As it reached the end of its first year of existence, the director of a business consulting center at Trine University in Angola pointed to a number of profitable ventures it had undertaken, including helping to bring a Michigan-based business into Indiana.
Innovation One focuses largely on engineering, technology and marketing. The center seeks to promote innovation and collaboration among local businesses and also to attract new businesses from outside the state. Now that construction has been completed on an $8-million, 25,000-square-foot building to house its laboratories, lasers, classrooms and foundry on the Trine University campus, director Thomas DeAgostino hopes to see more successful projects.
“I’ve been doing things without really having the facilities,” he said while giving a tour of the new building. “But now, we are moving in and making progress and going forward with a lot of momentum.”
One of the biggest successes DeAgostino highlights is the partnership between a Michigan-based laser coating removal systems company called Surclean. Surclean is coming to Indiana in large part because of the agreement with the center. Although details are not finalized, company CEO Susan Sprentall said one of the elements of the deal is for Surclean to install an advanced laser laboratory in Innovation One’s facility.
Sprentall plans to begin setting up the laboratory by Nov. 1. While it is possible that Surclean could have come to Indiana without it, the partnership with Trine University “was a big factor” in her decision, Sprentall said.
Sprentall said that while the lab will work on operations specific to Surclean, it also will offer assistance to other area companies, such as access to laser cutting, laser welding and laser cladding.
Other projects and collaborations with which Innovation One has been involved include producing scale models of heavy mining machinery for Deister Machine Co. in Fort Wayne. Deister builds large aggregate shakers that are extremely heavy. Wes Stinson, a project engineer, needed small scale models of the machines to take to trade shows, but he found that building the models exactly to scale was problematic. He turned to Innovation One.
“Lugging around a 50,000-pound machine isn’t too easy,” he said. “Innovation One provided the expertise to make sure we were actually getting what we wanted. For what we were doing, it was pretty valuable.”
The center worked with Angola-based Vestil Manufacturing Corp. to improve the ergonomics of its lift mechanisms. Vestil produces materials-handling equipment such as loading dock equipment, packaging equipment, drum handing equipment and carts and dollies. DeAgostino said the research results that came out of Innovation One not only helped improve the ergonomics of Vestil’s lift machines, but also Vestil can use this data to market its products.
But all of Innovation One’s projects are not on such a large scale. One of the more widely publicized projects was the design and construction of an ergonomic shower for Terry Haffner, a Fort Wayne artist who was born without arms and with very small legs. Haffner uses prosthetic arms to paint and to drive a modified van, but struggled with the mechanics of showering without assistance.
Engineers at Innovation One brought Haffner in to have his body measured, both its proportions but also its range of motion in order to design an automated shower specifically for him.
It was the first time in his life that Haffner, in his 60s, was able to bathe unassisted. “This shower has been great,” Haffner said.
“I was kidding people. I said, ‘I would almost want to take a shower five times a day.’ Being independent, being able to do things without asking for help, there’s no other feeling like it.”