A New Home for the Future of Manufacturing

Fab Lab | ,

Campana Center for Ideation and Invention promotes innovation and job  growth in Northeast Ohio with access to cutting-edge digital manufacturing and fabrication capabilities.

Growing up in Lorain County, Bob Campana was mesmerized by the manufacturing bustle that defined Northeast Ohio. “It was a thriving metropolis,” he said, dotted with busy shipyards, steel mills, machine shops, plants and factories.

He took pride because it was inside these shipyards and steel mills where his father, Patsie, built their family’s American Dream after emigrating from Italy. To Campana, manufacturing represented opportunity.

Since then, changing technologies and market demands have jolted local manufacturers, presenting new challenges that are changing the face of the industry.

As fascinating as it seemed to Campana then, he’s even more excited about the future of manufacturing he sees taking shape inside the new Patsie C. and Dolores Jeneé Campana Center for Ideation and Invention at LCCC.

The center will feature state-of-the- art digital manufacturing labs filled with high-tech equipment for fabrication, automation, 3D printing and more, surrounded by collaboration space and services to facilitate the full spectrum of product development — from initial ideation to prototyping, through assembly and packaging.

The center will offer hands-on education for students (through college courses and K-12 programs), while giving community inventors, entrepreneurs and existing companies access to cutting-edge digital manufacturing capabilities.

“Our goal is to provide better educational programming that will prepare students for jobs emerging in the industry, while providing education to industry professionals on how to implement new technology to improve their bottom lines,” said Kelly Zelesnik, academic dean of Engineering, Business & Information Technologies at LCCC. “The expansion will create opportunities for everyone — from entrepreneurs to well-established companies — and promote the resurgence of manufacturing in the region.”

Expanded capabilities

The first phase of this project, which began construction in February 2016, added 10,000 square feet of space to the Patsie C. Campana, Sr. Engineering & Development Center. The $5 million project is supported by public funding from the Small Campus Grants Initiative (awarded to LCCC in 2014) and ongoing support from private donors like Campana.

The addition houses a modular digital prototyping line with equipment including a high-speed computer numeric control (CNC) vertical machining center, a FANUC laser cutter to cut metal, an OMAX Waterjet cutter to cut stone and steel and fenceless robots, “which slow down as you walk toward them and stop if you get too close,” Zelesnik said, a built-in safety feature that allows students to work side by side with robots. Down the hall are labs for automation, programmable logic controllers (PLC) and robotic welding.

“The idea is to be modular so we can swap out pieces later,” Zelesnik said. “This allows us to stay up to date over time.”

The addition significantly expands the personal fabrication laboratory, or Fab Lab, that opened in 2005, adding more space for the community to access laser cutters, 3D printers and more.

LCCC’s Fab Lab was the second in the U.S., modeling a concept introduced at MIT in 2001. Since then, more than 1,000 Fab Labs have sprung up in 87 countries, according to Sherry Lassiter, director of the Fab Foundation.

“LCCC was an early adopter of the Fab Lab concept and visionary in realizing that this would be important to the future of manufacturing,” Lassiter said. “The college has built an ecosystem of innovation by marrying the needs of students, industry and community to elevate innovators into entrepreneurs. Most Fab Labs don’t have this level of services for the local business community, so it’s an interesting model.”

As popular as LCCC’s Fab Lab has been as “a maker space, educational space and community space that businesses could access, it wasn’t really dedicated to industry use,” said Zelesnik, explaining that the new Fab Lab offers desktop 3D printers for community use, while another commercial 3D printing/scanning lab
will be dedicated to industry use. “The new center affords us the opportunity to extend our digital fabrication capabilities into manufacturing, to provide industry resources for product design, development and prototyping.”

Through this spectrum of services, the Center for Ideation and Invention emphasizes the connection between building products and building business opportunities, so innovation isn’t happening in a vacuum. For example, lounge areas overlooking the Fab Lab will be used for pop-up shops where entrepreneurs can test-market products to the community, Zelesnik said, so people can get feedback on the items they’re designing, while drawing people to come in and see what’s new.

Phase two includes renovation of the existing Campana Center to create areas that support ideation, such as flexible collaboration spaces, project pods and virtual reality labs where teams can hold holographic design reviews.

“The Fab Lab has been a tinkering space, but we don’t want it to end there. If you’re not thinking about the business opportunity for what you’re making, we’re missing a huge opportunity for
our community,” said Tracy Green, vice president of strategic and institutional development at LCCC. “So, with GLIDE, the Innovation Fund, NEO LaunchNET, SBDC and other partnerships, we’ll have programming that wraps around the play space, so you’re not just leaving with a widget, but you’re thinking about how
it can be manufactured and marketed to bring wealth back into our community.”

Business opportunities

While planning the Center for Ideation and Invention, LCCC leveraged relation- ships with local manufacturers to stay close to industry needs. Through round- table discussions and ongoing conversations, the college gathered feedback to understand what types of machines and programs would benefit both the business community and the student body.

Companies such as R.W. Beckett Corp. illustrate the drastic changes that local manufacturers have endured — and the support they need to transition into the digital age. Beckett has been manufacturing oil burners since 1937 using “very mechanical, nuts-and-bolts construction assembly,” said senior staff engineer John Butkowski.

To keep up with changing times, Beckett needed smarter electronic controls for its burners, so it worked with LCCC to start manufacturing printed circuit boards and microprocessors, using the original Fab Lab for rapid prototyping, while partnering with the Richard Desich SMART Commercialization Center for Microsystems to develop pressure sensors.

As companies like Beckett expand their capabilities to stay competitive, Butkowski said the Center for Ideation will have a positive impact, especially on smaller manufacturers with limited internal expertise and financial means to invest in new technologies.

“Innovation is important in the manufacturing sector because of competition,” said Butkowski, president and founder of the Lorain County Manufacturing Council. “Companies went offshore to reduce their manufacturing costs, but if there are technologies or techniques available at the center to help make us more cost effective or reduce our time to market through innovation, that’s very valuable.”

At Brohl & Appell, an authorized distributor of Rockwell Automation products, Michael A. Dresser is anxious to send customers to the center to do short runs of products before investing in equipment.

“If companies want to upgrade or change something in their plant, we can talk about benefits and features, but it’s extremely powerful to actually see it in motion before they invest hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Dresser, vice president of sales and business development.

The new Center for Ideation and Invention will provide more opportunities for companies to test new manufacturing equipment and processes, pilot new products, and even design and test special tooling to produce those products, Zelesnik said.

Connecting the dots

LCCC is also working to embed industry certification into both credit and noncredit training, Zelesnik said, including certifications from Rockwell Automation, FANUC, Parker Hannifin and Lincoln Electric.

“Companies can send employees here for training and certification, and students can earn certifications before they graduate.”

Through the center, LCCC will work closely with manufacturers to forecast future job skills and demands, closing the loop on the talent gap facing the industry.

“LCCC students who graduate with
the knowledge that we seek may become valuable employees down the road,” Dresser said. “As the older generation retires, there’s a vast amount of knowledge retiring with them, but LCCC is taking a progressive look at how to educate the next generation of individuals that are going to be running these plants.”

By equipping manufacturers and their future workforce with the skills to succeed in an evolving industry, LCCC’s Center for Ideation and Invention will promote innovation while building a talent pool with the technical skills to sustain economic growth.

“The regional business community will benefit from LCCC’s Center for Ideation, not just because it gives them access to resources that will help them innovate, but because the college is also training the workforce that will help them innovate,” Lassiter said. “The college is becoming the center of innovation for local industry.”