Using Technology to Grow the Economy
Less than a year since its dedication, Michigan Tech's Advanced Technology Development Complex is already making its mark on the state economy. Built to commercialize technologies developed at Michigan Tech, the complex nurtures high-tech business startups—from initial research, to product development, to consumer sales.
Students Create New Technology in New Facility
Great high-tech businesses start with great research, and at Tech, much of that research is done by students. Last year, over 30 percent of Michigan Tech's intellectual property disclosures list student inventors.
However, with so many projects under development, finding a good place for them to work hasn't been easy. Now, the Ford Student Design Center in the Advanced Technology Development Complex (ATDC) provides fully equipped industrial bays next door to clean space for computer work and team meetings. Students can bring what they learn in the classroom to the production floor-right on campus.
In the Ford Student Design Center, students in the Formula SAE competition build scaled-down formula cars from the ground up. They can assemble a prototype in their garage space, walk through a door to the high-ventilation area to test it, and walk through one more door to an office area to prepare reports. Students run engine tests indoors and have access to a paint spray booth, chemical engineering fume hood, industrial equipment, and a four-wheel chassis dynamometer enclosed in an acoustic chamber to test their final design. Few if any US universities can boast having such a complete test- development facility.
While the facilities are impressive, the fact that they are designed to be shared adds to their value. As the Formula SAE students build their prototype, Challenge X students work with a stock vehicle to minimize energy consumption and reduce emissions. Another student team builds an outboard engine dynamometer. The facilities are spacious and open, allowing teams to work simultaneously and share their expertise. This cross-disciplinary interaction provides a ripe climate for innovation.
Endres: Revolutionizing Machining Technology
Mechanical engineering Professor William Endres hopes to slice through titanium faster, cheaper, and cleaner than ever before.
Through his business, Endres Machining Innovations, LLC (EMI), he is developing cutting tools and processes that can operate at dramatically higher rates-cutting titanium, nickel-based alloys, and hardened steels at twice the current speeds without reducing tool life.
In addition, Endres expects his process to use only 1 percent of the current volume of coolant, and he'll use tap water instead of traditional chemical coolants. The technology will not only reduce health and environmental hazards, it will also slash costs.
His work is made possible by funding from the federal Small Business Innovation Research Program. He's also a tenant of a section of the Advanced Technology Development Complex (ATDC) incorporated in the Michigan Tech SmartZone.
The Michigan Tech SmartZone was established by the State of Michigan to encourage high-tech business in Upper Michigan. It's among eleven SmartZones statewide that provide services and space for start-up companies. Through the SmartZones, the state aims to grow its technology sector and boost the job market for professionals, including Michigan Tech graduates.
Successful commercialization of Endres's technology could also prove a benefit to Michigan Tech's bottom line. Businesses spend an estimated $200 million on cutting tools for these materials annually, and capturing even a small percentage of this market would yield significant royalties for the University.
EMI also offers consulting, training, and testing services to help manufacturers and suppliers reduce costs, improve quality, and reduce time to market for machined and assembled products. As a result, Endres is helping small- to medium-sized companies increase their competitive advantage in the global marketplace.
Through its Strategic Technology Innovation Partnership Planning service, EMI also facilitates research and development partnerships. STIPP connects industry clients with research and development programs—like Michigan Tech's senior design program—to help them reduce waste and increase global competitiveness.
Industry, the University, the economy, and even the environment benefit from EMI. While its services improve processes for the automotive and aerospace industries, students benefit from the job opportunities and the chance to see the business of technology in action.
But it won't be at Michigan Tech forever. Ultimately, Endres Machining Innovations will outgrow its space in the ATDC and will move out into the community, making room for another high-tech small business.
Tech Invention Marketed Nationwide
Last year, Russ Alger's pavement coating gave Wisconsin's icy Wolf River Bridge a rare accident-free winter. Now, with corporate partner Cargill (which markets the coating under the brand name SafeLane), Alger and his team from the Keweenaw Research Center (KRC) have expanded the test program to nine sites with six different departments of transportation-from New York to Texas.
SafeLane, a blend of epoxy and aggregate, is applied on top of the road surface. In the winter, it soaks up the de-icing chemical spread by road crews. When bad weather hits, it slowly releases the chemical, which prevents frost and keeps freezing rain and snow from sticking to the roadway. Not only is the chemical there when you need it, making for a safer driving surface, but it also saves road maintenance dollars and helps protect the environment. Less salt ends up on the shoulder and in waterways.
Under the licensing agreement, Cargill, which manufactures de-icing chemicals and distributes them nationwide, markets SafeLane, and KRC manages its installation. Alger, a project manager/research leader at KRC (and a Tech alum), is considering establishing a spin-off company to train contractors to apply SafeLane. Meanwhile, he continues to research ways to further enhance his invention.
For the future, Alger envisions SafeLane solving winter maintenance woes at the nation's airports (it's currently being tested on a taxiway at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago) and at hospital entrances and university sidewalks.
Alumnus Wins $25,000 Governor's University Award for Commercialization Excellence
Glen Barna was a graduate student at Michigan Tech when his research led to the formation of IR Telemetrics, Inc. Today, he is the president of a worldwide technology leader in wireless data transfer from reciprocating and rotating components.
Barna is one of the first recipients of the Governor's University Commercialization Excellence Award, created to celebrate the successful commercialization of technology developed at Michigan's public universities. The high-tech Hancock firm has $1 million in annual sales and expects to create thirty jobs over the next five years. It counts Ford, GM, Caterpillar, and Cummins among its clients.
Barna developed the technology in cooperation with his advisor, mechanical engineering Professor Carl Anderson, and former electrical and computer engineering faculty members Doug Brumm and Rick Campbell. Michigan Tech's Corporate Services helped him to go commercial. IR Telemetrics, Inc., serves as a model of what can happen when bright students are encouraged and equipped to pursue research.