Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category

North Dakota’s Northern Plains UAS Test Site

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

When I was first invited to North Dakota, the plan was for me to visit the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks, but it was about 80 miles away from Fargo, and the Site’s Director was going to be out of town the week of my trip.

My first thought was questioning why North Dakota was selected as one of the six UAS test sites compared to San Diego, which is home to Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk and General Atomics’ Predator unmanned vehicles. I had given a presentation at the San Diego Lindbergh Chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International in the spring of 2013 while they were collaborating to prepare a proposal for being selected as a test site and was surprised when San Diego was not selected.

I posed this question to my host, Paul Lucy, the first evening we met during my trip, and he supplied part of the answer. It turns out that the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks had a long history of training airline pilots starting in the late 1960s and more recently expanded into training pilots for unmanned vehicles.

In December 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration selected North Dakota to be one of the six test sites, officially known as the Northern Plains UAS Test Site. According to the website, the mission is:  “Collaborate with FAA and industry partners to develop equipment, systems, rules, and procedures to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the NAS without negatively impacting existing general or commercial aviation.”

After I had written my other articles about North Dakota, I set up a phone interview with Nick Flom, Executive Director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site. He took over the position in 2016 after the founding Executive Director, Robert Becklund, was promoted to Brigadier General and Deputy Adjunct General for the State of North Dakota. However, Nick is not new to the center since he was Becklund’s first hire when the site was established.

Nick provided me the rest of the answer as to why North Dakota was selected. He said, “When they were preparing for the selection process, the entire state went into what we called the “one voice” effort by the Governor, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, and the Office of the Adjunct General of the National Guard, the University of North Dakota, and other organizations in the state. Over $20 million was committed to establishing the UAS Test Site because the FAA test site designation did not include any Federal funding.”

As a point of reference, he told me that whole population of North Dakota is about 775,000, and there are only three Congressional Representatives. The population of the City of San Diego, California where I live is nearly double at 1.4 million.

He explained that “the wide open space of North Dakota was a big consideration, and there is no restricted air space because of population density. The FAA also wanted to diversify the test sites to reflect extremes of temperatures, and North Dakota has some of the highest and lowest temperatures of the U. S.”

The UAS Test Site website sums up the reasons why North Dakota was chosen as follows:

  • “Unequalled history, legacy, and culture of UAS.
  • Immediate access to uncongested airspace statewide and custom tailored to support your research.
  • Diverse climate and open terrain.
  • Unified commitment from North Dakota and congressional leadership, local industry, and key business decision makers.
  • State grant program to match funds from industry-academia research.
  • Strong relationship with Grand Sky, a UAS Business and Aviation Park at Grand Forks Air Force Base.”

When I asked what are his responsibilities, he answered, “We have a couple of different missions to integrate unmanned vehicles into the national air space:  supporting industry as rules are being developed, providing the test environment for application-based processes in agriculture, building inspection, insurance claims, etc., and as an economic driver for agriculture and energy. We look at unmanned vehicles as an opportunity to diversify the state’s economy. Grand Forks has an Air Force Base that has underutilized space, and there was 217 acres in Grand Forks available to establish a UAS business park. The first two tenants in the park are General Atomics and Northrop Grumman. General Atomics has a flight training facility for their sales of vehicles to foreign countries. They were training their pilots to fly in civilian air space. Northrop Grumman flies Global Hawks out of the Grand Forks Air Force Base to support some of their military customers. We help support these capabilities and have the goal of flying beyond the line of sight using the radar system at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. Right now, when General Atomics is doing flight training, they have a chase airplane following along. When they can fly beyond line of sight, they won’t have to have a chase aircraft follow along and will be able to execute their mission at a lower cost.”

Nick Flom provided me with more detail about UND’s history of pilot training. He said, “UND started with two airplanes in the 1960s, and then added a helicopter program in 1980. Now, they have 150 airplanes for commercial aviation pilot training. They were the first university to add unmanned vehicle pilot training in 2010, and are now filling the increasing demand for unmanned vehicle pilots. They are the first university to offer a four-year UAS Operations Bachelor of Science degree in the U. S. We have a close relationship with UND, and we can leverage a lot of their research. The President of UND established the Research Institute for Autonomous Systems on the campus. The top leaders understand the importance of unmanned aircraft.”

Nick explained, “UND offers specialized training and curriculum development for UAS crew training and certification that includes human factors, safety management systems. It has an indoor UAS flight laboratory, a Predator Reaper Integrated Networked Computer Environment (PRINCE) simulator, a Predator Mission Aircrew Training System (PMATS) simulator, as well as a UAS Scan Eagle aircraft and simulators.”

From the University of North Dakota Aerospace home page, I learned that UND specializes in Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) research, education and training for private industry, government, UAS researchers and UND graduates. The UAS research collaboration includes:

  • “UND Institute for Unmanned and Autonomous Research (IUAR)
  • John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences
    • Aviation, Atmospheric Sciences, Computer Sciences, Space Studies, Earth Systems Science & Policy
  • UND Aerospace Foundation
  • Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NP UAS TS)
  • UND School of Engineering
    • Unmanned Aircraft Systems Engineering Lab
    • Robotics and Intelligence Systems Lab
  • UND Department of Psychology
    • Northern Plains Center for Behavioral Research”

From all of this information, I could see that it was entirely appropriate for the UAS Test Site to be established in North Dakota near University of North Dakota.

I asked Nick about funding for the UAS Test, and he responded, “The state of North Dakota has appropriated dollars to support the test center. We also contract with government agencies such as NASA and the FAA as well as private companies to do services for which we are paid.”

Before ending our discussion, I asked Nick what were the future plans. He answered, “It depends on the needs of industry. The ability to fly aircraft beyond line of sight is very important, along with the ability to safely perform operations over populated cities. Right now, it is one pilot per aircraft, but it may be possible to have one pilot flying more than one unmanned vehicle.”

In retrospect, I realize that San Diego County would not have been a good choice for a FAA test site as we have too much restricted air restricted air space due to three military airports, San Diego’s Lindberg Field international airport, several small airports spread throughout the county, and the Tijuana, Mexico international airport right across the border. In addition, the population of San Diego County is 3.3 million, and there is only a small variation in temperature from winter to summer. There is no doubt in my mind now that North Dakota was a good choice for being selected as one of the six designated test sites.

North Dakota Manufacturers Ride Innovation to Rapid Growth

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

On the second day of my visit to Fargo, North Dakota, we went to see Andy Dalman, President/CEO of Advanced Bone Technology, which is developing SimuBone, a product that replicates a human bone. SimuBone is the first product to combine internal and external geometrical precision with mechanical properties adaptable to customer specifications, providing the look, feel, and performance desired in a clean, biohazard free, consumable product.

Andy said, “We are only a three-person team now, working out of our own apartments because we are all still students at North Dakota State University. I was part of a professor/student team that performed the initial research starting in 2012, and I was the student. But, I am in my final semester. We have a patent pending, and the University owns a portion of the patent. The standard for device, therapy, and procedure development is human cadaver or animal testing. My goal is to reduce the need for cadavers in medical research, medical device design, surgical training, public safety testing and more. SimuBone has no biological components and can be manufactured on-demand at a fraction of the cost of alternatives.”

He explained, “We make artificial bone out of composite materials using additive manufacturing (3D printing). We can replicate many different bone parts for use in education. We can produce a model based on a CT scan, which can be interpreted into a 3D model in liquid silicone. We own all of our own equipment and have been buying standard equipment that we modify. We use some modified Foam Labs equipment now because we don’t need to go to very high temperatures.”

I asked, “What other opportunities exist? Andy responded, “We have the opportunity to revolutionize medical training by providing realistic feedback without using a cadaver. Right now, medical training uses plastic models – plastic melts or burns. However, orthopedic and dental are two of the slowest industries for adopting new innovation.”

He added, “Our vision is to determine what it would take to become an in body implant company. We have a feeder grant through the North Dakota Department of Commerce. We are “boot strapping our company and have raised $140,000, but our total investment has been $200,000 to date. Of this amount, $120,000 has come from North Dakota, and another $25,000 has come from a grant from VentureWell as one of their E-team members.”

When I asked how they are marketing, he answered, “We are still figuring that out, but we are reaching out to more innovative dentists and doctors. We are currently marketing for dental applications and allowing students to give feedback. The properties of the material are bio compatible, but we are currently working on out of body applications because it is a long approval process for implant parts. We spoke to orthopedic doctors before we were ready. We do know that our market will be high dollar and low volume.

Our next stop was Appareo, which designs, develops and manufactures innovative electronic and software solutions for original equipment manufacturers, as well as direct-to-market.

We met with COO David Batcheller and Brenda Wyland, Director of Marketing. Appareo has established itself as a recognized leader in the custom design, development and manufacture of innovative electronic and software solutions within the industries of aerospace and agriculture.

Batcheller said, “Appareo was founded in 2003 and moved into the NDSU Technology Incubator when it opened in 2007. We started designing and manufacturing flight data recorders for airplanes and helicopters. Once we employed 50 people, we built our current building near the incubator in the Research Park and moved into it 2010. In 2013, we expanded our manufacturing facility to accommodate a second production line, but we quickly outgrew our space and purchased the adjacent manufacturing facility in 2014.”

He said, “Appareo’s proximity to the NDSU campus played an important role in the company’s growth. We have access to the product of NDSU, which produces some of the finest minds in the nation. ”

He explained. “Through the creative application of cutting-edge technologies, we create complex end-to-end solutions that include both mobile and cloud-based components. We are an accredited FAA Parts Manufacturing facility and are ISO 9001:2008 certified. All of our products are designed, developed, built, and supported in the USA. While our engineering and manufacturing expansion takes place in Fargo, we continue to expand our engineering capabilities with teams based in Tempe, Arizona and Paris, France. Having Appareo offices in Paris and Tempe is critical for building upon our global presence, but we have an unwavering commitment to Fargo as our home base. We’re fortunate to have access to a rare talent pool here; some of the most passionate, brightest high-tech engineering minds in the nation.”

He added, “Contributing to the growth of our agricultural business is a joint venture with AGCO Corporation, the world’s largest OEM dedicated solely to agriculture. Under the joint venture, called Intelligent Ag Solutions, we develop innovative electromechanical devices and systems, as well as technology for advanced machine control systems. We are the only company controlling agricultural products by WIFI. We work with agricultural equipment manufacturers to infuse these technologies into their equipment.

We have developed another new family of products under the Stratus brand to meet the aviation needs to comply with the FAA mandate that requires all aircraft operating in airspace that currently requires a  Mode-C transponder to be equipped with ADS-B Out before 2020. This family of products, a portable receiver, transponder, and TSO charging port, provides real-time weather and traffic information directly to pilots in the cockpit.”

