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Research centers flourish

Rochester Business Journal
March 3, 2017

This year marks two major milestones for Rochester Institute of Technology.

 It is the 25th anniversary of RIT’s Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies program in June, and the Golisano Institute for Sustainability will mark a decade in operation this September.

 GIS houses research centers, industrial programs and a training program. CIMS is part of GIS, and the program consists of in-house technical experts and academic, industry and government resources.

Research centers under CIMS are:

  •  New York State Pollution Prevention Institute;
  •  Center of Excellence in Advanced & Sustainable Manufacturing; 
  •  Center for Remanufacturing and Resource Recovery;
  •  Center for Sustainable Energy Systems; 
  •  Center for Sustainable Mobility;
  •  NanoPower Research Labs; and
  •  the Printing Applications Lab.

 This year’s anniversaries allow RIT officials to reflect on the progress of each initiative. There have been some recent big wins for both GIS and CIMS.

 In January, the Golisano Institute for Sustainability was selected to lead the new Reducing Embodied-Energy and Decreasing Emissions Institute.

 “The REMADE Institute is a huge boost for us,” said Nabil Nasr, associate provost and director of GIS. “We could never dream of having a national institute in an area that we’re very active in that we’ve actually been doing a lot of work in for many years.”

The new institute falls under the Sustainable Manufacturing Innovation Alliance, a consortium of over 100 research universities, national laboratories and industrial partners. 

 It is a $140 million manufacturing institute focused on finding new and less expensive ways to reuse, recycle and remanufacture metals, fibers, polymers and electronic waste, officials said.

REMADE is expected to bring a public-private clean energy manufacturing institute here to Rochester, fueled by $70 million in federal funding along with another $70 million in matching funds from consortium partners. The competition was held by the U.S. Department of Energy. 

 “All of the state support for the headquarters and RIT’s testbeds ($20 million) will stay in Rochester—in addition to a federal match for the headquarters (over $10 million). RIT will play a major role and expects to receive significant funding for its role as lead of the REMADE Institute,” Nasr said. “It is hard to estimate the annual funding that will be allocated to the university, however, since the funding will be based on annual project budgets and other factors not yet finalized.”

 There also is a good number of local companies involved in REMADE, and officials expect that they would benefit from the institute’s funding and projects as well. 

 “While we expect significant value from having this institute based in Rochester, having a hub for technology development, transfer and workforce development in such a growing field will bring much significant value in business attraction, spinoffs and opportunities for our local industries,” he said. “This institute will clearly put Rochester on the map as the home of the growing sustainable manufacturing, remanufacturing and recycling industries.”

 The RIT-led consortium includes Xerox Corp. and Caterpillar Inc.

 With the American Institute for Manufacturing Photonics, announced in July 2015, and the REMADE Institute, Rochester is the only city to be the headquarters for two Manufacturing USA institutes. Manufacturing USA institutes are a network of public-private partnerships between industry, academic and government partners.

 In 2011, CIMS helped to establish the Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster Initiative, which aims to increase economic growth and job creation in the nine-county Finger Lakes region.

 The initiative was created with the help of a Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration and the U.S. Small Business Administration. The state Department of Environmental Conservation also provided funding support through the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute. 

Total funding topped $1.9 million, officials said.

“What we said in the proposal was we really need to help some of these people that have been displaced from the Kodaks and Xeroxes that used to put a roll of film into a canister and cap it,” said Andrij Harlan, assistant director of operations for CIMS.  “Now how different is that from putting apples or peaches into a can and closing it up? These people have been doing a job like this for a long time.”

A big idea

GIS started as a big idea of Nasr. GIS was an outgrowth of CIMS and a chance to expand the work CIMS was doing, Nasr said.

 “They were looking for mega ideas, so the idea had been in my head for a long time,” he said. “That was the greatest opportunity to present it to the board of trustees. At the time, they didn’t really want to add more Ph.D. programs, because the Ph.D. programs were expensive.”

 Planning for and completing the roughly 225,000-square-foot facility was a three-phase process. The plan for GIS was formed as the recession lurked in 2007, timing some thought would hamper its progress. 

 “When we started, the recession hit in 2008,” Nasr said. “Nobody thought that we could do it because the whole initiative—we’re talking about a building and equipment that’s $50 million—and everybody thought you’re dreaming, but you’re dreaming also at the wrong time.”

