BUFFALO, N. Y. -- In the mid 1980s, MRC Bearings of Chautauqua
County, N.Y., was losing experienced employees. Its production
levels and overall integrity were at stake as a generation of
workers began retiring, leaving difficult-to-fill holes in its
skilled labor workforce.
The company -- now SKF Aeroengine North America -- hired Adrien
Adelman to develop training programs at MRC through a grant.
Adelman, a University at Buffalo alum, called Colin Drury, PhD, UB
professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering, for help. Little
did Drury foresee that providing aid to MRC's Jamestown and
Falconer facilities would lead to creation of a center that
strengthens the enterprise performance of companies and nurtures
the skill sets of business professionals.
This year, UB TCIE is celebrating its 25th year of improving the
local economy by connecting companies with the UB School of
Engineering and Applied Sciences resources. Officially launched in
1987 in a storage room in Bell Hall on the North Campus as The
Center for Industrial Effectiveness, UB TCIE is now housed at the
Baird Research Park and serves businesses of all types and sizes
through technical engineering, consulting and training.
"As a public university and a public school of engineering,
there are some expectations in the community," says Robert Barnes,
PhD, UB Engineering chief of staff. "One of our strongest ways of
satisfying that is with the work that TCIE does."
An average of 80 companies call on TCIE for assistance each
year. Most are located within the Buffalo-Niagara region, though
services have also reached across New York and beyond state
borders. Professional development programs touched 1,400
individuals in fiscal year 2010-11.
"A major goal of TCIE was, and still is, to help companies that
are already here prosper," says Drury, SUNY Distinguished Professor
Emeritus. "This has created or retained thousands of jobs and kept
the region competitive."
At aerospace bearings manufacturer MRC, Adelman explained that
non-structured training was driving a high scrap rate and rework
Drury and a team from UB tackled a variety of manufacturing
problems at MRC over a few years, beginning in 1985. The team
included the late John Zahorjan, a Fisher-Price vice president who
became a UB Engineering faculty member; Don Arsem, associate
professor of management science and systems in the School of
Management before his retirement; and several graduate students,
including Brian Kleiner, now a professor of industrial and systems
engineering at Virginia Tech. They provided guidance in quality and
process control. They also delivered programs to about 150 MRC
Stories of their success traveled to the Western New York
Economic Development Corp. (WNYEDC), pre-cursor of Empire State
Development. The idea to replicate the consultative work aligned
with the organization's focus on keeping companies in town.
WNYEDC provided New York State startup funds to a new
collaboration between UB's schools of engineering and management.
Monies were used for two-day assessments of Western New York
companies facing hardship to determine how they might best be
"Dunlop and Motorola were planning to leave. We were the
instrument that showed them they could do things here," Drury said.
"WNYEDC came in and said, 'We can help you'."
During its first 10 years, TCIE created or saved more than 5,000
jobs in more than 500 Western New York firms. TCIE eventually
became sole property of UB Engineering and an advisory board
composed of business and economic development leaders helped
identify ways to strengthen regional development.
Small companies received greater access to TCIE services when
former dean of UB Engineering George Lee and his counterparts at
Binghamton and Stony Brook universities successfully petitioned
Albany lawmakers to provide outreach funds to the State University
of New York's (SUNY) three engineering schools. The result was the
Strategic Partnership for Industrial Resurgence (SPIR) grant, which
subsidizes technically advanced engineering projects for New York
State companies. TCIE has been SPIR's regional administrator since
"TCIE has always done a good job of visiting companies, trying
to understand what kinds of things are needed in the community and
doing their best to solve those problems," Barnes said. "But with
the added resources, they were also able to do some cost-sharing,
which made their services even more attractive."
Mark Karwan, PhD, who oversaw TCIE as UB Engineering dean from
1994 to 2006, pointed to a 1990s report showing an average
40-employee count among Western New York's 1,400
technology-intensive companies. For these small companies, he says,
SPIR and TCIE are "able to fill the gap in many cases, in providing
expertise on a project-by-project basis without the need to hire
expensive, full-time employees."
SPIR empowers companies to introduce new technologies, address
product development and testing challenges and enhance continuous
improvement programs. Those who complete the work -- UB Engineering
faculty and student assistants -- similarly experience
"TCIE facilitates real-world experiences for graduate students
to use their classroom- and lab-developed expertise," said Karwan,
now the UB Praxair Professor in Operations Research and SUNY
Distinguished Teaching Professor. "Faculty members have also
garnered case study experiences to bring to the classroom."
TCIE became a pillar organization of the newly formed UB
Business Alliance in 1998, which served as UB's primary center for
industrial outreach and economic development. The alliance also
included the Office of Technology Transfer Services, the Health
Care Industries Association and the UB Technology Incubator. The
alliance then transitioned into the Office of Science, Technology
Transfer and Economic Outreach (STOR) three years later, and TCIE
continued its affiliation with UB Engineering.
In recent years, TCIE has made a concerted effort to remain
viable by marketing itself beyond the traditional manufacturing
core. Its customer base has expanded to include health care
organizations, government and educational institutions, non-profits
and private companies in various industries. Consultation and
professional training programs in quality standards and process
improvement methodologies, such as Lean and Six Sigma, were added
to the lineup. By the 2004-05 school year, UB Engineering students
were given the opportunity to master the Six Sigma problem-solving
approach through a certification program placing them in Western
New York companies to tackle business-specific issues.
Over the past 10 years, TCIE's efforts have created or saved
more than 13,000 jobs. The center has been honored six times by the
National Association of Management and Technical Assistance Centers
and its descendent, the University Economic Development
Association, for projects resulting in significant gains. The
center received recognition for work completed at Erie County,
Saint Vincent Health Center in Erie, Pa., Delphi Thermal's Lockport
facility, Quebecor, Bethlehem Steel and OhmCraft.
In 2011, the center dropped "The Center for Industrial
Effectiveness" from its name to become TCIE and refocused efforts
on being a "bridge to excellence" by providing engineering
solutions, operational excellence through tailored services, and
"Company testimonials have made it clear that TCIE has helped
them become and remain competitive in local and global markets,"
Karwan said, "often at a fraction of the cost they would have
assumed had they gone to large, national consulting firms. Bottom
line – they get good results."
For information about how TCIE can assist businesses, visit http://www.tcie.buffalo.edu
or call 716-645-8800.