His concluding remarks after we toured the shop floor were: “We have established a trajectory of rapid growth, averaging a compounded annual growth rate of more than 45%.”

Then, we drove 40- miles south of Fargo to Wahpeton to visit two companies, Giant Snacks, Inc. and ComDel. At Giant Snacks, we met with General Manager Lucy Spikermeir. Giant Snacks is a manufacturer of large sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and most recently, pistachios.

Lucy said, “The President, Jay Schuler, took over his father’s business. We came out on our own to be only the second company to specialize in large seeds. We select sunflower farmers with proven excellence for growing large sunflower seeds. We work with each farmer during the growing process and monitor the seeds as they are processed, cleaned, seasoned, and roasted to perfection. We had the roaster custom built for us. We are using more and more robotics and automation in our plant.”

When she gave us a plant tour, I was quite impressed with the size of the tanks for the processing and cleaning of the seeds. They are huge – possibly 10-12 ft. in diameter and 12 – 15 ft. high. Their roaster is nearly as big, and everything from the transfer of seeds from one stage to another as well as the filling of the individual bags is all automated. There were actually only about 15 people working on the shop floor to do everything from processing the incoming seeds to packing the bags into shipping boxes. They design their own boxes so they can be used on their automated line.

Lucy told us, “For many years, Frito Lay was the official snack for all of the pro baseball teams except for Minnesota teams. The players really liked the larger size of our sunflower seeds and the variety of the seasonings. The Minnesota teams must have shared their snacks with other teams because we were called by the new snack manager of the dugouts asking if we could provide seeds for more teams. Now all but one of the major league dugouts uses our seeds.”

She explained, “We get out pumpkin seeds and pistachios from California, but our sunflower seeds are grown locally. In the upper Midwest, we have a 70 percent market share. We are experiencing big growth in Texas and the West, but nationwide, we only have a 15 percent market share. About 80 percent of our sales are in gas stations and convenience stores, but we are getting into more chain stores. We own the land, so we could triple the size of our building. We have 35 employees, but it is still a very seasonal business. January through March is slow for sunflower seeds. This is why we added pistachio seeds to our line. We are growing double digits every year, and we will continue to add new products and new seasonings.”

I really hadn’t eaten sunflower seeds since childhood, so had no idea of the variety of seasonings:  Dill Pickle, Toasted Coconut, BBQ Ranch, Spicy Garlic, etc. Lucy gave me my choice of flavorings for bags of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and pistachios, and my family enjoyed them all when I returned home.

Our last stop was ComDel Innovation, where we met with President Jim Albrecht, CFO Bruce Weeda, and General Manager Art Nelson. ComDel Innovation is a precision manufacturer that supports their customer’s commercialization process, integrating all aspects of product development under one roof. ComDel Innovation’s contract manufacturing services include injection molding, assembly operations, precision machining, fabrication of tooling and stamping dies, metal stamping & forming, thread rolling and metal finishing.

Jim said, “Our site was founded in the mid 1970s as a 3M manufacturing location, which was spun off to Imation in 1996. ComDel Innovation was formed when Imation decided to exit manufacturing in 2007. Many of our initial employees worked for 3M and Imation, providing a tremendous nucleus to form a company around. About four years ago, ComDel Innovation created an ESOP as a way to recognize the employees for their contribution to the success of the business. The name ComDel Innovation represents our commitment to deliver innovation and results for our customers. The value offered is in support of customer’s product development needs and providing high quality products. We operate in two buildings totaling 260,000 sq. ft., running 24 hours a day and 360 days a year. ComDel Innovation started with 60 people in 2007 and is currently at 275 employees. Much of our business is the result of working with customers in the U.S. Over the past few years we have seen opportunities to work with business that are reshoring products from other regions of the world.”

I asked if they are a Lean manufacturer, and Jim said. “We had great heritage, as part of 3M and Imation, where lean principles and the continuous improvement tools were taught and implemented throughout the organization. ComDel Innovation carries those tools and practices forward in support of our customers. We also utilize a Total Quality Management Program to manage the quality of materials we purchase. High-end computer-aided engineering software is integrated into our design process for custom assembly equipment, molds, tooling, and fixtures. CAD/CAM software is leveraged for our precision machining and grinding operations.

During the plant tour, I could see why ComDel Innovation is successfully capturing business and why businesses would consider them for reshoring product to the U.S.I saw considerable automation being used in their plastic injection molding, machining, and metal forming departments. ComDel Innovation utilizes assembly cells for low to high volume production. They use robots for removing parts from machines in the injection molding, machining, and metal forming departments. They have a Materials Laboratory to perform complete thermal and mechanical testing for thermoplastic resins and conduct failure/defect analysis. It is apparent they have invested a considerable amount of money in utilizing state-of-the art equipment and systems. This is the path that American manufacturers need to take to be competitive in the global marketplace.

As I ended my trip to North Dakota, I can envision the North Dakota Department of Commerce realizing its goal of expanding its manufacturing base by fostering emerging companies and supporting the growth of existing companies. With its very favorable business climate, North Dakota maybe able to attract companies from other upper Midwest states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

NDSU Research & Technology Park Leads Region in Job Creation

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

On the first day of my visit to Fargo, North Dakota, I met with Chuck Hoge, Executive Director of the North Dakota State University Research & Technology Park (RTP), which is “dedicated to enhancing the investments in North Dakota State University by the citizens of North Dakota. The development of facilities and research centers conducive to cutting-edge research is also part of the NDSU Research and Technology Park.” The Research Park operates a 50,000 sq. ft. technology incubator, which offers space, facilities, and services to technology-based entrepreneurs and businesses.

Mr. Hoge also serves on the Fargo Moorhead Growth Initiative Fund Board. Prior to the Research Park, he was president of the Ottertail Corporation Manufacturing Platform for six years, and before that, he was president and CEO of Bobcat Corporation.

Mr. Hoge said, “I was on the board of directors of the Park before I became Interim Director in 2013 and the Executive Director in 2016. The Research Park is a 501 (c3) corporation with its own Board of Directors. The Park is home to two NDSU research buildings, the John Deere Electronic Solutions building, and two buildings occupied by Appareo, one of our Incubator graduates.”

Explaining the purpose of the research park, he said, “The Park’s goals mirror those of the State of North Dakota. Our shared mission is to diversify the economy through high-tech STEM jobs, develop the workforce and provide valuable, in-state career opportunities for North Dakota students. In the past, many of NDSU’s 15,000 students were seeking well-paid, high-tech positions out of state, so we made it our goal to create those opportunities for them in-state. The Research Park has created 1,339 direct jobs, of which 52% are held by graduates of North Dakota colleges and universities.”

“In the Incubator, our mission is to help companies succeed faster, which is why we have two of our partner organizations in the Incubator; the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the Bank of North Dakota. The SBDC helps startups with anything from business plans to financial modeling and because the Bank of North Dakota is the only state-owned bank in the country, they have many programs aimed at helping startup companies.”

When I asked for information about the founding of the Research Park and incubator, he said, “The Research Park was founded in 1999 and the incubator in 2007. Our funding sources were a combination of private donations, a State Centers of Excellence grant and an EDA grant.”

Hoge, said, “The Bank of North Dakota isn’t the only state entity creating programs for local startups. The Department of Commerce’s Innovate North Dakota program provides up to $32,500 in startup funds to companies in four phases ? $2,500, $5,000, $10,000, and $15,000. In the last couple years, we had over 50 companies in the Fargo area use the program to kick start their companies with a great success rate. The program doesn’t only provide monetary support; the company founders attend entrepreneur training boot camps to network with fellow founders and learn from world-renown entrepreneur, Dr. Jeffery Stamp of Bold Thinking, LLC.”

He told me that the incubator has 12 current incubator clients and has graduated five companies:  Appareo, Fargo 3D Printing, Intelligent InSites, Myriad Mobile, and Pedigree Technologies.

“In addition to programs designed to target local entrepreneurs, we also have a student competition called Innovation Challenge, where $27,000 is awarded to teams of NDSU students with the most innovative ideas. Through three rounds of judging by industry professionals, the students are challenged to pitch their innovations through a written proposal, a trade show scenario and a mock fundraising pitch. We want to inspire students to think about entrepreneurship as a career path and we use innovation as the gateway to entrepreneurship. We had three companies get their start in Innovation Challenge last year and we are hoping for more this year. The program is financially supported by a combination of a University Center EDA grant, state matching funds and contributions from local businesses and organizations.

The Incubator Manager, John Cosgriff, has a background in venture funds, and he assists companies with intellectual property, human resources and raising capital. We have monthly founder meetings where the entrepreneurs advise each other and ‘Lunch and Learn’ events where founders learn from and network with industry experts.”

After I returned home, I was emailed an Economic Impact Study released November, 2016, and a few highlights are:

  • Its companies support an estimated 1,300 indirect jobs in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
  • Its companies employ 489 graduates of NDSU (37% of total RTP employment)
  • Another 202 are graduates of other North Dakota University System schools.
  • 107 student interns are employed by the RTP companies.

While at the Incubator, we met with Chad Ulven and Corey Kratcha, who are the co-founders and CTO and CEO, respectively, of one of the incubator tenants, c2renew, which “uses proprietary biocomposite formulations to design materials, compounds, and parts that satisfy demanding engineering specifications.” With this technology, it is possible to take advantage of lower-cost, renewable resources while meeting, maintaining, and even improving upon the mechanical properties required for a product.

Dr. Ulven said, “I was trained in advanced composite materials when I was in graduate school and at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds Army Research Laboratory. Then I became faculty at NDSU researching agricultural products for use as fillers for composites. I wanted to use a variety of materials and built several predictive models based on biomass constituent make up. I met Corey by chance, and we decided to take the technology out of the lab and spin it off to make products. We started working with big companies like Bobcat and John Deere, but the time to market was too long.”

He explained, “We decided to target companies that are focused on new products and started working with EarthKind to develop consumer market products using a PLA based resin along with flax fiber.”

They showed us some of the products where their materials are used:

EarthKind Pouch Pod – All natural repellent holder that uses flax sourced from North Dakota farms as the filler to the resin.

Bogobrush – An eco-friendly toothbrush where materials, production, and shipping all take place in North Dakota and the surrounding area. The company gives a toothbrush away for everyone bought.