 “I always had faith that we were going to make it,” he added.

 With strong funding support from Paychex Inc. founder, billionaire Thomas Golisano, who gave RIT a $10 million grant, and the Henry Luce Foundation, the Helen and Ritter Shumway Foundation and the Chester F. and Dorris Carlson Charitable Trust, GIS found its footing early and surpassed the expectations of  RIT officials. 

 RIT was also awarded a $13.1 million grant by the National Institute of Standards and Technology Construction Grant Program, and $15 million in funding from the state to complete GIS.

 GIS was the focus of a 10-year strategic vision for RIT. The main goals, including the level of esteem of the facility within the community, nationally, and even internationally, happened much faster. Over 120 people are employed at GIS, including funded faculty, staff, research assistants and student employees.

 “Our goal is to be the premier institute for sustainability as we focus on the industrial system and the built environment; that’s our goal—we don’t want to be in every area,” Nasr said.

 GIS was developed as a standalone institution without a model to compare itself to.

 “We didn’t have any courses. We didn’t have any faculty. We didn’t have any long range plan to how we were going to do this,” he said. “We were pioneers, so it’s not like there was a program out there that you can benchmark against. We had to develop everything from scratch.”

 With a chance to develop a program like no other in the country, RIT dared to dream.

 “We dreamed that by 2015 we would be a significant player in the industrial world and academic research, and we did it way earlier than 2015,” Nasr said. 

 The initial and ongoing mission of GIS is to be a resource for material work, design work and sustainability.

 GIS had a cumulative average growth rate of 28 percent from 2000 to 2006. In 2016 in revenue alone GIS grew by 40 percent. RIT declined to disclose the revenue total.

 “I think GIS has become a signature program for RIT,” Nasr said.  “The programs that we developed are top-notch. We’re seen as leading the nation in this area. I think it’s been a nice addition to RIT’s portfolio as a university committed to sustainability.”

 GIS is the first independent, multidisciplinary institute focused on sustainable manufacturing in the United States, RIT said. 

This year there are three particular focuses for GIS: REMADE, which has already been achieved, the industrial food system and sustainable mobility, an area that focuses ways to create sustainable transportation systems. 

 “It’s a no-brainer,” Nasr said. “It was to me at the time. We just cannot operate in a mode that we’re not worrying about supply and demand in terms of material consumption, emission, regardless of how big of a problem you think we have or how small of a problem we have, that model has to change to make sure that we actually understand the consequences of what we’re making. We can do it in a more efficient way.”

 Beginning of CIMS

CIMS was started in June 1992. During the 1990s, businesses were not as prone to work with universities as they are today, Harlan said.

 “When you come from a university, people think that you’re an academic,” he said. “(They ask) ‘what are you going to do? Do a three-year study and I’ll get a white paper when I’m done?’”

 CIMS officials told the businesses they were going to study the problems, provide solutions and help them implement those solutions, he said. “We were an anomaly to the university as well as to the outside; we’re kind of like in the middle of both worlds.”

 Remanufacturing has become a way for companies to have another revenue stream. Harlan previously worked at Xerox Corp. and recognized the company’s focus on remanufacturing there.

 “(Remanufacturing) was huge for Xerox; it was a cash cow,” he said. “It was unbelievable how much money we made in remanufacturing product, but people kept that a secret. It was competitive. Back then, and still today, money drives it all. We’re not tree huggers here or anything like that and neither are companies. 

 “They’re in business to make money; they will not just focus on environmental stuff to satisfy someone’s itch there—they’ve got to show bottom line that they’re in the black.”

 In the mid-2000s Harlan began to see a shift in how companies thought about remanufacturing, moving away from the American habit of throwing things out to thinking about sustainability—designing products with their future in mind.

 By 2010, companies started to work more with CIMS and GIS and to understand that pairing with an institution like RIT could save them time and money.

 “It’s a real paradigm shift,” Harlan said. “It was for the designers to think, ‘how do I make this thing last forever?’... As an American society especially, that’s the way we are—we throw stuff out. Other countries, they will sit there and they will figure out how to make it last indefinitely.”

 For businesses working with CIMS or GIS there is a lot to be gained, he said.

 “We’re really good at doing matchmaking,” he said. “We’re independent, unbiased. We don’t have that hidden agenda that says this is where we’ve got to go with this. We don’t ever endorse anybody … we say here’s the data.”

