on the potential for, and impact of, reducing the number of access points to a large industrial complex involving many associated, but administratively separate, companies.  Negotiations with each of the companies included considerations of effect of transport costs of closing certain gates, thereby introducing extra mileage and cost of pilferage.  A survey was made of security system hardware for remote operation of gates and checking of transport.  A proposal was produced for the site Board giving recommended changes and their economic implications.

How are industrial placements organised?

The following steps are normally taken in organising a industrial placement:

  1. Contacts are established with sponsoring organisations (companies, research laboratories etc.) in the Autumn Term preceding the summer in which the industrial placement starts. Companies interested in participating in the scheme should contact the industrial placement co-ordinator or the relevant member of academic staff in the area of interest.
  2. A member of the academic staff is appointed to be the academic supervisor. Details of the areas of expertise of the staff can be found on the Department's research web pages.
  3. The sponsor appoints an industrial supervisor who works closely with the academic supervisor in establishing the objectives and timetable for the summer work.  This close collaboration between the supervisors is crucial for the success of the project.
  4. A student is appointed to the project; many sponsors appreciate the opportunity of meeting students at an early stage and this can be arranged.
  5. The student starts his/her period of attachment following the end of the summer term at the college (the earliest date is the last week in June but the actual period of attachment can be arranged to suit the needs of student and sponsor; the industrial attachment has, naturally, to be finished before the beginning of the Autumn Term, normally by the end of September). It is important to maintain contact with the academic supervisor during this period of attachment. Deliverables of this phase are governed by the industrial partner.
  6. The related project in the research group of the supervisor starts at the college during the autumn term, with regular meetings between the student and the academic supervisor.  This leads to the preparation of a detailed report which is formally submitted to the college at the beginning of December.
  7. In the second or third week of December, the student makes a presentation of his/her work to the academic supervisor, the industrial supervisor and to an independent academic assessor (a member of the department appointed for this purpose).  After the presentation, marks are assigned for both the report and for its presentation.

About the Department

The Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London is one of the oldest chemical engineering departments in the world. The department is also one of the largest and has very extensive facilities, including state of the art teaching laboratories and a pilot plant in which students gain hands-on experience and essential practical engineering skills. The Department has approximately 500 undergraduate students who take a 4 year course for an IChemE accredited degree of Master of Engineering (MEng.).

The success of the Department is reflected in its very high rankings for both research and teaching nationally and internationally. Imperial College London vies with Oxford and Cambridge Universities at the top of the overall league tables and many assessments have placed the department as being the best not only in the UK but also in Europe. Sponsors of industrial placements have recognised the great benefits of being associated with this internationally recognised centre of expertise.