Corey said, “In a partnership with 3DomFuel, we have developed a collection of bio-based 3D printing filaments called c2composites. Our expertise in biocomposite formulation matched with the expertise 3DomFuel has in producing filament means that anyone with a 3D printer capable of printing PLA can print with the following custom filaments:

Wound Up – a coffee plant fiber waste filled filament

Buzzed – made from byproducts of beer production

Entwined – made from industrial hemp

LandFilament – made from upcycled municipal solid waste

We have created many different biocomposites for various customers, but we had never created anything that was 100 percent done for us. So we thought about ways to take one of our favorite things, coffee, and use it in a new and innovative design. We developed the c2cup by creating a new biocomposite formulation that is a hybridization of a bio-based resin and coffee plant fiber. We then used this biocomposite to make 3D printer filament and printed the first coffee cup. The biomass resources we use are taking the waste off the hands of the producer to be utilized in a rapidly renewable manner. We use carbon rich byproducts that also have high lignin content that improves a material’s UVA resistance. We look at how we can meet performance specifications by finding a solution that is bio-based, renewable, and sustainable.

We have a 9,500 sq. ft. production facility in a nearby industrial space. We have at least two interns from NDSU at any one time that we meet through the Incubator and other meetings.

We now have experience working with a wide variety of thermoplastics including: PP, PE, PLA, ABS, ABS/PC, and PA, and a wide variety of agricultural inputs are possible as fillers:

  • flax fiber
  • wood flour
  • hemp fiber
  • sunflower hull
  • dried distiller grains with solubles
  • soybean hull
  • oat hull
  • sugar beet pulp

Our formulations are more environmentally responsible since the petroleum feedstock can be replaced with agricultural byproducts which would otherwise be left to decay in the soil or be sent to the landfill.”

Chad told me about the collaboration they are doing with NDSU researchers to spin out c2sensor, as a result of the “development of a micro-sensor made from biocomposites and non-bioaccumulating metals. He said, “The Sensing Earth Environment Directly (SEED) Sensor can be placed during planting for in-situ measurement of soil conditions, as opposed to current methods which often require a combination of direct (i.e. soil sampling) and indirect measurements (i.e. remote sensing).

Biodegradable materials used in SEED Sensors allow them to degrade after use where planted without adding toxins to the soil. Since wireless communication with the sensor is based on passive radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, batteries are not required for operation. This technology has been tested in lab and in field trials.”

Chad said, “The SEED Sensors provide:

  • Salinity levels for allowing adjustments as needed
  • Nutrient levels for variable rate fertilizer applications
  • Moisture levels to have more focused irrigation
  • pH levels to more proactively manage inputs
  • Real time soil analysis for end of year fieldwork
  • couple with aerial mapping via UAVs or satellite imager”

At the end of our visit, Chad said, “We also provide engineering services to help design, analyze, and develop plastic and plastic-composite parts for virtually any application. While we specialize in utilizing natural and recycled materials in place of virgin polymers, we also produce solutions with more tradition materials like fiberglass and carbon fiber.”

If c2renew is an example of the cutting edge technology of the startup companies in the Incubator, North Dakota will certainly be able to reach its goal of accelerating the growth of startup and emerging companies to expand their manufacturing base and keep college graduates from leaving the state. The Park’s website describes the success to date: “The NDSU Research & Technology (RTP) Park and its companies have seen tremendous growth over the last five years according to a survey conducted by EMSI in 2010 and repeated by the RTP in 2015. As of December 2015, there were 1,105 jobs at companies located in the park and 234 jobs at RTP incubator graduate companies located around the Fargo-Moorhead area. This is a 50 percent increase over the number of jobs at the end of 2010.”

It would have been great to be able to visit with more Incubator tenants, but we had other more established companies to visit the rest of the day that I will discuss in my next article.

 

North Dakota Focuses on Accelerating Growth of Emerging Companies

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

The last week of April, I visited the Fargo, North Dakota region as the guest of the North Dakota Department of Commerce’s Economic Development & Finance Division, which is charged with coordinating the state’s economic development resources to attract, retain and expand wealth. My host was Paul Lucy, former director of the Economic Development & Finance Division, and we visited several companies and met with heads of organizations working to accelerate the growth of emerging companies and retain successful existing companies.

For many people, the only impression they have of Fargo is based on the movie and subsequent TV series of the same name. I never saw the movie and haven’t watched the TV series, but have a cousin in Fargo who is always bragging about what is happening, especially what celerity is coming to perform. I learned that the Red River is the boundary between North Dakota and Minnesota, and about 230,000 people live in the greater Fargo/Moorhead region. It has one private and two public four-year universities, along with several community, technical, and business schools. With nearly 30,000 college students, it is a college town that rivals any in the nation.

As we began our first day of appointments, Paul said, “There are development projects in motion that have  a vision of making downtown Fargo a more vibrant place to live and work, which could lessen urban sprawl and result in more efficient investment in city infrastructure and services. An added bonus would be the preservation of more of North Dakota’s fertile farmland for agriculture production.”

Our first appointment was a breakfast meeting at Emerging Prairie, a co-working space in downtown Fargo. We met with Greg Tehven, Executive Director of Emerging Prairie. He said he grew up on a farm and is a 5th generation North Dakotan. When he was attending the University of Minnesota, he remembers that one of his professors recommended that North Dakota be turned back to the prairie because from 1930 – 2000 there was a “brain drain,” when the best and brightest left the state.

Greg said, “I never intended to go back to North Dakota when I graduated, but while I was an undergrad at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota in 2003, I co-founded Students Today, Leaders Forever. After graduating, I joined the Kilbourne Group and worked on a variety of projects to stimulate growth and entrepreneurship in downtown Fargo.

He explained, “I burned out and worked my way around the world in 2010. I had a Rotary Ambassador scholarship and got accepted to the University of Manchester to study social change in 2011. I had a year before I started school, so I worked for Doug Burgum for a year and discovered “urbanism.” When I gave a TEDx Talk in Minneapolis, I made a conscious choice that instead of studying social change, I wanted to practice social change.”

He said, “Three of my friends and I founded Emerging Prairie in 2013 to turn Fargo into a vibrant startup community. Our mission is to connect and celebrate the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Fargo-Moorhead. We do so by operating a wide variety of events and initiatives, such as the Drone Focus Monthly, the Prairie Den co-working and event space Hackathon, Meetup groups, and the Intern Experience. We have TEDx Fargo, an independently organized TED event, and 1 Million Cups Fargo, the largest and most active 1 Million Cups program in the country.

We support tech-based entrepreneurs. We are not very involved with manufacturing – most of our entrepreneurs are in software. We provide entrepreneurs: (1) a founders-only retreat (2) a platform to share their work and investment opportunities, and (3) access to consultants. I believe in transfer of information, but not a formal mentor relationship. We have to make it a “cool” climate for college students. We host midnight brunches and do a lot of weird and strange things. We have 144 members of our co-working space, modeled like a student union. We have no desire to maximize profits, but to maximize impact. Millennials are wired to maximize impact rather than maximize profits.”

He expanded, “We host the Ted Ex Fargo and will have about 2,000 people at the event this summer where the CEO of the Kauffman Foundation will speak. We host an Ecommerce conference in Moorhead. We support the drone industry and run a drone conference that started two years ago with 240 attendees the first year and 330 the second year. We expect about 600 people this year on May 31st. We host different other events and also operate an online publication that highlights the regions entrepreneurs and innovators that are turning Fargo into a flourishing tech hub. In 2016, we became a 501(c) 3 non-profit.”

Our next visit put what Greg has said into perspective. We visited the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation (GFMEDC) where we met with James Gartin, President, Mark Vaux, Executive V.P, Business Development, and Lisa Gulland Nelson, V. P., Marketing and Public Relations. Mr. Gartin said, “Our goal is to be a key catalyst for business growth and prosperity for the region. As far back as five years ago, we felt that we had a difficult situation because of our workforce and ability to attract new companies with our extremely low unemployment rate that is currently3.4%. Every time we get a RFQ, the first thing we get asked is:  Do you have enough employees? We made a commitment early on that we weren’t going to take away employees from our existing employers. While we still work to attract companies to our region, we realized that if we need to work with our two universities to change the philosophy from ‘research for papers’ to ‘research for commercialization’ to facilitate start-up companies.”

He explained, “We have funded Emerging Prairie since its inception and are helping them to support entrepreneurism. We attend and support 1 Million Cups, where the entrepreneurial community meets with K-12 superintendants, organizes manufacturing tours for high schoolers, and recruits companies to our community.

He added, “Governor Doug Burgum’s son, Joe Burgum, is committed to making Fargo the best place on earth to live. He founded Folkways that is a community-building collective dedicated to supporting the region’s culture creators. He created the Red River Market,  successfully lobbied to bring the ride-sharing service Uber to North Dakota, and puts on a course to help entrepreneurs launch local businesses.”

He said, “At North Dakota State University’s Research and Technology Park, there is great collaboration to make it a leader in developing Intellectual Property. Entrepreneur magazine ranked Fargo in the top 10 for entrepreneurism. We have a number of ‘0-60’ speed companies in operation, and a lot more that are on the cusp. The most important thing is that our senior leaders are seeing a difference in the growth of business. We modeled our approach after Brad Feld’s book, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, based on Boulder, Colorado. The start-up phase is ten years, and we are only 4-5 years into the program. Cities can’t push entrepreneurism. You can’t make people start companies, but you can help to build the ecosystem.”

The supplemental material I was provided revealed that the costs of doing business in North Dakota are around 15 percent less than the national average because of the following:

* Research and development tax credits

* Corporate income tax exemption

* Property tax exemptions for new or improved buildings

* No personal property or gross receipts taxes

* No sales tax on eligible services, manufacturing or computer/ telecommunications equipment

* Seed and angel capital investment tax credits

* Early-stage financing resources

* State-sponsored workforce training grants

The GFMEDC website states, “Some of our largest employers include divisional, regional, national and global headquarters & facilities for Microsoft Business Solutions, Bobcat Co., John Deere Electronic Solutions, Border States Electric Supply, RDO Equipment Co., Tech Mahindra, Titan Machinery, Nokia HERE and American Crystal Sugar.” The Microsoft campus came about when Great Plains Software, Inc. was acquired in 2001. There doesn’t seem to be a dominant manufacturing industry in Fargo, as the list of top manufacturers includes farm and construction equipment, power equipment, windows/doors, metal fabrication, steel, and composites.

We also discussed the challenges of solving the skills gap and attracting the next generation of manufacturing workers. Mr. Gartin said, “Tip Strategies out of Austin, TX did an economic development strategy study for us on how to grow economy and our workforce. We have funded the plan and are implementing it. We have some of the most unique workforce strategies in the country. Industry and education mesh. We have a very robust manufacturing Day that we handle. We have funded a Maker Space in Moorhead and helped NDSU create a Maker Space, job shadowing and internships. We have a Tri-College University consortium. Students can take classes and get credit at any of the colleges and pay the same rate. Last year, the two-year technical schools collaborated so that students can take classes at any one for the same rate.”

