INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION French and Chinese students gain cultural insights working in 3D

As China’s influence continues to grow in the global economy, so does the potential that Western and Chinese engineering students will work together at some point during their careers. Tsinghua University and the French ministry of higher education and research have therefore created a Center of Innovation in Beijing, where Chinese and western engineering students are learning to work together and gain appreciation for the strengths of their cultures.

A dozen French engineering students recently attended a summer camp in China, where they trained for two weeks alongside their Chinese counterparts, learning as much about the strengths of cultural diversity as they did about engineering. The opportunity was made possible by an exchange program jointly sponsored by the French institute AIP-PRIMECA and China’s Tsinghua University.


During the two-week program, mixed teams of Chinese and French students worked to design kick scooters, a project in the field of advanced design and manufacturing. The group with the most innovative and original design was awarded a prize. Students began with two days of general training on using their 3D PLM tools, followed by more detailed courses on mechanical and assembly design. Digital mockups, design methodology, manufacturing and simulation, and the design challenges of specific products were all addressed.

“What was interesting was to create multi-cultural groups and have the students work together on a simple project,” said Dr. Nabil Anwer, the French director of the PLM Innovation Center at Tsinghua University and an AIP-PRIMECA representative. “Presenting students from different cultures with a common challenge led to true international cooperation. It was enlightening to have them produce a tangible result together. Each group had detailed technical specifications as well as instructions to include something of their own culture in their design. It resulted in kick scooters that reflected a mix of Chinese and French styles.”

Effective communication is the most important thing; share your different thinking of a design and express it to other people.

Dong Huidong student, Tsinghua University


The Chinese students had strong scientific and technical backgrounds and a tendency to focus on every detail. The French students were generally more concerned with the overall picture. “The French students would ask questions linked to feasibility or manufacturability of the product,” Dr. Anwer said, “whereas the Chinese students would focus more on the technical aspect of the kick scooter. If Chinese students had doubts about French students’ suggestions, they would avoid telling them outright so as not to upset them. This is a unique aspect of Chinese culture and it was really unusual for the French students.”

However, students from both countries demonstrated their ability to overcome cultural differences and work together. Because the 3D PLM solutions used by the students facilitated information sharing, they were instrumental in fostering collaboration.

“The idea is the heart of a product,” said Dong Huidong, a student at Tsinghua University. “Effective communication is the most important thing; share your different thinking of a design and express it to other people.”

Far from being a weakness, cultural differences added value to the project. “We are complementary in a lot of domains,” said Thibaud Germain, a French student. “For example, Chinese students have a good knowledge in basic mechanism, which allows finding a large panel of solutions. It’s perfect for innovation. French students are more sensitive to the feasibility and the cost of manufacture. Thus, we can get some very interesting solutions by working together.” Xianjun Qu, a Tsinghua University student, added that, “French students usually think in a different way, and they are very creative. Working with French students, I learned to think in many new ways.”  

All students shared one disadvantage: the difficulty of working together in English, a foreign language to them all, but one that most of the students knew to some degree. Working in 3D helped to bridge the gap, becoming the common language for all.


The two weeks at Tsinghua University also gave the French students an opportunity to visit the school’s design and manufacturing labs, where they saw prototypes of products created by the Chinese students. Personnel from AIP-PRIMECA, EADS, Dassault Systèmes, Systematic Paris-region ICT cluster, Spring Technology, and the Office for Science and Technology of the Embassy of France in China also spoke to the students about strategy, vision and innovation management in science and technology, with a special focus on the aeronautics sector. Students even got to visit the design office of Airbus Beijing.

Working in 3D helped to bridge the gap, becoming the common language for all.

Students’ experiences proved enriching both technologically and culturally. “We not only discovered 3D PLM in the industrial world, but also we had the opportunity to learn about the many facets of Chinese culture and traditions,” French student Mathieu Bernier said.

“This project was very exciting,” Germain concluded. “I even forgot that I was working with Chinese students. We were a real team.”


is the French Academic Network in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, a national network that federates higher education institutions and is supported by the French ministry of higher education and research. Its objectives are to create synergy among the different member entities through resource pooling, knowledge sharing and skill reinforcement. AIP-PRIMECA also focuses on encouraging the development of innovative educational methods based on new information and communication technologies.
Chinese universities and AIP-PRIMECA have cooperated for many years. The establishment of the PLMIC, a joint Sino-French PLM Innovation Center at Tsinghua University, highlights this partnership for integrated design and manufacturing, as well as innovation through 3D Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) technologies.

by Dora Laîné Back to top