 Local companies have used GIS to further their business objectives. 

 “We reach out to our business community all the time,” Nasr said. “Many probably haven’t worked with us, probably don’t know enough about us, but we are definitely very interested in being a resource to our business community.”

 Impact on companies

Markin Tubing—a dba of Markin Tubing L.P. which is a subsidiary of Markin Tubing G.P. Corp.—has been using RIT’s resources in a variety of ways, including in a collaboration announced last month with the university’s Center of Excellence in Advanced & Sustainable Manufacturing. 

 RIT and Markin Tubing have been awarded a $30,000 grant for their project from FuzeHub—a nonprofit organization that matches small to midsize manufacturing firms in New York with business resources.

 Markin Tubing sees RIT as an extension of its research and development arm and works on two to three projects with RIT annually.

 “We’ve worked with RIT to identify new coatings, develop new manufacturing technologies, reduce our environmental footprint and assist with highly technical materials and product analysis,” said Daniel Cunniffe, president and CEO of Markin Tubing. “We’ve engaged them on conversations that we’ve had with General Motors and other automotive OEMs. We’ve engaged them on conversations that we’ve had with our global Tier-1 customers, and we’ve engaged them with our key steel suppliers. In these conversations, RIT serves as an extremely legitimate and objective third party. “

 RIT has helped Markin Tubing put its best foot forward in client meetings. 

 “To be honest, the things that we’re doing with RIT, the value that we receive from the relationship with RIT, is difficult to put a figure on. But it is clear that there is significant and tangible value in the relationship,” Cunniffe said. “In many ways we view 

RIT as an extension of our own organization.  The relationship provides us with a clear advantage over our competitors and it has helped position us as one of the leading small tube manufacturers in the world.”

 “There are so many ways that we can tap into RIT. I feel I’ve only just scratched the surface,” he added.

 Rochester Colonial—a dba of Rochester Colonial Mfg. Corp.—is based at 1794 Lyell Ave. The firm specializes in custom windows and doors and has worked with CIMS since the late 1990s. It is now interacting with both CIMS and GIS on three projects.

 “You get a great amount of substance in terms of the level of quality of people who are going to be working on your project,” said Tim Forster, division director of HeartWood Fine Windows and Doors at Rochester Colonial.  “And very personal service; they bend over backwards to make sure that you’re getting what you want and that you understand what you have, and if something doesn’t work they jump right on it.”

 One of the projects includes Rochester Colonial’s new invention: FoldUp. The new model window was tested using the tools at GIS. 

 “With the FoldUp window, we had various options to think about. We knew we had something that was unique,” Forster said. “We ended up building it, and it was a successful project. We got great feedback from it, but we realized we had done so without really an awful lot of time to think through the design or development of the design.”

 The most common uses for FoldUp include screen rooms, porches, and pass-through windows for residential homes. Commercially the FoldUp window is used on storefronts.

 The FoldUp window was launched in 2013. The Sherwood Inn in Skaneateles was the first customer to use the innovative design.

 RIT tested the window for safety, ease of use, durability, and also to better understand the window’s entire range of operation, including the balancing forces involving the number and weight of the springs. 

 “They set a team up and developed a very complex but a very complete mathematical model that predicts the motion and forces on the window throughout its entire range of operation,” Forster said. “What that tells us in this case is how big can the window be before the operational forces become either unsafe or untenable for a user.”

 Small businesses have a lot to gain from working with RIT, Forster said. The industry experience of employees at GIS and CIMS is significant.

 “I think people who are small might benefit more, because who can afford Ph.D.s to come in and work on their staff?” Forster said. “It’s almost like they’re on retainer, meaning we see them as a resource in the community whom we can call on.”

 Looking ahead

The recent change of administration in Washington is not expected to alter the goals of GIS or CIMS, Nasr said. 

Remanufacturing and sustainability are critical to the economy and will remain that way, he said.

 “We think that once Washington figures out the plan going forward, there’s no doubt that they will see that this work results in more efficiency, less dependence on foreign material, and stuff like that is going to help job creation,” he said. 

 “(It) is going to help our competitiveness, so I can’t imagine that will be a challenge. Our industry demands that we need to be competitive with the rest of the world,” he said. “A lot of this stuff is good for the economy, it’s good for job creation, it’s good for America in general and industry is demanding it.”

 3/3/2017 (c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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