Tri-College University is a unique consortium that allows students enrolled at any one of its five member institutions to take courses at the others at no extra charge, and to apply the credits toward graduation requirements at the home campus. The five member colleges are:

  • Concordia College – Moorhead
  • Minnesota State University Moorhead
  • North Dakota State University – Fargo
  • Minnesota State Community & Technical College – Moorhead
  • North Dakota State College of Science – Wahpeton & Fargo

When I mentioned The Playbook for Teens program I have written about that mentors middle school girls to get them interested in STEM careers, he said, “We think it needs to start in elementary school in the second or third grade when students are starting to learn math. At NDSU, there is an Engineers in the Classroom program where engineering students work in classrooms to teach math. They matched first and second graders with an engineering student to work with them on project based learning. It was tested in an 8-week program, and every student jumped up two levels. This year, there is an engineering student in every classroom, and the students are about to be tested. This could be the opportunity to show that this works, so that we can apply for a Pew grant to fund the program.”

Mark Vaux said, “Our business development program is based on attraction, business retention, and expansion. We visit at least 150 companies on an annual basis looking for opportunities and challenges, so we can help them through the challenges and barriers to growth and recommend actions to take. If companies are buying new equipment or adding workers, there are state programs that will help them.”

Lisa Gulland Nelson described some of the Workforce programs they have:

  • Operation Intern – primary sector business are eligible for matching funds of up to $30,000 per legislative biennium or $3,000 per intern for hiring North Dakota college students or high school juniors or seniors.
  • New Jobs Training Program – matching grants to assist qualified North Dakota employers in training or upgrading their employees’ skills.

Overall, I was impressed with North Dakota’s policies to provide a favorable business climate for its businesses and wish that California would adopt some of these same policies. The Fargo region is smart to focus on emerging businesses to retain their college graduates and keep them from going to other states for jobs. My next article will cover the incubator at the NDSU Research & Technology Park.

Why Universities are Important to Rebuilding U.S. Manufacturing

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

The fact that more and more manufacturers are returning manufacturing to the U. S. or keeping manufacturing here instead of moving to Mexico or Asia is good news, but on February 23, 2017, President Trump met with two dozen manufacturing CEOs at the White House.

While they “declared their collective commitment to restoring factory jobs lost to foreign competition,” some of the CEOs “suggested that there were still plenty of openings for U.S. factory jobs but too few qualified people to fill them. They urged the White House to support vocational training for the high-tech skills that today’s manufacturers increasingly require…The jobs are there, but the skills are not,” one executive said during meetings with White House officials that preceded a session with the president.”

“We were challenged by the president to … come up with a program to make sure the American worker is trained for the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow,” Reed Cordish, a White House official, said after Thursday’s meetings.”

Training today’s workers in the skills they will need for the jobs of the future in manufacturing is important, but we also need to educate the next generation of manufacturing workers. We need more engineers to rebuild American manufacturing, and universities play a key role in providing this education.

Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. David B. Williams, Executive Dean of the Professional Colleges and Dean of The College of Engineering at The Ohio State University, located in Columbus, Ohio, to discuss the role universities are playing in rebuilding manufacturing and educating the next generation of manufacturing workers.

His official biography on the University website states, “Williams is involved in many university-industry economic development partnerships. He serves on the boards of ASM International, the State of Ohio’s Third Frontier Advisory Board, Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (formerly American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute), Columbus 2020, Metro Early College STEM School, EWI, Ohio Aerospace & Aviation Council, and the Transportation Research Center.”

Dean Williams said, “Ohio State University is a manufacturing R&D and training Powerhouse. Manufacturing is a critical part of the state of Ohio’s economy and accounts for 17 percent of the state’s GPD. It is also the state’s largest industry sector. We have partnered with over two hundred manufacturers in developing and funding research that can be used in their industries. It is a very important part of the college. We use the talent of our professors, graduate, and undergrad students and technology. OSU is committed to innovating applied research for product design, technology commercialization, and manufacturing for industry through its programs.”

Dean Williams mentioned that on October 1, 2016 the Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME) was designated as a new Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) affiliate organization, and that Ohio State’s MEP program will work directly with manufacturers to identify and execute growth strategies. Afterward, I was provided with information that states: “The Ohio State University’s Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME) will receive up to $8.6 million in federal, state and industry funding over the next five years to lead a program facilitating growth of small- and mid-sized manufacturing companies in the 15 county central Ohio region. The program is funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technologies, with matching funds provided by the Ohio Development Services Agency, which administers operations through seven regional affiliates.”

I found the information about Central Ohio’s manufacturing interesting very interesting: “The central Ohio manufacturing economy is comprised of approximately 3,350 self-identified manufacturing companies across the 15 Central Ohio counties. More than 90 percent of them have 50 or fewer employees. Many small and medium-sized manufacturing companies are aware of the growth challenges they face, but still require assistance to overcome them.” The size of companies is similar to San Diego County, in which 97% have fewer than 50 employees.

Dean Williams told me that the Center’s Executive Director, John Bair, is a successful entrepreneur, not an academic, and added that they had invited him to head up the Center after he had sold his company and semi-retired.”

He added, “We invite manufacturers to bring their problems to us, and then we put together teams of experts to work with them to solve these problems. The company gets to keep any of the Intellectual Property developed in the process of working together.

Dean Williams also said that Ohio State is home to the Ohio Manufacturing Institute, which “serves as a public policy mechanism for manufacturing within the state and nationally that facilitates the use of available technical resources for economic development.” He said, “OMI acts like a clearinghouse for Ohio to provide manufacturers with the tools they need to collaborate with a statewide network of technical resources. Its state and national policy recommendations reflect a thoughtful response to industry problems and issues OMI also engages in outreach programs that support manufacturers—from small to medium-size firms to original equipment manufacturers—by aligning with industries, academic institutions, technology support organizations and government.”

As an example, Dean Williams said, “We have had a long relationship with Honda since they moved to Marysville in 1978, which is about 45 miles northwest of here. About five years ago, we started partnering with Honda to help them develop solutions to some of their manufacturing problems. Their high-end NSX brand is currently made with advanced engineered materials and is produced at only a rate of 7-8 vehicles per day. They want to produce the Accord using the same materials and technology. At the Center, we have put together teams of experts to solve this problem.”

Dean Williams said, “Hundreds of students study abroad for part of the education. Their experience abroad strengthens their performance and helps train the people necessary to maintain and repair the machines. They are still lots of manufacturers in Ohio. We graduate about 2,000 engineers per year and about half of them stay in Ohio. There are 14 engineering colleges in Ohio, and we have the educational base to drive the 21st Century manufacturing.” Since the U.S. is only graduating about 50,000 engineers a year compared to the estimated 500,000 per year in China, Ohio State University is doing more than their fair share.

With regard to the next generation of manufacturing workers, he said, “A big part of the problem is that parents think manufacturing is like what it was in the past, so they don’t want their children to get involved in manufacturing. I was at SpaceX recently and met the chief welding engineer, and she was a graduate of Ohio State with a degree in welding. Young men and women can even get a Masters Degree in ‘joining’ through Ohio State’s online welding engineering master’s program: https://online.osu.edu/program/mswe. This discipline includes a deep understanding of the properties and testing of materials that can be welded.”

He said, “We are part of seven of the National Networks of Manufacturing Innovation (NNMIs). One of them is LIFT, which I looked up and found that it is “an industry-led, government funded consortium. By reimagining processes and procedures, the highly linked and leveraged network is facilitating technology transfer into supply chain companies and empowering the lightweight metals workforce.” Ohio State University, the University of Michigan in Detroit and EWI are the founding members of this NNMI consortium that was established February 25, 2014 following a competitive process led by the U.S. Department of Defense under the Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation (LM3I).

Dean Williams stated, “We also partner with the community colleges under an economic grant program to develop the existing workforce through continuing education. Overall, through a variety of programs and camps, we interact with 70-80 high schools on a semi-regular basis. One program is Hometown Ambassadors, where students talk to younger students at their High School alma maters to help them understand the opportunities in manufacturing today.”

Since Dean Williams is on the board of ASM International, it was fitting that Ohio State University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering hosted the ASM Education Foundation’s Materials Camps for two years (2013 and 2015). These one-week training camps provide the opportunity for high-school teachers to work hands-on with metals, ceramics, polymers and composites and learn how to incorporate these activities and demos into their science classes.

The Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT) was a partner with ASM International and the ASM Educational Foundation for the 2015 camp. “Curriculum content on the use of lightweight metals and new technologies [were] integrated into the programs at 45 camps around the nation…designed to enrich, stimulate and enhance the technical competence and teaching skills of middle and high school STEM teachers.”

Summer camps for teachers and students are important to attracting the next generation of manufacturing workers. More universities need to get involved with the summer camps and other programs of ASM International, the National Association of Manufacturers’ Manufacturing Institute “Dream it. Do it” program, and Project Lead the Way.

Advanced Technologies being developed at Carlsbad Gateway Center

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

For the last couple of years, I have been the guest of several economic and Chamber of Commerce organizations to visit their region to tour manufacturing plants and write articles about their region’s industries, but two weeks ago, I was invited to visit an industrial park right in my back yard ? the Carlsbad Gateway Center, a Makers’ place with over 80 businesses in a 16.5 acres business park (Carlsbad is 25 miles north of the City of San Diego).

Courtney Rose of Olive PR introduced me to Toni Adamopoulos, Property Mgr. of the business park. She said, “The tenant mix includes innovation, food production, health and wellness, new technology, in addition to standard and warehouse uses. The park’s small spaces, affordable rents, flexible zoning, and wide array of  allowed permitting makes it a perfect location for small, start up, and incubator businesses to get started on their road to success in a welcoming park-like setting. Besides technology companies, the zoning permits storefront businesses such as a bakery, coffee shop, craft beer, and Kombucha beverage.”

We first visited Emcraft Systems founded by Kent Meyer and colleagues in Moscow, Russia in 2012. Kent said, “We started the company six years ago to design, build, sell, and support ARM Cortex-A and Cortex-M System-On-Modules (SOMs), which are micro controller systems programmed with Linux.” Emcraft is a California LLC headquartered in Carlsbad, and with an engineering office in Moscow, near Moscow State University. Emcraft partners met in Silicon Valley in 1998 while working on a Posix real-time operating system, and the relationship has lasted across several companies and cities. Kent continued, “We have about 6,000 customers in 36 countries, all using our system on modules or Linux/uClinux kits. All of our manufacturing is done in the U.S. We use independent contractors instead of having employees, and we form teams to handle different projects for customers.”

He explained, “We are working to highly automate the effort of embedding Linux and ARM microcontrollers for the coming wave of intelligent systems. Our customers use our system on modules to speed their time to market, and we are optimizing the design and manufacturing processes to meet the pricing needs of the market. We have found a way to be very productive with our team of 20 local and remotely cooperating engineering contractors, with our main office and manufacturing based in the US.”

