UB TCIE marks 25th anniversary
Colin Drury was one of the first UB faculty members to provide technical assistance to local businesses through UB’s TCIE. Photo: DOUGLAS LEVERE
In the mid 1980s, MRC Bearings in Chautauqua County 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 UB alumnus, called UB faculty member Colin Drury for help. Little did Drury, a professor of industrial and systems engineering, 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 marking its 25th year of improving the local economy by connecting companies with resources in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. 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 in Baird Research Park adjacent to the North Campus 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, chief of staff for UB Engineering. “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 also have 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 costs.
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, and delivered programs to about 150 MRC employees.
Stories of their success traveled to the Western New York Economic Development Corp. (WNYEDC), precursor 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 for a new collaboration with the UB engineering and management schools. Monies were used for two-day assessments of Western New York companies facing hardship to determine how they might best be improved.
“Dunlop and Motorola were planning to leave. We were the instrument that showed them they could do things here,” Drury says. “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 then-UB Engineering Dean George Lee and his counterparts at Binghamton and Stony Brook universities successfully petitioned Albany lawmakers to provide outreach funds to SUNY’s 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 1994.
“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 says. “But with the added resources, they were also able to do some cost-sharing, which made their services even more attractive.”
Mark Karwan, 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. There are benefits as well for those who do the work—UB Engineering faculty and student assistants.
“TCIE facilitates real-world experiences for graduate students to use their classroom- and lab-developed expertise,” says Karwan, now SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor and UB Praxair Professor in Operations Research. “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, nonprofits 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 academic 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 for 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 to being a “bridge to excellence” by providing engineering solutions, operational excellence through tailored services, and professional development.
“Company testimonials have made it clear that TCIE has helped them become and remain competitive in local and global markets,” Karwan says, “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 the center’s website or call 645-8800.