Connections to Industry Helped RIT Grow into National University
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Source: Research at RIT
In 1885, John Bausch and Henry Lomb faced a serious problem. The company they founded in 1853 had become the largest optical company in the world, but they were having difficulty finding the skilled workers needed. They knew that in Europe, technical institutes supplied a ready stream of qualified personnel. They determined that Rochester should have such a school.
Others concurred. Mechanics Institute—the forerunner of Rochester Institute of Technology—was launched when more than 50 industry leaders and prominent Rochesterians came together to establish “free evening schools for instruction in … studies as are most important for industrial pursuits.”
Since then, RIT has grown into an internationally known university while preserving a focus on career-oriented academic programs and practical, applied research. The university has continued to create curricula that align with the needs of industry, including pioneering degree programs in imaging science, biotechnology, microelectronics, technical communication, information technology, diagnostic medical sonography (ultrasound), game design and development, packaging science, telecommunications engineering technology, photographic sciences, sustainability, and many other areas.
Today, RIT graduates find positions in companies all over the world and embark on entrepreneurial endeavors. Hundreds of businesses and government agencies come to the university to work on projects with students and faculty every year. The Princeton Review listed RIT in the 2017 edition of its book Colleges That Pay You Back: The 200 Schools That Give You the Best Bang for Your Tuition Buck, noting, “Employers trust the RIT brand implicitly, and the school stresses experiential learning and creativity as a part of every curriculum.
Over the past three decades, RIT’s connections to industry have expanded tremendously with the launch of numerous research centers and initiatives. This explosion of growth can be traced to the late 1980s, when former President M. Richard Rose championed the creation of the Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies (CIMS).
“President Rose felt there were ways we could contribute to the regional economy and manufacturing by leveraging our expertise to help businesses,” recalled Deborah Stendardi, vice president for Government and Community Relations. At that time, New York state officials, concerned about the decline of manufacturing, were looking to educational institutions for ideas. RIT presented a detailed proposal for creating an applied research and training center to help smalland medium-size manufacturers titled “Technology Transfer and Education: The Keys to Restoring America’s Competitive Edge in Manufacturing.”
“Historically, RIT was not known as a research institution,” said Stendardi, “but we worked hard to introduce our elected officials to the kind of work that was being done at RIT and how it could support manufacturing. We received tremendous support from our state and federal legislators. They deserve kudos for having faith in RIT’s ability to deliver what we promised.”
The effort paid off. In 1992, then- Gov. Mario Cuomo signed the Higher Education Advanced Technology Act, which made available about $95 million to institutions including RIT, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Fordham, Cornell, Columbia, and Syracuse universities. “This was the first time that RIT was part of state funding that included major research universities,” said Stendardi. “It really did put RIT on the map as an institution that does research.”
RIT ultimately received $10 million from the state, plus $11.25 million from the federal government, to launch CIMS. In addition, Kodak, Gleason, Xerox, IBM, Bausch & Lomb, and many other companies contributed more than $8 million. In 1996, CIMS moved into a new, 157,000-squarefoot, state-of-the-art building.
CIMS differed from RIT’s colleges and academic units in that its primary mission was to provide technology development and transfer to businesses to help them grow and thrive. CIMS was to be selfsustaining, like a business: Its operating costs were and are covered by funding received from the organizations with which it works. The industrial bays and specialized labs at CIMS were quickly engaged in providing training, applied research, and testing of manufacturing technologies of practical, immediate use to companies. Existing faculty, co-op students, and staff engineers with industry experience provided the manpower.
Meanwhile, Nabil Nasr, then the Earl W. Brinkman Professor in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, was developing a reputation for his pioneering work in sustainable design, lifecycle engineering, resource recovery, and remanufacturing— all aspects of sustainable manufacturing. He led the creation of the Center for Remanufacturing and Resource Recovery (C3R) and moved it into the new CIMS facility.
“Remanufacturing seemed to be a unique aspect RIT could bring to industry,” said Stendardi. “C3R became one of the real drivers in CIMS.”
“When I started, there was very little work being done in this area,” said Nasr, who was named director of CIMS in 2002. Many universities were working on recycling, but “remanufacturing”—the process of re-engineering components and equipment to extend their useful life—was an untapped area.