In addition to Emcraft Systems, Kent is involved in local STEAM education. He has worked with local schools and the Carlsbad Education Foundation (CEF) to teach robotics and programming to youth. CEF is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization that provides private support for public education programs throughout the Carlsbad Unified School District. The Foundation is also located in the Carlsbad Gateway Center.

We got into a discussion about attracting the next generation of engineers that is too long to cover in this article, but Meyer called the next generation the “Minecraft” generation because of the technological skills and interest learned through the online collaboration and building in that game. He started as a robotics coach over six years ago when his own kids were doing LEGO robotics with the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) for fourth to sixth graders, which was funded by the Carlsbad Ed Foundation. After doing that, he said, “We came up with our own little curriculum where the robotics could be used to teach interested kids in a very productive way, while also trying to find entrepreneurial ways to improve the ratio of students to technology to get as close to a one-to-one ratio with tech as possible.”

He said that they recently developed an “IoT Educational Platform” using Chromebooks, Linux, MQTT and Node-Red to see what kids might come up with when taught IoT concepts. The effort culminated in a presentation to the Carnegie Mellon SATURN conference in San Diego, where the kids showed a highly interactive MQTT platform of over 60 nodes all communicating and collaborating (robots, drones, lights, toys, etc) and connected to Skype and email over Node-Red. The effort won Kent and the team the distinction of “2016 Top Embedded Innovator” by Embedded Computing Design magazine. Click on this link to read the interview with Mr. Meyer after the award.

Next we met with Dr. Robert Boock, CEO/CTO and Co-Founder, of Glucovation. Dr. Boock previously served as the Senior Technical Director of Research and Development at Dexcom where he was responsible for managing the research and development of Dexcom’s CGM membranes and biotechnologies. He was part of the group that developed materials for Dexcom’s SEVEN PLUS. He was a co-inventor of G4 PLATINUM sensor and was a key player in its development and commercialization. He holds more than 44 patents and over 100 pending patents as well as having more than 25 peer reviewed journal articles.

Dr. Boock said, “Our company was formed to develop the most advanced Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) that will be affordable to those desiring to monitor their diabetes.” I have several partners, and we are now up to 12 people. They will realize development and work on licensing Agreements. We have signed a deal with a Chinese company and are negotiating a deal with another Chinese company.

He explained, “We are creating a technology that doesn’t require finger sticking. We are trying to develop a simpler but just as accurate method that doesn’t require any action by the user. We want to penetrate the Type II market, which is reaching epidemic proportions. Our product will prevent its escalation. We think that we will have the right product at the right time. Type I is 2% of the population, and Type II has escalated to an estimated 13% of the population. We would rather increase the breadth of our reach rather than make more profit. Outside the U.S., this epidemic of diabetes has the potential to bankrupt countries.”

He continued, “Dexcom and Medtronic are the two biggest players in the continuous monitoring field, which takes a reading every five minutes. They have only penetrated 15% of the Type I population. The future of Type I treatment will be the artificial pancreas (sensors within a pump).

He added, “We can also measure lactate which is a precursor to septic shock, and we could also monitor burning of ketones to know if a person is burning fat when exercising. We are developing a suite of sensors that will monitor five to six of the active metabolites.”

Finally, he said, “We are doing development in cooperation with our licensees, but we are the owner of the core technology. We should be moving into the Chinese market in 2018. The U. S. is more difficult because there is a PMA one-year review cycle after clinical trials, but in China it is only a six-month review cycle. We are doing trials in China, but haven’t started in the U. S. yet.”

Since I am aware of how long it takes to develop any biotech or medical device product before it finally gets to market, I found his last comment very apropos:  “We don’t do it for the money; it’s a calling.”

Our last meeting was with Martin Bouliane, founder and President of R&3D Engineering. He is a mechanical engineer who started his career in 1993 involved in product development. He worked with Cirque du Soleil for a while as a product designer. He was previously the owner of R&3D Engineering in Canada, where the company was primarily focused on consumer product design from 2000-2007. He moved from Quebec, Canada to California in 2007.

Bouliane said, “After moving to California, I worked for two medical device companies before re-launching R&3D Engineering as a U.S. company in 2012. The company was originally focused on medical device design, but some of my customers turned to me to help them get into production. I started working with robots that they purchased from Fanuc. A team from Fanuc visited our company and invited me to become an authorized Fanuc robot integrator. We now focus on custom robotic automation design and fabrication for about 75% of our business, and we have grown to a dozen employees.”

He added, “One of our biggest problems is finding skilled people as we need people who can make things work. We have a customer who makes desalination filters, and we started working with them two years ago and have designed a robot system to move the filters, which were heavy for workers to move around. Some of our local customers have been in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry for high volume production of disposables. We are creating a system for one company that dispenses oil, and are building machines to produce the blister pack for the oil.”

He explained, “One of the big reasons for advances in automation is that machine vision has become more and more advanced, so we can program the robots to do inline inspection. We also design and build the peripheral systems to surround the robots. The robot might be only 10% of the system, and we can configure the robot to do multiple tasks. More and more companies are benefiting from integrating robotics and automation into their manufacturing operations.”

This interview was eye opening to me because I had seen very little automation or use of robotics in local companies with which I do business. The main reason is that 97% of San Diego County Advanced Manufacturing businesses are companies with fewer than 50 employees. Another reason is that I do not do business with biotech companies as they do not buy the type of fabrication services I represent. I recruited Mr. Bouliane to speak at our upcoming March Tech San Diego Operations Roundtable event on the subject of the advances in robots, automation, Artificial Intelligence, and machine vision. He will also discuss the future of automation and robotics and give his opinion on whether jobs will be lost or created. There is a wide divergence of opinions on the answer to this question, so it will be interesting to hear his opinion.

CONNECT’S MIP Awards range from Pure Fun to Life-Saving

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

On December 1st, the winners of the 2016 CONNECT Most Innovative New Product Awards were announced at the 29th annual dinner event held at the Hyatt Regency Aventine in La Jolla.

CONNECT is a premier innovation company accelerator in San Diego that helps start up entrepreneurial teams become great companies in the technology and life sciences sectors by providing access to the people, capital, and technology resources they need to succeed. CONNECT has assisted in the formation and development of more than 3,000 companies since 1985. Lead sponsors for the event were Cubic Corporation, and JP Morgan Chase & Company.  Tom West, San Diego Executive Director & Regional Manager of JP Morgan Chase, presented CEO Greg McKee with a check for $200,000 to support CONNECT.

CONNECT CEO Greg McKee said in part, “This event gives us an occasion to celebrate what we do best in San Diego ? innovate. From genomics to robotics, Bluetech to biotech, and data analytics to medical devices the breadth of our innovation economy is staggering. In fact, it’s a quarter of our GDP. You, as innovators, matter. And, I would bet, that many of the products we see here tonight will have an equally profound impact. For over thirty years CONNECT has been, and continues to be, an organization driven by discovery, innovation, economic empowerment, and the opportunity to change the world. But, changing the world isn’t always about a single sweeping gesture or one grand moment, it’s hard work, it’s a blend of small insights and little steps forward, it’s about sharing discoveries and thriving on others’ inspiration.”

There were a record 111 entrants this year across the ten categories listed below. To be eligible, the product must have been first introduced after January 1, 2014, never been selected as a MIP finalist, and generated revenue from sales (except for free mobile apps and companies submitting for the Life Science Products – Clinical Stage category). Each semi-finalist demonstrated their products in front of an expert judging panel in early October, from which 30 were selected as finalists. The winners and other finalists were:

Bluetech:  Water Pigeon – a fast, simple, secure way to deliver automated metering infrastructure (AMI) capability without replacing existing water meters or building wireless networks. Water Pigeon is a graduate of CONNECT’s Springboard program and a resident of EvoNexus.

After winning the award, CEO/CoFounder Clay Melugin said, “The MIP award from Connect is an outstanding honor to win. With so many great startup companies in San Diego in all categories, being recognized for Innovation delivers a boost to our team as we continue to push forward on goals that improve the world. Innovation is clearly not dead in the US and we want the world to see how innovation emboldens a supportive city like San Diego.

The outreach from others after the award has been amazing. It is very inspiring when people take time to understand our mission and offer to help us continue the journey both as investors and people who simple want to help. This only happens in a vibrant technology community like San Diego where startups encourage and help each other move forward towards success.”

Other Finalists:

Diver6a life-saving diver tracking system used to wireless supervise divers position and monitor their vital information provides services and technology for government and industry with extensive experience and capabilities supporting complex scientific and maritime operations.

Planck Aerosystemsits flagship drone brings high performance, autonomous unmanned aerial systems to moving vessels previously only possible from manned helicopters.

Cleantech, Sustainability, and Energy:  Camston Wrather LLC – recovers gold, precious metals, and polymers from electronic waste using proprietary patents and green chemistry.

Other Finalists:

  • Measurabl – an all-in-one commercial real estate energy and sustainability management software.
  • SDG&E – a regulated public utility that invented the Renewable Meter Adapter (RMA) as an alternative for private solar rooftop customers to avoid costly panel upgrades.

Defense, Transportation, and Cybersecurity:  Cubic Corporationdesigns, integrates and operates systems, products and services that increase situational awareness for customers in the transportation and defense industries.

Mike Twyman, President of Cubic Mission Solutions, said, “Cubic is honored to receive the Most Innovative Product (MIP) award from CONNECT in the Defense, Transportation and Cybersecurity category for our inflatable satellite communication system. Cubic GATR’s industry-leading inflatable satellite antenna is changing the satellite communications industry and receiving innovation awards, such as the MIP from CONNECT, validates the push for innovation at Cubic. We look forward to continuing our support of CONNECT and fostering innovation in San Diego region.

Other Finalists:

  • B&B Technologies LP – developer of the DAMPS advanced magnetic suspension/propulsion shock mitigation technology R&D for the military, medical and professional/commercial markets.
  • Space Microthe Micro-STAR-200M is a space qualified sensor observing start and delivering precision pointing information to its host spacecraft.

Information Communications Technologies: Aira develops remote assistive technology and services that bring greater mobility and independence to blind and low-vision people in daily living by connecting them to a network of certified remote agents via the blind user’s wearable smart device.

The impact of winning the CONNECT Most Innovative Product (MIP) Award certainly marks an important milestone at Aira, including our place as a recognized technological innovator in the San Diego region” said CEO Suman Kanuganti. “We believe that San Diego, because of its supportive and engaging technological environment, is truly the best community for startups like Aira, and we thank CONNECT for the work they do to grow the region, and of our peers who continue to inspire and challenge us to be more competitive, smarter, and committed to thrive and succeed here in San Diego. Equally important, Aira’s winning of the MIP Award allows further light to be shed on the often-forgotten challenges that people with vision loss face on a daily basis in functioning in a sighted world, and how the power of technology and innovation can play a major role in alleviating these challenges.”

