Young researchers visit Phoenix Contact

It has been around for 25 years: “xplore“, the international education and technology competition from Phoenix Contact. Pupils, students, trainees and young professionals from all over the world develop innovations and solutions for current topics under the patronage of Phoenix Contact. This year’s participation was enormous: “We received around 170 videos from all over the world during the application phase,” says Edmond Wempe, Project Manager of xplore.

The world as a guest in Bad Pyrmont: participants in the xplore competition at Phoenix Contact Electronics

A quarter of a century of innovation

Klaus Hengsbach

The competition was founded 25 years ago by Klaus Hengsbach, now Head of TechEducation at Phoenix Contact. “We develop tailor-made educational programs for vocational schools, universities, training and further education institutions and companies,” explains Hengsbach. “Our initiatives include the international university network “EduNet”, which we have set up to promote exchange and cooperation between universities worldwide and industry in the field of automation. And the international technology competition “xplore”.”

The motto for Phoenix Contact’s anniversary year: “Technology Award for a sustainable world”. The search was on for sustainable solutions for everyday life that have the potential to make the world a little better.

The best teams were then invited to Germany for the grand final, which took place on October 18, 2023 in Bad Pyrmont, Lower Saxony. But how did the young researchers around the world become aware of the initiative from East Westphalia? “With over 150 universities in our EduNet network, we already have a good basis for promoting the competition internationally,” explains Edmond Wempe. “We also placed Google Ads and advertised on social media channels.” To apply for the xplore competition, a 100-second video explaining the project idea had to be submitted. “The response was great, we received submissions from teams from 31 countries around the world.”

The narrowest selection

To progress to the next round, the teams had to convince a jury of 11 people from the worlds of business, science and industry. “The jury then selected 100 teams to implement their ideas. Each team was allowed to order products from Phoenix Contact worth 3,000 euros,” reports Edmond Wempe. “In addition, each team has a contact person in one of the subsidiaries with whom they can exchange ideas in the local language.” The teams then have one year to plan and implement the project. At the end of the design phase, the jury selected the 25 best teams in two rounds and invited them to the grand finale in Bad Pyrmont.

Official welcome in the Phoenix Contact lecture hall

And then it was time to pack: The young designers set off from all over the world and arrived in Bad Pyrmont the day before the grand finale. The world as a guest in the province of Lower Saxony. The next morning, it was straight down to business: After a welcome from CEO Frank Stührenberg, the teams started with the theoretical presentations of their projects in the large lecture hall at Phoenix Contact Electronics. And of course there was more than just theory:

Phoenix Contact CEO Frank Stührenberg

After a short breather, the jury and all interested parties went to the exhibition, which had now spread out in the Phoenix Contact reception area. The teams were able to really show what their developments were capable of, especially during the presentation on the real model.

The winning teams

The winners were then chosen in five categories. In the “Education” category, the TED-MVR team from Spain won with the project title “Phoenix Contact TechEducation Metaverse”. The team developed a virtual environment with certified products from the Phoenix Contact e-mobility portfolio for the assembly of a charging station.

In the “Environment” category, the Smart Aquaponics team from Heriot Watt University in Dubai won with their “Smart Aquaponics Systems” project. Aquaponics systems are a sustainable method of growing both plants and fish. The project was dedicated to the development of an automated aquaponics system with a solar-powered power supply.

Team Aqua from India

Team Aqua from the Federal Institute of Science and Technology in India won over the jury in the “Smart Technology” category with their project “Water Management at Home for Sustainable World Using IOT”. The project developed a system that controls and monitors the water consumption of a building in order to prevent water wastage.

EducationTeam TED-MVR, Presence xR Solutions, Spain
EnvironmentTeam Smart Aquaponics, Heriot Watt University Dubai
Smart TechnologyTeam Aqua, Federal Institure of Science and Technology, India
Smart EnergyTeam Karya, Mugla Sitki Kocman University, Turkey
Social & HealthTeam Robotium, Heriot Watt University Dubai
Inspiring AwardJelgava Secondary School of Technologies, Latvia

In the “Smart Energy” category, the Karya team from Mugla Sitki Kocman University in Turkey won with their project “UAV Based PV System and Inspection”, which deals with the detection of power losses in photovoltaic panels.

The “Social & Health” category was also won by a team from Heriot Watt University in Dubai with their “NurseBot”. The automated and remote-controlled robot can determine and record patient data such as vital signs and conduct patient interviews for medical professionals.

There was a special award this year for the team from Jelgava Secondary School of Technologies in Latvia. They won the Inspiring Award for their eco-efficiency competition. The competition involves building, testing and promoting electric cars. 

State Secretary Michael Kellner welcomes Klaus Hengsbach (Phoenix Contact)

Off to the capital

But the trip to Bad Pyrmont was just one of the highlights. It was off to the capital, Berlin. In addition to material and cash prizes, this year’s winners were able to present their projects to State Secretary Michael Kellner from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection in Berlin. Representatives from the embassies of the various participating countries were also present. An exciting and unique experience for the participants, because when do you ever have the opportunity to chat with the ambassadors of your country?

For Klaus Hengsbach, the opportunities that arise from the event are important: “xplore offers so much more. It brings the world a little closer together. Friendships are formed. And despite all the competitive spirit, people help each other and discover new perspectives. Aspects that are more valuable and important today than ever before.” Edmond Wempe also emphasizes that the ideas created in the competition can be developed to market maturity if they are promising. “Beyond the competition, we help the participants to become entrepreneurs. After all, the teams invest a lot of passion, sweat and knowledge.”

The xplore competition will continue in the future. “It is now firmly part of Phoenix Contact’s DNA and has become increasingly important, especially with regard to social responsibility,” Klaus Hengsbach is certain. “We invest a lot of time, energy and money in this competition. What we get back are motivated people and ideas. You can’t put a price on that with money.” (Paula Meier Galbete)

xplore Award TechEducation

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