STEM Students invited to IKEA in Almhult, Sweden
In the final part of the semester-long project with IKEA, High School students from the Engineering, Product Design and Robotics elective classes traveled to IKEA Test Lab in Almhult, Sweden.
Students began the semester with a problem statement centered around improving IKEA warehouse workers’ experience of lifting large and/or bulky items. In their first encounter with IKEA, the students spent three lesson blocks generating over 100 different possible solutions. These ideas were reviewed by IKEA engineers and categorized into areas for further development.
Before embarking on a journey to the IKEA offices in Almhult, the students were invited to visit the IKEA headquarters in Delft for a tour of their warehouse, where they learned about the application and challenges of advanced automation systems. During this visit, students observed and talked directly with IKEA warehouse workers to better understand the complexities of the problem statement.
Following the Delft trip, students had a Rapid Prototyping session led by IKEA’s Innovation Lab Engineering Leader and an Innovation Lab Innovation Leader on school grounds. They paired down their brainstorm list and created initial prototypes using computer-aided design models, cardboard and Legos. Based on these initial designs, the IKEA engineers then voted on the best designs to move forward with prototyping in their offices, and invited those teams to meet IKEA engineers and designers in Sweden.
The visit to Sweden was packed with activities and information sessions showing how IKEA works inside-out. Students visited the Innovation Lab, an automated physical storage solution for customer carts for “Click & Collect”, and got an automated factory tour of IKEA’s kitchen cabinet door factory.
The “winning” prototypes students had been working on were revealed, and translated into rough, functional physical prototypes by the IKEA engineering lead: a customer cart lift and a 90-degree portable vacuum handle. Engineering and Design teacher Mr. Griffin shared, “To see students testing advanced, functioning prototypes of their own designs, which just weeks ago were rough sketches on a page at school… as a design teacher with 20 years of experience, this is a moment I’ll never forget.”
One of the key learning points of the trip was to show students how the tools they learn in class are applied in industry. For example, the same concepts of MicroPython programming and ESP32 boards (microcontrollers) that students in Robotics class learn about are used at scale by IKEA. In fact, one of the most common comments heard from students was “They [IKEA] use the same design cycle as us, just using different terms!”
This close and extensive collaboration was an excellent opportunity for students to explore design principles and problem-solving techniques, and witness how their classroom learning can be applied to real-life, highly professional practical settings. In the future, there may be potential internship opportunities for excelling students in Independent Studies in Information Technologies. American School of The Hague is grateful for the opportunity to collaborate and problem-solve with IKEA, and the school looks forward to ongoing partnership as our students work to become problem solvers and, in keeping with the school's mission, work to build a better world as we become better human beings.