'European Study Groups with Industry' – ESGI. Magne Egede and Jonas Dammann. Hanne Kokkegård, DTU Compute.

Businesses receive the lightning treatment at the mathematical modelling workshop

Wednesday 30 Aug 23


Poul G. Hjorth
Associate Professor
DTU Compute
+45 45 25 30 61

About ESGI

  • ESGI (European Study Group with Industry) is Europe's leading workshop that brings together mathematicians and industrial companies.
  • The workshops originated in 1968, first in England and later in many other countries in Europe and on other continents. The week-long meetings were previously known as Oxford Study Groups with Industry, where they attracted leading mathematicians to work on industrial problems.
  • The series of ESGI workshops is coordinated by the international organization European Consortium for Mathematics in Industry (ECMI), of which DTU Compute is a member.
  • In Denmark, SDU and DTU take turns hosting the annual workshops. In 2023, it was the 25th time the workshop was held in Denmark, and this year DTU / DTU Compute was the host.

Learn more at www.ESGI.dk.

Three start-up companies have received assistance in overcoming challenges in mathematical modelling as the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) hosted the annual Danish working meeting 'European Study Groups with Industry' - ESGI. The meeting also introduced students to new, different ways of working.

Photo: Magne Egede (left) and Jonas Dammann were two of the students at ESGI.dk

How do you minimize food waste in cafeterias? How do you save fuel on a flight route? How do you use data to improve indoor climate? These were the main themes of this year's edition of the recurring working meeting European Study Groups with Industry – ESGI. The meeting was held in Denmark for the 25th time.

This year, over 20 mathematicians from six countries gathered in Kongens Lyngby, Copenhagen, and a diverse mix of researchers, master's, and PhD students staffed the mathematical modelling workshop.

In essence, the concept is that companies – this year Cheffr, FuelVision, and Climify – present their mathematical challenges on the first day. The participants then form groups and work intensively on solutions from morning until late evening, leading up to the fifth and final day, which includes conclusion, presentation, and results.

Most often, and as was the case this year, the groups arrive at very concrete suggestions that only need a little further development before they can be implemented. Occasionally, the conclusion is that the mathematical task posed is extremely difficult to solve, and in those cases, the companies are provided with detailed explanations as to why, along with suggestions for moving forward.

Associate Professor at DTU Compute, Poul Hjorth, has been the coordinator for all 25 Danish ESGI workshops, and he is very pleased with the progress of this year's meeting at DTU: 

"I think it has been a phenomenal success. Like all research where you venture into the unknown, it's always a bit exciting because you don't know to what extent you will succeed. But once again this year, we have succeeded both mathematically and in providing value to the companies, which is equally important. At the same time, both master’s and PhD students have truly met our high expectations for collaborating to bring the latest methods to the table and to have a sense of what is important to the companies."

Interaction between researchers and businesses

According to Poul Hjorth, the strength of the meeting lies in the interaction between researchers and industry, as well as the rapid process towards a conclusion. 

"It has been incredibly instructive to meet people from different levels of the academic system. And it was fun to work in groups with former teachers and see how they approach problems and perhaps are better at staying in the problem phase, where we as students are more used to jumping directly to solutions."
Magne Egede, MSc. at Mathematical Modelling and Computing at DTU Compute

"As researchers, we get to test our theories in the real world and see if we can solve real problems. It's also a huge inspiration that we can use in our teaching and student projects. On the other hand, businesses provide a case and contributes some funds for coffee and food, so they get a relatively straightforward and almost free lightning quick treatment for a mathematical challenge in a week, instead of having to plan for a long process. That makes the workshop quite unique," says Poul Hjorth.

One of the three companies that contributed a task to this year's ESGI workshop is the company Cheffr, which focuses on minimizing food waste in cafeterias. Through an app, employees can notify the cafeteria kitchen whether they will be dining, allowing the kitchen to procure the right amount of ingredients and prepare an appropriate amount of food to minimize waste. However, the current mathematical models governing the calculations in the app have some limitations. 

After intensive group work, the ESGI participants have come up with three mathematical paths to pursue, much to the excitement of Cheffr's co-founder and CTO Jacob Østergaard: 

"It has been really good to participate here. We have realized that our data output is not as good as we thought it was. And much of our data is automatically generated and creates a lot of blind spots, which have now been identified. So, we have become much more aware of our data. We have also gained knowledge that we may have had as background knowledge, but now we can see that it also applies to data and simulation, and maybe we wouldn't have figured that out on our own," says Jacob Østergaard, supplemented by Cheffr's Product Owner Ulrik Sunesen: 

"There were good discussions, especially when the workshop started, which left us with a lot of new thoughts on how to approach the further development of the app. It has been inspiring in many ways, and it's been great to be in a place where there is an influx of so many smart people who have a completely different perspective on the real world than us."

Important external inspiration

The external inspiration is what provides valuable insights, says Simon Hoffmann, a backend engineer at the other participating company, FuelVision, which has developed an app to provide pilots with feedback to help them save fuel during their flights. 

"It has been very interesting and will help us optimize the model for planning fuel consumption for the aviation industry, so pilots can better see how they can improve their flights and potentially save fuel. It's also interesting to get input from people outside the aviation industry, and I'm looking forward to exploring the suggestions in more detail," says Simon Hoffmann.

The last company, the start-up Climify, emerged as a spinoff from research at DTU Compute. The company monitors indoor climate in buildings using sensors and controls the technical systems of the buildings, among other things, using feedback from users. During the ESGI workshop, Climify, according to CEO and co-founder Davide Calì, received confirmation that the company's approach to solving indoor climate problems has great potential. 

"The ESGI group expanded our model to further increase comfort for our residents, without compromising energy consumption. We are now awaiting the final report and look forward to implementing the model and temperature control in real buildings," says Davide Calì. He hopes that some of the master's students from the ESGI workshop find working with the models so interesting that they are motivated to base their theses on the work at Climify.

Students gain unique insight

This hope comes a little late for one of the participants in the ESGI workshop, as the workshop marked the end of studies at DTU for Magne Egede. He has completed the master's program in Mathematical Modelling and Computing and has defended his thesis, but he was short three ECTS points, which he obtained by participating in the workshop. 

"It has been incredibly instructive to meet people from different levels of the academic system. And it was fun to work in groups with former teachers and see how they approach problems and perhaps are better at staying in the problem phase, where we as students are more used to jumping directly to solutions. At the same time, I have strengthened my international network," says Magne Egede, who is currently applying for an industrial PhD.

Not quite as far along in the engineering education is ESGI participant Jonas Dammann. He has just started his second and final year in the same master's program and the workshop's working method was new to him as well. 

"Normally in class, you get an assignment and some numbers to plug into a solution formula, and you're done. Here, you first had to define the problem and then solve it. It's a very different way of working, and it was a super interesting experience," says Jonas Dammann.

ESGi-workshop, august 2023. Hanne Kokkegård, DTU Compute

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