February 18, 2019
FOCUS: Manufacturing

New technology-assistance program designed to support manufacturing innovation

Photos | Contributed
Photos | Contributed
Claudio Campana, associate director of the Engineering Applications Center at the University of Hartford, works on equipment in the school’s Center for Manufacturing and Metrology, which is now available for use by in-state manufacturers as part of a new technology-assistance program.
Anton Cherry (right), of Crystal MedTech LLC, and University of Hartford engineering student Jason Belair work in the Mechatronics/Smart Systems Laboratory at UHart.
Lynn Baronas, Director of Strategic Partnerships, University of Hartford

As the director of strategic partnerships at the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Michelle Cote is bullish about Hartford's future.

She was part of the planning team that helped draw investment from CTNext, a subsidiary of the state's venture capital firm Connecticut Innovations, to create the Hartford/East Hartford Innovation Spaces in 2017. One of four regional innovation places in Connecticut — which collectively received $30 million in state investment — the Hartford/East Hartford hub is focused on innovation and entrepreneurship in the capitol region's bedrock industries: insurance, health care and manufacturing.

"Those industries make up a vast majority of economic activity in the region, but all three are going through significant changes as a result of new technologies, the changing ways consumers live, and the way business is done," Cote said. While innovation spaces have given rise to several startup initiatives to address these sectors' needs, Cote acknowledges that for many fledgling companies, the cost to develop a prototype or test new technologies can be prohibitively expensive and a challenge to innovation.

But a new service, the Technology Labs Assistance Program (TLAP), created in partnership with the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT), University of Hartford and Goodwin College, is hoping to change that. The program's goal is to provide in-state entrepreneurs and companies (with fewer than 300 full-time employees) with access to myriad advanced-manufacturing resources and services available at each institution.

Projects submitted by Hartford and East Hartford-based companies that are selected will receive a 50 percent subsidy of the total project cost up to $10,000, funded by CTNext.

"Small businesses and entrepreneurs have unique needs and [our institutions] have a lot of great equipment that's been supported by the state, so we wanted to open those resources up to businesses," said Lynn Baronas, director of strategic partnerships at the University of Hartford. The collaboration took root last year with an inventory of each institution's resources and the creation of a website for the program.

Baronas points, as an example, to the facilities and equipment at UHart's Center for Manufacturing and Metrology.

"We have equipment that can test the strength of steel and other metals that are often used in aeronautics," Baronas said, noting the university works closely with manufacturing giant Pratt & Whitney. Aerospace is a key hub under the Hartford/East Hartford innovation program.

UHart also does a lot of work in the area of mechatronics and process automation.

That's a valuable resource for manufacturers, Cote says. With more advanced supply chains, Cote explained, there's increased pressure on manufacturers to improve production efficiency with a smaller degree of error.

Most firms, she said, aren't able to purchase new advanced equipment, or risk existing orders, to implement unproven processing techniques.

"We hope this [TLAP] program can be a testing ground for manufacturers to augment traditional manufacturing processes and see if the results justify making an investment in new equipment," she said.

TLAP Program Manager Paul Streibel, who works for CCAT, says the top priority is to promote the program to the state's network of nearly 4,000 manufacturers, with focused outreach to Hartford and East Hartford companies. The group has developed a marketing plan and has been promoting since January its services through local chambers and manufacturing associations.

To date, two subsidy-eligible applications have been submitted for review through TLAP's online application. The goal is to approve as many projects as possible, provided the TLAP institutions have the proper equipment and resources to support the project.

He noted some projects may rely on the resources of one institution or potentially all three, which includes a broad spectrum of tools.

"UHart has its metrology [technology], CCAT specializes in additive manufacturing [like 3D printing] and Goodwin has a strong base of machine tools, woodworking equipment and metal-working equipment," Streibel said. He expects to see an uptick in applications as area manufacturers and entrepreneurs in need of prototype assistance or engineering learn more about the program. He also hopes to add more educational partners to the TLAP initiative over time.

Cliff Thermer, Goodwin College's assistant vice president for strategy and business development, is encouraged by the investment and collaboration he sees in the region.

"We are in a new era of interagency collaborations among state and private educational institutions and corporate partners," Thermer said.

Cote agrees. She says she has spent 15 years working in Hartford on entrepreneurial endeavors and has never felt more optimistic about Hartford and the region's future.

"We have a community full of committed, passionate leaders who realize the potential we have," Cote said. "The more people want to get involved and join in the effort, the stronger [the region] will ultimately be."

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