Other Finalists:

  • Creative Electron – the TruView Cube is an innovative x-ray machine used to count the number of semiconductors without the need to open protective cases.
  • Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. – The SnapdragonTM 820 processor represents a rare feet in the engineering and design of semiconductors, in which every major IP block in the system is a new and custom design.

Life Science Diagnostics and Research Tools:  Echo Laboratories Inc. – developed the Revolve, a new hybrid microscope that easily transforms between upright and inverted configurations, merging the capabilities of two instruments into one. Echo Laboratories graduated from CONNECT’s Springboard program two years ago.

CEO/Founder Eugene Cho said, “Winning the event was a big achievement for us. Just two years ago we were at the same event, sitting in the audience as Springboard graduates. It was incredible validation to our team of how far we’ve come since then.”

Other Finalists:

  • DermTech – a non-invasive gene expression platform that works with samples collected using DermTech’s Adhesive Skin Biopsy Kit to facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of psoriasis and other inflammatory skin conditions.
  • NanoCellect Biomedical– the WOLF Cell Sorter is the new benchmark for access and performance to make flow cytometry and cell sorting technology more affordable and accessible for life science researchers to perform cellular analysis, develop molecular diagnostics, and improve personalized medicine.

Medical Devices:  Onciomed, Inc.the Gastric Vest System™ (GVS) is a revolutionary, minimally invasive implantable device to treat obesity and diabetes.

Other Finalists:

  • Innovative Trauma Care – created the ITClamp Hemorrhage Control System which is designed to address massive hemorrhage – a leading cause of death in traumatic injury – by controlling critical bleeding in seconds.
  • 11Health – a connected medical device company, where all patented devices use Bluetooth® wireless technology to send secure real-time data to mobile devices, including smart phones, tablets and watches.

Pharmaceutical Drugs and Biologic Therapies:  ACADIA Pharmaceuticals, Inc. – NUPLAZID is the first FDA-approved treatment for hallucinations and delusions associated with Parkinson’s disease psychosis.

Bob Mischler, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Business Development said, “We’re honored that NUPLAZID was chosen as the winner of the Pharmaceutical Drugs and Biologic Therapies category. Even more importantly, we are gratified that this innovative treatment offers renewed hope to patients with Parkinson’s disease psychosis, a debilitating condition that affects around 40 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease, and the loved ones who care for them.”

Other Finalists:

  • Ardea Biosciences– Zurampic is the first new oral medication for treatment of gout approved by the FDA in 60 years.
  • GlyConMedics LLC – Pre-biotic (OZ101) tables advance the treatment for type 2 diabetes by providing an affordable and effective long-term ADD-ON treatment to existing SU therapies to improve glucose control, educe hypoglycemia and weight gain.

Robotics and Unmanned Vehicles:  Clever Pet – a connected game console that intelligently trains and engages dogs using their normal daily food automatically, whether their humans are home or not. CleverPet is a resident of EvoNexus.

We were honored to receive CONNECT’s Most Innovative Product award in our category,” commented Co-founder Leo Trottier. “We could not have built CleverPet without the support of the San Diego community and organizations like Connect. We see this award as validating a business and idea that when we started felt at best a pipe dream.”

Other Finalists:

  • NXT Robotics – provides service robots to support increased security monitoring and alerting requirements.
  • Robolink – aims to make STEM education accessible, engaging and fun for children and hobbyists by producing robotics educations kits and providing educational lessons that teach core principles of engineering and programming.

Software, Digital Media, and Mobile Apps:  Guru – an app that features beacon-enabled technology that interacts with smartphones to create digital experiences for museums, aquariums and zoos. Guru is also a CONNECT Springboard graduate and a resident of EvoNexus.

Hilary Srole, Project Manager said, Entrepreneurship is hard, so receiving recognition like this from CONNECT is awesome. Winning gave us a great sense of validation. Not only for us, but for the San Diego Museum of Art for taking a chance with us. It really feels good to show that their faith in us wasn’t misplaced. This whole process has been rewarding. Springboard’s mentorship has helped us avoid some of the pitfalls commonly associated with start-ups and has helped us to move in the right direction faster.”

Other Finalists:

  • Nanome, Inc. – developed the world’s first immersive and scientifically accurate molecular modeling tool in Virtual Reality.
  • South Doctors, Inc. – the leading platform that connects patients from around the world with the best doctors and facilities in Mexico.

Sport and Active Lifestyle Technologies:  Bixpy LLCthe world’s first portable and modular personal water propulsion device that runs on lithium batteries for snorkelers and scuba divers, with attachments available to motorize kayaks and standup paddle boards.

Founder/CEO Houman Nikmanesh, said, “We were absolutely humbled by our selection as a finalist for the MIP Awards by Connect. We were among some brilliant people, amazing products, and innovative ideas. So when we won, we were absolutely beyond ourselves. It has taken us more than two years to develop the Bixpy Jets and we have worked tirelessly on a project that at times seemed like a pipe dream. Winning such a prestigious award validates our vision and paves the way forward for us. We’re proud and attribute much of our success in our product development to being in San Diego. Aside from being the perfect hub for an outdoor lifestyle company, the San Diego startup and innovation community has been instrumental to our drive and success.

Other Finalists:

  • ElliptiGO Inc.the world’s first elliptical bicycle, combining the best of running, cycling, and the Elliptical trainer for a fun and effective way to exercise outdoors.
  • FlyDivethe X-BOARD connects to a personal watercraft for hydro jet propulsion, empowering riders to hover and fly above the water. It is the most advanced hydro flight system designed and engineered to support both beginners and professional riders.

It was a very exciting night for me because I had been one of Bixpy’s mentors in the CONNECT Springboard program this year. Bixpy graduated in July, and in only four short months, they conducted a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, were selected as a finalist, and won this prestigious award.

CONNECT has a built an unbeatable roster of over 500 highly-qualified individuals to serve as Springboard Entrepreneurs-In-Residence and Mentors who volunteer their time as mentors to help entrepreneurs develop successful companies. I look forward to mentoring more companies in the future.

 

Cincinnati’s Cintrifuse Connects Entrepreneurs, Big Companies and Tech Funds

Monday, December 12th, 2016

During my visit to Cincinnati earlier this month, I had to pleasure of meeting key people from Cintrifuse and a few of the regional accelerators. The website says Cintrifuse is “Where Dreamers, Disruptors and Doers Connect” because “the world needs innovation. Entrepreneurs, BigCos and Tech Funds need each other. An active network ensures they can connect. And at the heart of that network is Cintrifuse.”

At Cintrifuse, I met with Wendy Lea, who has been CEO since 2014, and Eric Weissmann, Director of Marketing. Ms. Lea is “an accomplished Silicon Valley executive with deep experience in marketing, sales, and customer experience.” Ms. Lea serves on several boards, including Corporate Visions (San Francisco) and Xyleme (Boulder) as well as still being the executive chair of Get Satisfaction (San Francisco.)

Ms. Lea said, “Cintrifuse was born to answer this question: What will it take to create a thriving startup ecosystem in Cincinnati? Cintrifuse is a not-for-profit public/private partnership that exists to build a sustainable tech-based economy for the Greater Cincinnati region. Our purpose is to advocate for entrepreneurs leading high-growth tech startups– attracting, inspiring, and supporting them on their journey. The goal of Cintrifuse is to lower starting costs of business, especially businesses with the potential for high growth and that are disruptive technology. The Cincinnati Business Committee wanted to see how they could be relevant and formed Cintrifuse in partnership with the City of Cincinnati and EY. They wanted their kids to be able to come back to Cincinnati. The Cintrifuse Syndicate Fund is at $57 million and invests in VC firms outside of the region with the understanding they (VCs) create a regional engagement plan. There’s no stipulation that they invest in Cincinnati startups, but just be involved in the ecosystem. This includes reviewing deals, participating in events, and meeting our Limited Partners (LPs) most of whom they would love to meet with anyway – Procter & Gamble, Kroger, the University of Cincinnati, etc.”

She said, “We own and manage a 38,000 sq. ft. building in the economic area known as “Over the Rhine.” We got the building mortgage free, but put $17 million into improving the building. We opened in 2012. We provide services to 285 members companies – advisory services (such as mentoring and office hours), connections to talent, funding, and customers, as well as operating co-working space in downtown Cincinnati. We are part accelerator, part incubator, and part co-working space to move a company to the next ‘Lily pad’.

Ms. Lea added, ” The ‘headroom’ at Cintrifuse is wide. There is a strong appetite for new technology, new ideas, and disruption. Cintrifuse is a census taker – 300 startups are on our database across industries. We have brought is $160 million into the region for their startups, and we give them lots of exposure to VCs. One of our success stories is Everything But the House, which started in Cincinnati. They just raised $41 million, and Cintrifuse made the introduction to their investors.”

She explained, “Cincinnati has more Fortune 500 companies than anywhere else outside of San Francisco Bay area, so we created a Customer Connections program to share information between large companies and small companies. Our Customer connections program is taking 15 startups to Israel to present “innovation briefs.”

She would like to see Cintrifuse expand all over the world similar to TechStars in Boulder, CO with which she was involved when she lived in Boulder. She said, “Tech Star is the largest global network in the world with 28 centers, and their graduates have created 800 companies. Cintrifuse hosted their   reunion of graduates called FounderCon in the fall of 2016.”

The next day, I met Jordan Vogel, now V. P. of Talent Initiatives with the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, who worked for Cintrifuse for three years as director of the entrepreneurial ecosystem., He gave me more background information on Cintrifuse, saying, “It was created by Cincinnati Business Committee, composed of the top 30 CEOs in region and  the Cincinnati Regional Business Committee, composed of about 100 CEOs of somewhat smaller companies. When Chiquita left, the leaders became concerned and asked “What does the future look like? What should it be? They decided they needed to promote the next P&Gs of the world. Entrepreneurship was the key. They commissioned McKinsey & Company to conduct a comprehensive study on what would make the Greater Cincinnati region more attractive to startup entrepreneurs and outside investment. The study revealed the region’s strengths and gaps. Cintrifuse was formed to leverage the strengths and fill in the gaps. There are four universities in the region, but there was no path to commercializing technologies being developed”.

He added, “Funding was needed, so they created a fund of funds. They raised $78 of which $57 million went into a syndicate fund. To be part of the syndicate, Venture Capitalists had to commit to take a look at startups and be committed to engage with two to four trips per year to the region to meet with entrepreneurs. The purpose was to create a food chain.”

