08.07.2019 | ESB Topnews, MSc Operations Management

First assignment abroad for the Master Operations Management degree programme

Six students travel to Malaysia to complete their practical project

By: Teresa Maria Barth

Students of the Master Operations Management degree programme (MOM) at ESB Business School experience real-life projects from production and logistics during their studies. In two out of a total of three semesters, students work in cooperation with industry and research on practical assignments. This semester the MOM degree programme celebrated a first. For the first time, in cooperation with the Baden-Württemberg sensor manufacturer SICK AG from Waldkirch, one of the practical projects took place abroad. The idea for the collaboration was born within the International Association of Business Engineering Professionals (IABEP). The association, which was founded by ESB Business School in 2017 together with international partners, advocates a forward-looking professional training in the area of business engineering – primarily in Southeast Asia – and also globally.

In February 2019 the MOM project with SICK was realised: Six students set out to spend five weeks in Malaysia. In an interview Teresa Barth, one of the students involved in the project, tells of the group’s experiences.  

You and the other members of the project team went to Malaysia straight after the winter semester exams. What was the beginning of your stay in a faraway country like?

The journey from a cold Germany to a warm Johor Bahru in Malaysia on the border to Singapore right on the equator was really exciting. After we had got over the jet lag and got used to the high humidity which was often 90 percent with 32 degrees in the shade, we were ready to find out about our new tasks. As we had not been able to fly to Southeast Asia during the lecture period, we willingly "sacrificed" our semester break and in February were given a very warm welcome by production director William Ng and his team at SICK’s subsidiary before the a joint definition of our project goal was set.

What was your practical project about?

Our task was to find and introduce optimisation solutions in the sensor assembly at the Malaysian SICK production.

How did you approach the project?

First we conducted a detailed analysis of the current situation. We interviewed experts, viewed existing data and included processes in production. We discussed our findings with our internal contact persons. On the strength of this we developed a solution to reduce downtimes in assembly, ran test series, developed a prototype and handed over the results to the Malaysian development department for further checks and implementation or in part implemented on our own initiative in the production environment.

How demanding was the project work on site?

Although the focus on the optimisation of production was not really new territory for us as MOM students, the situation on site, the foreign country and intercultural cooperation presented us with fascinating challenges. Fortunately, ESB degree programme coordinator Petra Greiner gave us an introduction to Malaysia before our journey – as a graduate in Malay Studies with the focus on business she is very familiar with the cultural characteristics. In addition, we already had seminars on team building and project management in the first semester. However, despite all the good preparation, you can only learn to adapt to the new circumstances when you are actually there. We noticed, for example, that project management is different in Germany and Asia. The style of communication is not the same, either. But we learned not only about intercultural cooperation, we also broadened our professional horizons, particularly regarding the development and rollout of data processing tools, the handling of construction problems and the running of test series. Fortunately, we received a lot of help and positive reactions from all sides. For instance, our contact partners from the different departments were unwavering in their readiness to answer our many questions and the production workers were patient when demonstrating to us the processes on site. Professor Dr Daniel Palm and Professor Dr Anja Braun also supported us from Germany with valuable tips, for example on methodical and scientific approaches. Overall we really enjoyed the work there.

What was the greatest moment of success for you?

To see the prototype of the tool we developed for the first time “in action”. Also the way the cooperation between the cultures worked so well after the getting-to-know each other phase, gave us a sense of achievement. And, of course, that after our stay we received high praise and so much appreciation from the operation director of Malaysia, and Jack Goh, Managing Director for the regional product centre from Singapore.

Did you also have time alongside the intensive project work to get to know Malaysia?

Yes, at the weekends we tried to discover a bit more about the country and its people. We went to Kuala Lumpur for one weekend and we spent two weekends in Singapore where we were given the chance to visit the SICK Asia headquarters.

What are the next steps of the project?

We are still busy working on the project and in constant communication with our contact partners in Malaysia. Early July will see the MOM project presentations here on the Reutlingen campus when we will present our project results to a large audience of fellow students, professors and company representatives.