Nasr wanted RIT to become a very serious entity in all areas of sustainable manufacturing.
“We have focused on projects that reduce the use of hazardous materials in production, expand the quality and implementation of remanufacturing processes, and we have worked to design production systems that are completely closed-loop with no waste product and feature reuse of all materials,” Nasr said.
“Through our partnerships with industry, government, and non-governmental agencies, we seek to develop new technologies that will assist in implementing sustainable processes in industry while also disseminating knowledge, education, and training in the field.”
Nasr founded the Remanufacturing Industries Council (RIC), wrote articles and traveled around the U.S. and the world speaking to industry organizations and government forums. Bill Davies, president of the Albany-based Davies Office, was one of many who got the message. He met Nasr two decades ago at an industry conference and continues to keep in close contact.
“We commissioned Nabil to do a study,” said Davies, whose company—founded in 1948 by his grandfather—has grown to be the nation’s largest office-furniture remanufacturer. A team from C3R spent 18 months working with Davies, documenting the economic and environmental benefits of their processes and products. They determined that one year of office-panel remanufacturing conserved about 8.5 million pounds of raw materials and prevented the release of more than 6.9 million pounds of carbon dioxide. “We always knew we were doing the right thing, but we needed third-party validation,” said Davies. Through the initial study and subsequent work with RIT, Davies became the first remanufacturer to earn sustainability certification from the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association (BIFMA), which takes into account a company’s social actions, energy usage, material selection, and human and ecosystem health impacts.
“RIT has been instrumental in helping us achieve milestones,” said Davies.
Since its inception, C3R has worked with thousands of companies and agencies of all sizes. Projects with the auto industry, copier and printer cartridge manufacturers, the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Defense, and large companies including Eastman Kodak Co., Xerox Corp., Staples, and Caterpillar are on the long list of clients.
“CIMS really began to gain momentum when Nabil Nasr became director and started moving into the area of remanufacturing and sustainability,” said New York State Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle. Early on, Stendardi and Nasr went to Albany and met with Morelle and other lawmakers. Morelle, then chair of the Assembly Committee on Small Business, looked for opportunities to fund CIMS’ work with manufacturers.
CIMS conducted a two-year analysis of upstate manufacturers funded with support from the New York State Assembly and the U.S. Department of Commerce resulting in the “Roadmap for the Revitalization of Upstate New York Manufacturing.” Following this, the state included $800,000 in the 2007-2008 state budget to support a pair of programs—the Innovation Testbed and the Knowledge Clearing House. Both aimed to assist companies in implementing new technologies.
“I think Nabil is one of the great assets of the state,” Morelle said. “What he’s done for businesses is quite extraordinary.”
In an effort that spanned a decade, the Office of Naval Research worked with C3R to investigate ways in which old Navy ships, specifically the SES 200 B Surface Effect Ship, could be remanufactured and redesigned. The initial grant of $5 million saved the Navy an estimated $32.6 million.
That work led to other military projects. The Department of Defense came to CIMS for a system to monitor and assess the performance of light vehicles.
“The Marine Corps had many old vehicles and the problem was keeping them going,” said Michael Thurston, technical director for the Golisano Institute for Sustainability. Thurston joined the engineering staff at CIMS in 2001 after working in industry and as a research associate at Penn State.
“We did an analysis of how the vehicles could be re-engineered to increase their lifespan,” Thurston explained. “In parallel with that, we had a project to develop tools for monitoring vehicles and predicting failure, so they can be serviced before they break down.”
In partnership with the U.S. Marine Corps Systems Command, the vehicle health management system was deployed on vehicles at Camp Pendleton, Calif. In 2007, RIT partnered with Lockheed Martin on a $200 million competitive contract with the Marine Corps to equip 10,000 military vehicles with the technology.
Ultimately, Lockheed continued with the hardware portion of the project, and CIMS kept the software component to make it available to Lockheed and other potential customers. In 2008, a company called Liban (later renamed Vnomics), was formed at RIT’s Venture Creations business incubator to commercialize the product.