According to its StartupCincy Resources page, “Cincinnati lays claim to one of the most vibrant startup ecosystems between the coasts.” Home to The Brandery, one of the nation’s Top 10 accelerators; HCDC, the #1 incubator in the State of Ohio; CincyTech, one of the Midwest’s leading seed-stage investors; Queen City Angels, a private, seed-stage venture capital investor ranked #2 in the nation; four universities committed to innovation; and now the country’s only faith-based accelerator – there is a ton of innovation activity in this town!”

The Cintrifuse webpage lists the following accelerators as collaborative partners:

  • ArtWorks CO.STARTERS (formerly SpringBoard) “is a nine-week business development program that helps aspiring and seasoned entrepreneurs examine assumptions and turn business ideas into action.”
  • Bad Girl Ventures “is an educational and micro-finance organization dedicated to inspiring and supporting women entrepreneurs in all the key elements of their business.”
  • The Brandery “is a seed stage startup accelerator ranked as one of the top programs in the United States. It runs a 4-month program in Cincinnati, Ohio, focused on turning your great idea into a successful brand driven startup.”
  • First Batch ”It is a five-month accelerator that is the first business accelerator in the nation to focus on scaling physical product companies using local manufacturing. Cincinnati’s long history as a center for consumer products, branding, and manufacturing make it THE place for growing a business creating and selling tangible goods.”
  • MORTAR was started by three minority community members in the downtown area called “Over the Rhine.” “It is called ‘Mortar’ because people are the mortar between the bricks of the buildings and the founders believe that the neighborhood’s residents have the potential to create booming enterprises – just footsteps from their homes.”
  • Minority Business Accelerator – “its mission is to help accelerate the development of sizable minority business enterprises and to strengthen and expand the regional minority entrepreneurial community. It works with companies under $1 million in revenue to connect them with large companies who want to diversify their supply chain.”
  • Ocean is a faith-based “accelerator for startup growth by focusing on the purpose that drives founders…and their companies.”
  • UpTech “is designed to attract and accelerate entrepreneurs who have the next big idea to make the world a better place. Its mission is to create an informatics industry in Northern Kentucky. It is especially well suited to support entrepreneurs who benefit from our partnership with the NKU College of Informatics.”

It lists the following incubators in the Cincinnati region, which also collaborate with Cintrifuse:

  • bioLOGIC is a life sciences incubator.
  • Hamilton Mill “is a Southwestern Ohio small business incubator for green, clean, water, digital and advanced manufacturing technologies. Conveniently located between Cincinnati and Dayton in the original pioneer town of Hamilton, OH.”
  • Hamilton County Development Center (HCDC) “is a nationally recognized startup incubator in Southwest Ohio that helps entrepreneurs launch successful innovative businesses. It just spun off an accelerator called Pipeline for water product development.”
  • The Northern Kentucky ezone (NKY ezone) – “It works collaboratively with several organizations that provide funding assistance to fast-growth, high-tech companies. Its team will work with you in assembling the necessary information, plans, and presentations to apply for these opportunities.”

Over dinner at Cintrifuse, I met with the heads of three of the accelerators, Matt Anthony and John Spencer with First Batch and JB Woodruff with Uptech. Two entrepreneurs also joined us for dinner, Konrad Billetz, CEO of Frameri, and Paul Powers, CEO of Zoozler LLC and Physna LLC. Frameri makes the world’s first interchangeable prescription frame and lens system. Mr. Billetz was previously part of the Brandery four month accelerator program in 2013. He said, “We got $20,000 as part of the program, and then we did an Indiegogo crowdfunding and got about $100K to get into full production. We were on Shark Tank in 2015, but we turned down the deal we were offered. We found a lens manufacturer in Dallas, TX, but still do some production in-house.

Mr. Powers said, “Physna is a member of Cintrifuse. I started Physna in December 2015, and we are developing software that will lead the revolution in 3D printing. I am also the CEO of Zoozler LLC that is about two years old. Zoozler is a tech development company (including websites, apps, digital marketing and media) and has an initiative for local startups requiring help in tech development.”

I connected with Matt Anthony by phone after I returned from my trip to find out more about First Batch. Mr. Anthony said, “I founded the accelerator in 2013 to overcome the gap between a well made early prototype and being able to make the first batch of product at manufacturing scale. Over the next four years we grew the program to educate and connect entrepreneurs to overcome the additional hurdles to scale, including legal, marketing, distribution, and more. We’re unique nationally in that we’ve focused on utilizing the strength of our local manufacturers, which tied with the heritage in physical consumer products and branding make for a perfect set of resources to grow new physical product companies. We operate out of a 10,000 sq. ft. maker space on the 4th floor of a former brewery, located in the “Over the Rhine” area. The program itself is five months of rigorous learning from regional experts, product testing, development, one-on-one mentorship, and $10,000 in funding to get into actual production. Companies must all come in with a working prototype and an understanding of their business to really get the most of the five short months. Some of our companies have been making their product for years and are looking to expand their production beyond themselves. The goal of the program is to get the companies into the first stage of production and actually selling products in order to set them up for future growth and funding.”

For example, one of their companies, Textile House, used the funding to make a couple hundred garments for their fall fashion line. They already raised an additional round of funding through a Kiva micro loan to bring their spring line to market in early 2017.

 

He added, “We started out with two companies in 2013, four in 2014, five in 2015, and six this year. We started this year in June and our 2016 class just culminated in a Demo Day on November 9th. We try to check in with graduates to continue to ensure growth, and about half of the companies each year choose to stay on as members of the maker space.”

When I asked him to describe how their program works, he said, “After an open application, our companies are selected through a series of interviews that end in a final juried selection. Once the program starts our cohort meets as a group twice a week, and one-on-one at least once, often with speakers, manufacturer visits, branding support, and other individual consultation sprinkled in between. We start the week on Monday mornings reviewing business concepts and readings, ranging from learning more about the types of entrepreneurial personalities via E-Myth, and later how to start prototyping and quickly testing product ideas via Lean Startup and marketing channels via Traction. We are primarily funded through grants and donations of time and materials, and don’t currently take an equity position in our companies. We look to help grow companies by connecting to resources down the line from ECDI, Queen City Angels, Cintrifuse, even other accelerators.”

With so many accelerators and incubator programs to nurture startup companies, Cincinnati is off to a good start to achieve its goal of re-industrializing the Cincinnati region. Other cities in the United States that were formerly major industrial centers would do well to follow the example of Cincinnati in setting a goal of re-industrializing their city to create more higher paying jobs and restore prosperity.

 

Cutting Edge Technologies Power Cincinnati Industries – Part 2

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

T, sensDuring the second day of my visit to Cincinnati, Ohio November 1st – 4th, I had the pleasure of meeting with Tony Canonaco, CEO, and Tom Rosenberg, Director of Marketing, at Balluff’s North American headquarters based in Florence, Kentucky.

Mr. Canonaco said, “With over 50 years of sensor experience, Balluff is a leading global sensor specialist with its own line of connectivity products for every area of factory automation. Our global headquarters is based in Germany, and our North American headquarters was established in Florence, KY in the early 1980s. Our products include  a wide variety of sensors, mechanical limit switches, rotary and linear measurement transducers, machine vision and RFID systems, and distributed modular I/O network solutions.  Our products are involved in making the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) work.”

As we toured the plant, I saw their sensors being used right on their own production and packaging lines, as well as for inventory control of finished goods. With IIoT’s promise of total visibility, we saw a great example right on their plant floor. IO-Link technology, an advanced point-to-point connection technology, was integrated into all their automated systems providing operators and management a continuous view of the process. With faster response to workload variations, Balluff now has a much leaner operation. Lean examples were also evident in their single-piece flow work cells. Products were produced in a surprisingly small footprint with high efficiency.

Mr. Canonaco said, “Many of our internal transitions towards Lean began during the recession in 2009. It was during this time, we realized that in order to better compete in the future, we needed to eliminate all types of waste and raise the level of productivity of the company. In addition to the change in their own mindset, we accelerated our New Product releases that focused on Automation and Sensing Solutions to help our customers shrink the size of their control panels, reduce their engineering time, and speed up troubleshooting on their machines. We started our journey to become “Leaner” and our customers were provided with new products to help them realize performance and productivity machine enhancements as a result of the recession. Nearly a decade later, this path has proven to be a win-win for us and our customers.”

An additional customer-focused effect of their Lean journey is with one of their most watched metrics inside of Balluff ? On Time and In-Full Delivery to the customer promise date. They consistently plan to achieve greater than 97%.

When I asked if they had a problem of finding people to hire with the right skills, he responded, “Finding people with the right skills and the right mindset is always a challenge and makes all of the difference. We require production associates for manufacturing as well as engineers who work in technical sales, marketing, support, and operations. We are involved with local work force development efforts to help ourselves as well as surrounding manufacturing neighbors. Balluff is an active supporter of National Manufacturing Day to highlight the attractiveness of manufacturing as a career choice. This has proven to be very popular with local middle and high schools. We utilize co-op students from select universities and have started our own Technical Sales Training program for recent college graduates that focus on how to best help manufacturers apply automation in innovative ways.”

We have our own accredited laboratory and a quality management system certified according to ISO 9001:2015 to form a secure foundation for optimized added value for its customers.

Our products increase performance, quality and productivity around the world every day. They satisfy prerequisites for meeting demands for greater performance and cost reductions on the global market. We deliver state-of-the-art solutions no matter how stringent the requirements may be.”

Our last plant visit was to TSS Technologies, located in West Chester, Ohio where we met with CEO, Marc Drapp, followed by a tour of the facility. TSS Technologies provides complex electro-mechanical assemblies and turnkey contract manufacturing solutions to the aerospace, life sciences, energy, semiconductor, solar, sports, consumer, automotive, as well as food and beverage sectors. TSS also builds automation equipment for themselves and other companies.

Mr. Drapp said, “TSS Technologies has been in business for over 65 years and is family owned and operated. We have a machining facility totaling 110,000 square feet and an assembly facility totaling 210,000 square feet. We have approximately 225 employees. We are ISO 9001:2008 and 13485:2003 Certified, as well as AS9100C Certified and won the GE Healthcare Excellence award.”

As we toured the plant, we saw examples of many of the above products being assembled or being staged for assembly for a couple new products coming online. Contrary to most contract manufacturers, Mr. Drapp likes to get involved with early stage companies to help them get into batch production and ramp up to full production. We saw a complete “bakery” producing shelf-stable pretzels that is an example of working with a start-up company to ramp up into full production within his facility. We each gratefully accepted two packaged pretzels and shared one when we returned to the conference room.

When I asked Mr. Drapp how the Great Recession had affected them and what they did to recover, he said, “The recession was tough on our company, especially our machine shop. We lost a lot of contract machining work to our customers that brought the work back inside their plants. On the other hand, it really allowed for us to right size our operation and allow for us to be more nimble in the coming years.

