Interns for innovation
Melexis is encouraging innovation and drawing on the rich pool of local technology graduates at its newly-opened Innovation Lab.
Positioned in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel, the Melexis Innovation Lab is the latest addition to the Belgian company’s site in Bevaix, near Geneva.
The lab was opened in December 2022 and is a centre for pre-development of sensor technology products for the automotive, healthcare, robotics, and industrial markets.
For CEO, Marc Biron, the area is rich in innovation opportunities and young talent. Melexis operates an intern scheme which has a lasting impact for both student and the company, he says. “University students are gold. This pool of engineering talent holds people with fresh perspectives and a strong desire to solve real world problems. This is exactly the kind of people we need in our innovation department,” he says.
The Innovation Lab in Bevaix
The Innovation Lab aims to identify and develop sensing technology outside of the automotive market, which currently accounts for 91% of Melexis revenue. Biron is aiming for this reliance on one sector to be reduced to 80% as other application areas are nurtured. Automotive will always be an important sector but while the number of sensors in each vehicle has increased, to an average of 50 per vehicle, the value of each sensor has reduced to around $20, he noted. In mobile phones, the average value of sensors used is $0.50. He expects the lab to investigate the use of current sensors in solar panels and inverters, for example, as well as in healthcare for contactless temperature monitoring, industrial applications, in the form of haptic force sensors which can add intelligence to robotics, as well as in contactless torque sensors for motor control not to mention sensing devices in gaming, security detection systems, and audio systems. All of which were demonstrated on my recent visit to the lab.
During that visit, I met two recent interns who are now members of the Innovation Lab. Bruno Brajon was an intern in 2020 and is not a sensor design engineer, working on projects using the Elaxis contactless torque sensor, and Theo Le Signor, an intern in 2021 now working on robotic and automation projects using the Tactaxis sensor. He has contributed to seven patent applications.
Internships can be fraught with difficulties but Biron explained the ‘rules’. “To create an immersive experience for the student, a well balanced approach between autonomy, challenging projects and technical coaching is necessary. . . . As we need the impulses of the students, we keep the projects relatively open in terms of design and implementation. But to safeguard the impact, we maintain a clear objective: we must solve problem X for stakeholder Y by using technology Z”.
The last three interns, including Brajon and Le Signor, authored a patent and had the chance to present their work at a conference or write a scientific paper as author. With this experience, they could have easily found employment, said Biron. “The fact they opted for Melexis, shows how valuable our approach is, for us, but most importantly also for them. We love to listen. For an intern it’s very valuable to see that the company you’re working for is following your advice.”
The programme has benefits for both parties: an employer can evaluate the skills and potential of candidates on the basis of a tangible project. This gives far more insight than a classical HR interview, said Biron. For the interns/potential employess, they are able to maximise the learning curve. “They fast-track through the steps of product innovation: problem formulation, stakeholder interviews, concept design, concept simulation, realisation and verification,” said Biron. “On top of that they generate tangible output like patents, prototypes and publications”.
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