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CAR partners with FCA to offer Brazilian employees advanced engineering instruction

The Center for Automotive Research (CAR) at The Ohio State University is providing advanced engineering education via distance learning to employees of a new Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA) facility in Brazil, through a unique public-private partnership with a local organization (CESAR) and the State of Pernambuco. 

“We have a history of partnering with FCA,” explained Marcello Canova, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and associate director of Graduate and Continuing Education at CAR.  

In early 2016 FCA managers contacted Canova following the launch of a new facility in Recife, the fifth-largest city in the Brazil and the capital of the State of Pernambuco. The managers were investing a significant amount of time and resources to adequately train their new workforce. 

“The higher education system in Brazil is quite similar to Europe,” said Canova. “The university provides students with a general education in mechanical or electrical engineering, however the skills and subjects that are specific to the automotive industry are traditionally learned on the job.” 

Through conversations about FCA’s training needs, Canova and CAR’s Distance Education Coordinator Marianne Weber developed the idea of offering a certificate program for FCA employees that leveraged content from courses previously developed for the automotive industry. The portfolio of distance education courses ranges from short seminars to advanced, graduate-level courses focused on specific topics such as hybrid electric vehicles, batteries and energy storage technologies, modeling and
simulation. These courses can be combined and customized to offer specific certificate programs, administered via the distance learning system at Ohio State. 

Sandeep Makam, an engineer with FCA and a graduate of Ohio State, was an expert in powertrain simulation in Auburn Hills, MI and was assigned to FCA LATAM in 2015 to support the creation of a powertrain engineering team there. He worked closely with Canova to create the certificate program, which was co-developed by three different organizations: CAR, FCA–Latin America (LATAM) and CESAR, a local non-profit organization in Recife with a mission of providing engineering and educational services to local industry. CESAR acquired support from the State of
Pernambuco to subsidize eight local students who are seeking engineering training.  

In addition to the local residents, FCA LATAM and CESAR selected eight employees who are also immersed in the coursework. The training program offers four course certificates, each focused on specific areas, which provide fundamental skills in the modeling, simulation and control of engines and powertrain systems, and automotive noise, vibration and harshness (NVH).  

Canova teaching in Brazil

“We traveled to Recife for one week and started the program with a set of three courses that are pre-requisites to entering the Ohio State graduate engineering program,” said Canova. “We taught those in person so we had the opportunity to meet the students and interact with them. The participation and enthusiasm were excellent, and students asked a lot of great questions. 

“Students were then enrolled at Ohio State for graduate credit. Distance students (in Brazil) are bound by the same rules – grading, assignments - that our students (in Columbus) have, and those credits can be applied towards a master’s degree program. 

“All of the courses are a combination of theoretical foundations and a strong emphasis on applications and “real-world” case studies, where we teach students how to apply the theory to solve practical problems. The emphasis on modeling and simulation is very strong in the industry because developing a product using models is cheaper than developing prototypes and using the classic trial and error methods that were used in the past, allowing for considerable savings in development time and costs.”  

While there are no specific components or systems yet being designed by the engineers taking these courses, Makam believes the skill development will result in better products.  

“Design time is long,” said Makam. “Development of products starts now for production in 2020. Once you understand the physics of a problem, you can use simulations to solve the problem.”  

He imagines that the engineers who have completed the program will be more effective in developing solutions that are specific to issues in Brazil, such as meeting stricter emissions regulations or more effectively using alternative fuels. While some students are seeing short-term success with good grades on homework assignments, FCA managers are also interested in measuring success in more practical ways. 

“In just three months, we have already noticed improvements in the workers’ application to projects,” said Makam. 

The program’s early success depended on groups of determined people on both ends – CAR and FCA. At Ohio State, Marianne Weber, the distance education coordinator at CAR, managed the complex exchange of information necessary to enroll students on time. 

Makam supported the process at FCA LATAM, which included supervision by FCA’s Human Resources division. Additional support to the program came from Gamma Technologies, which donated educational licenses for GT Power, their industry-leading automotive simulation software. 

CAR is hoping to establish this program for years to come. Canova has found the enthusiasm of students to be unique and extremely gratifying. 

“They are working hard and really pushing themselves,” he said. “They want to learn more, as they truly believe that what they are learning is positively impacting their knowledge and ability. This is extremely rewarding for me as an Instructor. In addition, the Brazilian people are warm, extremely friendly and it’s very easy to engage in conversations with them.”