University of Utah Engineers Kick Off New Center to Help Manufacturers Prosper
Dec. 6, 2016 — More than 125,000 Utahns work for manufacturers in the state, and their mission is to keep working even if the economy takes a hit. But they can only do so if manufacturing companies here stay productive and find efficient ways to operate.
That’s where the University of Utah’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Center comes in.
Started by two mechanical engineering professors from the U’s College of Engineering, the new MEP Center is designed to deliver services to small- and medium-sized manufacturing companies by providing expertise in technology, worker education, and on how to make connections with investors. The Utah center is part of a national MEP network that assists America’s smaller manufacturers. Managed by the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the network consists of MEP centers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
Carroll A. Thomas, director of NIST’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, helped kick off Utah’s center during an open house Tuesday, Dec. 6, at the Rio Tinto Mechanical Engineering Building on the University of Utah campus.
“I am thrilled about our new partnership with the University of Utah. This new center will help Utah’s small- and medium-sized manufacturing companies compete on a global scale through services related to growth, operational excellence, or new technologies like digital, nano and additive manufacturing,” said Thomas. “A major challenge and opportunity ahead of manufacturers today is positioning for ‘Manufacturing 4.0’ where the pace of change and technology solutions moves with astounding speed. The Utah center is uniquely poised to guide manufacturers through this change and deliver results with economic impact.”
The center, in partnership with other entities and organizations throughout the state, helps local businesses to:
- Use data to identify products and markets that are growing.
- Implement advanced manufacturing equipment and technology.
- Develop and educate their workforce to use these new technologies.
- Connect with investors and secure government grants to support growth.
- Learn how to make their operations more efficient to maximize profits.
“What we’re proposing with this center is a paradigm shift of what previously has been done,” says U mechanical engineering associate professor Bart Raeymaekers, who along with mechanical engineering professor Bruce Gale are co-creators of the center. “We will not only focus on operational excellence, but we believe the future of manufacturing involves transitioning to advance manufacturing technologies and innovating in new products and markets.”
The University of Utah’s MEP Center received funding from NIST and the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. The center will receive $16 million in funding over the next five years from both federal and state governments as well as local industry.
The Utah center, which is under the U’s College of Engineering, is headquartered in the Rio Tinto Mechanical Engineering Building on campus. It eventually will employ at least a dozen permanent staff members, consultants and industry professionals. It also will open satellite offices in Cache and Utah counties as well as have consultants in eastern Utah and Cedar City. Utah is one of 11 states and Puerto Rico to have received NIST funding in August for local MEP centers.
There are more than 3,300 manufacturing companies in Utah, and they account for 9.1 percent of the workforce, according to the Utah Manufacturers Association. Today, manufacturing contributes to approximately 16 percent of Utah’s economy and has grown 50 percent in the last 12 years.
Utah manufacturers produce goods ranging from food and product packaging to aerospace and defense parts and outdoor recreational equipment.