My name is Alliance Niyigena, I am the Head of Power for HYPED 2020. During the same year, I completed my Master thesis with HYPED developing a new battery system based on Lithium-Polymer technology.
I completed my secondary schooling in France, where I got a rudimental introduction into maths and all the sciences. I really enjoyed my physics classes, especially the day we learned about electromagnetism. Our teacher performed an experiment to demonstrate the faraday law: using a copper coil and a magnet passing through the coil. An amp meter was connected to both ends of the coil, and the dial on the amp meter went up and down with the movement of the magnet through the coil. I found this really fascinating and made me want to learn more about electricity. Therefore, I decided to study a joint degree in Electrical and Mechanical engineering, because I wanted to take part in developing technologies for the future.
HYPED was introduced to me by some students on my course, in 2016. At the time, the team was around 20 people divided into Technical, Commercial and Business teams. I was attracted by the futuristic and mysterious concept of Hyperloop. A capsule accelerating up to 700mph in a vacuum tube while levitating using electromagnetic propulsion. During an introductory presentation, the high schooler inside of me burst in excitement and I joined the society the same evening.
In this blog post, I want to share the 3 main lessons I learned from navigating a Master thesis in an ever-changing entrepreneurial environment such as in HYPED.
Lesson 1: By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.
Working for HYPED is like hiking in the mountains. When the path is visible and clearly marked, following the path is easy! Similarly, as a Masters student, this is when you are following the guidelines from the supervisors, the decisions from the technical meetings and warnings from the technicians. This was the start of my project, and I thought I had everything under control and things were going after schedule.
However, on a hike, the path is rarely clear, and most of the time the route is semi-marked, leaving some need for self-guidance using exciting maps or compass, i.e. supporting tools. Therefore, it is necessary to prepare for future uncertain circumstances. For example, what happens if a supplier drops-out in the very last minute? What happens if your experiment is denied by the lab manager? Lastly, what will you do if the component is too expensive? These are only a few examples of things which most likely will occur during a project. These bottlenecks can develop into killer-issues, causing the end of a project. Just like when going on a long hike, to supply yourself with the best supporting tools. Carefully seek out good pieces of advice from your team by asking questions, frequently.
Lesson 2: Teamwork makes the dream work
When walking in a group, at times people walk slow, fast, synchronised, apart or very close. This change of flow describes very well the change of pace when working in a team. When developing a pod for the Hyperloop Competition, efficient collaboration between the power, software, dynamics, shell and propulsion teams is essential for productivity. I found it very helpful to plan my work according to the on-going projects in the other sub teams. Sometimes, a project can be objected to a sudden turnaround. For me, this happened when the pod went from using Arc Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motors (APMSM) to linear induction motors. Thus, requiring the battery system to supply 120 VDC and 400A. Secondly, the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition was cancelled. Lastly, managing the last design modification when all the laboratories and workshops at the University were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In such situations, I have found that transparency with your team members about the state of the situation is important for developing trust. Besides, communicating your problems well to the other technical heads, so they can help solve your issues. Throughout the development of the battery systems, I learned to adapt my concepts and ideas to sudden changes. Flexibility is key, to be able to successfully complete a master thesis.
Lesson 3: Avoid the worst, put safety first
Lastly, having led a team through the mountain, you don't want to lead the team over a sudden cliff or on the wrong path into a dangerous environment. Evaluating and managing risks is indispensable to avoid deadly accidents. Equally, in a project, safety should always be the number one priority. Throughout my Masters project, safety was the central pillar of the design, development of our manufacturing plan and the supply chain transport. The 120 V DC was built safe against electrocution, for anyone working on the battery back from the delivery of the battery cells, the assembly of the battery pack and operation of the battery system. Although, the development of the safety measurement significantly increased the design time, it ensured that the Power Team members could work with the system in reliable and safe conditions.
Nevertheless, completing my Master thesis with HYPED has been a unique well-rounded industrial engineering experience. Throughout the experience, I have conducted research, design, budgeting and project management. As the Head of Power, I had the chance of introducing first-year students to engineering design and manufacturing. With a project covering such vast disciplines, rigorous time management with clear objectives and quick decision-making were necessary to manage it all. I highly recommend anyone to take the opportunity to complete a high-calibre Masters thesis with HYPED.