We capitalized on the tough times by reorganizing our structure and tightening our manufacturing processes. This allowed us to become more lean and efficient. Ultimately allowing us to come out of the recession quicker and better able to respond to customer needs.

The recession really allowed for us to take a look at TSS and what we wanted to be. It allowed us to focus on the right customers for our business. It also allowed us to focus on the right areas for growth. From a lean perspective, we have always practiced lean manufacturing. The recession didn’t really change that.”

From these stories, we can see that cutting-edge technologies and unique capabilities have been the key to these three companies surviving the Great Recession and now thriving. The rebuilding of manufacturing in the Cincinnati region is being  helped by the innovative technologies being developed at the University of Cincinnati and the other three regional universities and colleges. The collaboration of public and private entities and far-sighted leaders will enable Cincinnati to achieve their vision of re-industrialzing Cincinnati to create jobs and prosperity.

Cutting Edge Technologies Power Cincinnati Industries – Part 1

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

During the first day of my visit to Cincinnati, Ohio November 1st – 4th, I had the pleasure of meeting with key personnel from the Intelligent Maintenance System Center (IMS) at the University of Cincinnati:  Dr. Hossein Davari – IMS Center Post-Doctoral Fellow, Patrick Brown – IMS Center Program Director, Chao Jin – IMS Center Graduate Researcher, and Michael Lyons – IMS Center Program Coordinator.

Prior to my visit I had been provided with background information on how the University of Cincinnati evolved into what it is today:  “The Ohio Mechanics Institute (OMI), parent name of the College of Applied Science, was founded in 1828 as a private educational institution and the first school west of the Alleghenies dedicated to technical education.” This struck me because this was about the same time as the Lowell Machine Shop in Lowell, MA first started producing interchangeable parts for firearms sold to the Springfield Armory. I did not realize that Cincinnati was industrialized so early in the Industrial Revolution period.

“OMI operated exclusively as an evening college until 1901 when day courses on a pre-college level were added. In 1919 the day courses were revised into collegiate programs…In 1958 the college designated separate names for its day and evening operations, the day school became the Ohio College of Applied Science (OCAS) and the evening school was named the Ohio Mechanics Institute Evening College (OMIEC). The college merged with the University of Cincinnati in 1969 and offered programs in the engineering technologies and related areas with the aim of preparing individuals for careers as engineering technologists, engineering technicians, and managers in industry. The college began offering bachelor’s degrees in the early 70s. The name of the college was changed in 1978 to the OMI College of Applied Science and was shortened to the College of Applied Science in 2000.

In 2009, the UC Board of Trustees approved the creation of the College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS)… [to integrate] two predecessor colleges —The College of Engineering and The College of Applied Science… During the late 50s…advanced studies in engineering and research became the focus…to strengthen the college’s focus on graduate education. A joint project with the Engineer’s Council for Professional Development (ECPD), and local industry provided opportunities for young professional engineers to pursue graduate degrees without leaving their jobs. Both colleges and the City of Cincinnati have shared long and productive partnerships…through cooperative education assignments, research funding and graduate placement…”

Dr. Davari told me that the “IMS Center is a leading NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) that consists of the University of Cincinnati, the University of Michigan and Missouri University of Science & Technology.”

He said, “The Center has over twelve years of experience in developing and delivering Prognostics and Health Management (PHM) solutions for a wide-range of applications. The IMS Center’s mission is to enable products and systems to achieve and sustain near-zero breakdown performance, and transform maintenance data to useful information for improved productivity and asset life-cycle utilization. Since its inception in 2001, the Center has conducted over 100 successful industry and NSF supported projects, and has attracted over 80 members from all across the globe. The IMS Center was recently identified as the most economically impactful I/UCRC in NSF’s recent study titled Measuring the Economic Impacts of the NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers Program: A Feasibility Study. According to this study, the Center delivered its members $846.7 million in combined benefits over the last ten years.”

Dr. Davari explained the work of their Masters in Science and PhD students, “Graduate students in the IMS Center focus on developing innovative technologies and tools for health assessment, degradation monitoring and prognostics of machinery. Graduate students work both towards conducting fundamental research along with developing specific tools to address the needs of the industry. Graduate students get the opportunity to work closely with industry members ranging from manufacturing to energy and transportation applications. With a unique set of skills and experience in the field of Prognostics and Health Management (PHM), they continue to develop innovative tools and technologies and bring value to both industry and academia. The IMS Center researchers have also won the PHM Society Data Challenge five times since 2008. It is an annual competition organized by the PHM society and is open to researchers in academia and industry worldwide.”

Dr. Davari stated, “In 2012, National Instruments awarded the Prognostics Innovation Award to IMS Center for the development of Watchdog Agent Prognostics toolkit. Watchdog Agent consists of a set of algorithms and tools developed for degradation assessment and failure prediction of machinery and processes. The toolbox has been implemented in various industrial applications and has been commercialized by National Instruments as an additional toolbox for the LabVIEW software package.

I told him I could see how important preventing failure is healthcare because a failure could result in serious harm to a patient and even be fatal. When I asked him to explain what a “Digital Twin is, he said, “It is a digital representation of the physical system, generated by data-driven and physics-based models. IMS Center has developed a Cyber-physical Interface, through which the data is being collected from a machine continuously. This data is then processed and converted to machine health information using tools in Watchdog Agent toolbox. This health information is used to make informed decisions for optimum maintenance and near-zero breakdowns. It also continuously seeks for possible variations in the machine performance and provides insight into the current performance of the machine compared to its past performance, or its peers doing the same job. Digital twin basically connects the physical world to cyber world for improved visibility and transparency in machine operation.” He later forwarded me a link to a video describing IMS technologies.

Next we visited the Ceramic Matrix Composite Laboratory at GE Aviation and met with Jon Blank, Composite Matrix & Advanced Composite Section Leader, and Perry Bradley, Communications Leader, GE Aviation, followed by a tour of the lab.

From the material I was provided in advance, I learned that advancing the use of ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) has challenged industry for decades. In my day job as a manufacturers’ sales rep for fabrication companies, I had represented a company doing ceramic injection molding and a company making pre-preg layup composite parts for airline interiors in the 1990s. I was aware of the ultra-lightweight and super-heat-resistant properties of CMCs and knew that companies were investing millions to try to win the race to mass-produce this engineered material.

We first toured the Leaning Center where all the engine models GE has produced were on display. It was inspiring to me to see that advancements in technology incorporated into these successive generations of engines. Since I have previously represented companies that produced forgings and investment castings, I understood how advances in metals technology, particularly the use of Titanium, had reduced weight and improved the efficiency of engines. Since Solar Turbines in San Diego was one of my customers, I was aware of their work in the development of using ceramic molded parts in small turbine engines. However, when I saw the complexity of shape and size of the CMC turbine blades that GE Aviation is now making, it was astonishing.

Mr. Blank told me that “For more than 20 years, GE scientists in the U.S. and worldwide have worked to develop CMCs as a differentiating technology in large gas turbines for power generation, and in jet engines for commercial and military jet planes. Now their big bet is paying off as GE leads the charge to industrialize CMCs for large engine applications. GE leads the world in introducing CMCs into the hot section of jet engines and gas turbines and is creating the vertically-integrated supply chain necessary to mass produce CMC components.”

He explained why CMCs are critical to advancing the jet propulsion and power generation industries. “Components made of CMCs allow gas turbines and jet engines to run hotter, and thus more efficient. Ultra-lightweight CMCs also reduce weight throughout the engine, leading to higher fuel efficiency. CMCs in gas turbines and jet engines contribute to lower emissions and improved environmental performance. They create a significant economic advantage. CMCs are made of silicon carbide ceramic fibers and ceramic resin, manufactured through a highly sophisticated process, and further enhanced with proprietary coatings. They are one-third the density of metal alloys and one-third the weight.”

He continued, “CMCs are more durable and heat resistant than metal alloys, allowing the diversion of less cooling air into the engine’s hot section, and thereby improving overall engine efficiency. By using the cooling air instead in the engine flow path, the engine can run more efficiently at higher thrust. The average rate of technology progress for turbine engine material temperature capability increased 50 degrees per decade. With the use of CMCs, GE will now increase the temperature by 150 degrees in this decade, 3x the traditional rate. The benefits of CMCs are a 10% thrust increase and increased temperature using 2400F CMCs.”

He said, “In 2009, GE Aviation ran the first CMCs in the hot section of the F136 military engine. The CMCs were structural shrouds that direct air in the high-pressure turbine section, the hottest area of the engine. The results encouraged us to pursue CMC components with its next-generation commercial jet engines. GE worked to expand its overall CMC production capability. In 2012, Nippon Carbon (NCK) of Japan, a producer of composite fibers, formed a joint venture with GE (25% ownership) and Snecma (25%) called NGS Advanced Fibers, which produces fibers for CMC components such as the CMC shrouds. The next year later, GE Aviation expanded CMC “lean lab” operations in Delaware to develop new CMC components and the plant in Asheville, North Carolina was selected as factory to mass produce CMC components. Their lab was established in 2014, and in 2015, the Huntsville, Alabama factory was selected to produce CMC building-block materials [fiber and tape.]”

As we toured the lab and watched a couple of parts being made, he said “We have now established a fully-integrated CMC supply chain in the U.S. involving CMC raw material production in Huntsville, research and low-volume production here in Cincinnati, the CMC Lean Lab in Delaware, and CMC mass production in Asheville.”

Mr. Bradley said, “The LEAP engine for narrow-body aircraft will enter airline service in 2016 with CMC shrouds [18 shrouds per engine] in the high-pressure turbine section. This is being developed by CFM International, which is a 50/50 joint company of GE and Snecma of France. By the end of the decade, GE will introduce the GE9X engine for the new Boeing 777X under development. This engine will also feature CMC components in both the combustor [inner and outer liner] and high-pressure turbine sections [stage 1 and 2 nozzles, and stage 1 shrouds]. ”

He also said, “GE Aviation continues to run an advanced military engine through the U.S. government-sponsored ADVENT program with CMCs in the combustor and turbine sections – demonstrating the highest core temperatures in jet propulsion history. In 2014, GE Aviation successfully ran CMC turbine blades – a high-speed rotating part – in a F414 military demonstrator. This is a huge breakthrough for GE in pursuing the use of CMC in rotating parts because up to now, CMCs have been limited to static parts in an engine.”

Mr. Blank concluded, “This is all part of GE Aviation’s continuing efforts to further mature CMC technology for future commercial and military engines. The demand for CMCs is expected to grow tenfold over the next decade.”

We ended day one with a meeting with the directors of several accelerators/incubators and a few entrepreneurs in these programs in the region, which I will cover in a future article. I already covered meetings I had with key leaders in my first article last week on “Cincinnati focuses on Re-industrialization to Create Prosperity. Part two of this article will cover the companies I visited on day two of my visit.