Beyond the emergency room: seeking solutions to violence
lant layout, ergonomics, hazard abatement, production scheduling, R&D, Total Quality Management‹these are subjects you'd expect to encounter in a university's business and engineering classrooms, and you will find them in the curriculum of various degree programs at UB.
What you might not expect is to find UB down on the factory floor working on these same issues-and many others-with management and union teams who are trying to make their businesses more efficient and, consequently, their jobs more secure. The work is no class exercise: it's a real-world service that directly impacts the Western New York regional economy.
Since its founding in 1987, the Center for Industrial Effectiveness (TCIE) of UB's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has helped some 300 client firms beef up their production methods, hone their management techniques, out-maneuver their competition, and bolster their market share.
TCIE, headquartered at Baird Research Park on Sweet Home Road near the UB North Campus, draws mainly on faculty experts from the University at Buffalo, although its team of six business professionals, headed by Rebecca S. Landy, will look outside UB for help if it means a better fit between expertise and a company's needs.
"We broker services wherever they exist, be it at UB, another university, or through some appropriate agency," says Landy. "We're not going to force a relationship with someone at UB if it is not a suitable one. If RIT or one of our other educational institution partners turns out to have the right mix, then that's where we will turn to help the client. We are highly flexible and entrepreneurial."
TCIE services fall into three broad categories: training, operational/process improvement and R&D. The emphasis is on aiding the manufacturing sector‹whether the firm makes computer chips or axles.
In 1993, American Axle and Manufacturing, Inc., which makes and markets rear axle assemblies, forgings, and steering linkages for GM and other automotive manufacturers, came to TCIE for an assessment of what its training needs would be once 400 new employees joined its Tonawanda forge plant. The work with TCIE began just before the sale of five GM plants nationwide (including the Tonawanda forge plant and an axle plant in Buffalo) to a privately owned company.
"Basically they gave us a cookbook on what we needed to do to get up to snuff on OSHA rules, to get up to the 21st century with all the new people," says Kevin Donovan, president of Local 846, the United Auto Workers (UAW), at American Axle.
Projects can be funded entirely by client firms or partially underwritten by outside sources. Where financial support is needed, TCIE will direct clients to such funding sources as SUNY's Strategic Partnership for Industrial Resurgence (SPIR) and the Greater Regional Industrial Technology (GRIT) program.
For instance, TCIE put Buffalo Computer Graphics in contact with the SPIR program, prompting development of a training device for the maritime industry. By 1998, international law will require all passenger ships that carry more than 12 passengers and cargo vessels over 300 tons to have radio operators licensed in GMDSS (Global Marine Distress and Safety System), an advanced ship-to-shore communications system for emergencies, explains project engineer Kevin Williams. The new product simulates conditions at sea, allowing students at maritime academies to experience search and rescue operations in a realistic multi-ship setting, for example.
For other firms, TCIE has provided valuable guidance at a critical moment of transition. Mary Pat Ark, president of American Massage Co. in Silver Creek, was at first reluctant to accept the recommendation of the Western New York Economic Development Corporation in 1990 that she consult with TCIE on competitive factors facing the 30-year-old manufacturer of heat and massage recliners, electrical adjustable beds with massage and portable units.
"I needed [consultants] with real-world experience, not someone with highfalutin ideas, or professors in an ivory tower, making decisions for me," Ark says. "So I was skeptical. But TCIE came in and was able to match American Massage with the proper consultants. That was the nature of their incredible competency."
Through TCIE, American Massage became aware of and was accepted into the GRIT program. "Our GRIT project we're doing with RIT would allow us to change voltage for the international market," says Ark. "We're also working with UB on a related electrical R&D project."