Vnomics, which “graduated” from the incubator in 2011, provides a real-time analytics system that helps fleets and their drivers improve fuel efficiency.
The technology is now in use on 14,000 trucks, said Edward McCarthy, Vnomics’ vice president of operations and customer success.
Customers include large and small companies in the Rochester region and around the U.S. and Canada. Using Vnomics’ patented True Fuel technology, customers are able to realize an average 9 percent fuel savings. Today’s Trucking magazine named True Fuel among the “Top 10 Products of 2016.”
Vnomics has collected data on 434 million gallons of fuel used by customer truck fleets, showing a savings of 53 million gallons, or $160 million.
“It’s win-win,” said McCarthy. “Our technology is good for the environment, and it’s good for our customers’ bottom line.”
Still located in Rochester, Vnomics has about 40 employees, including several RIT graduates. The company continues to work with CIMS on product testing and other research, as well as with the University of Rochester.
The connections are important, said McCarthy, who joined the CIMS staff in 2004 after serving more than 20 years in heavy equipment combat units with the U.S. Marine Corps. “We’re very excited about it. It’s going very well.”
It’s one example of how technology developed at RIT can be transitioned to a private company, one of the original and ongoing missions of CIMS.
“Our core thing,” said Thurston, “is problem solving. We’re very serious about trying to help our sponsors be successful.”
The focus on sustainable manufacturing at CIMS led, in 2007, to the creation of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability, propelled by a $10 million commitment from B. Thomas Golisano, founder and chairman of Paychex Inc. and an RIT trustee. Nasr was named founding director. (He also holds the title of associate provost of RIT.)
The growth of GIS has continued at a dizzying pace.
In 2008, through a major, competitive award, RIT was named host of the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute, which works to make the state more sustainable for workers, the public, the environment, and the economy.
P2I, as it is called, is funded by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and is a partnership with Clarkson University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the State University of New York at Buffalo, and 10 Regional Technology Development Centers.
That same year, the first four students began studies in the new doctoral program in sustainability, supported by a $465,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation and a $500,000 gift from the Chester F. and Dorris Carlson Charitable Trust.
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) granted $13.1 million for the construction of a new building and New York state provided an additional $15 million toward the construction and equipping of the facility. GIS moved into its new home in 2013.
In 2016, GIS was named a core academic partner in the federal Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC), which will lead the new Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy.
The goal is to connect information technology leaders and manufacturers in energy-intensive industries to develop ways of using less energy.
The initiative is part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI, recently renamed Manufacturing USA) launched by President Barack Obama in 2012.
In 2014, RIT, through CIMS and GIS, was named a core partner in another Manufacturing USA initiative, the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute.
In January of this year, GIS was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to lead its new Reducing Embodied energy and Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) Institute—a national coalition of universities and companies that will forge clean energy initiatives deemed critical in keeping U.S. manufacturing competitive. The project is part of the Manufacturing USA program.
Within a week of that announcement, GIS was named a core academic partner in another Manufacturing USA project, the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Institute led by Carnegie Mellon University.
RIT is now involved in seven of 14 Manufacturing USA research institutes.
CIMS, which served as the incubator for what has become GIS, is now one of that institute’s components and remains devoted to working with companies on a variety of applied research projects. Also under the GIS umbrella are:
- Center for Remanufacturing and Resource Recovery;
- New York State Pollution Prevention Institute;
- Center of Excellence in Advanced & Sustainable Manufacturing, established in 2012 as a New York State Center of Excellence supported by Empire State Development’s Division of Science, Technology and Innovation;
- Center for Sustainable Mobility, begun in 2006 with a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to assess the environmental and economic impact of alternative fuel and propulsion technologies on the public transportation system;
- NanoPower Research Labs, a consortium of faculty from GIS, the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, and the College of Science working on applications of nanomaterials in energy and photonics.
Combined, the components of GIS last year worked with 988 companies on a wide variety of projects.
Success has come the old-fashioned way—through hard work. “I’m blessed with the most wonderful and talented team,” said Nasr. “They’re passionate about what they do.
“We were always organized and focused. If we just meet the sponsors’ expectations, we feel we haven’t done our job. We want to always exceed expectations.”