TRANSFERRING TECHNOLOGY from the laboratory to the manufacturing floor is the goal of a not-for-profit organization just getting under way in Maryland. The Foundation for Manufacturing Excellence is intended to strengthen the productivity of small and medium-sized manufacturers by improving their use of available technology.
History: During the 1980s Maryland lost a significant number of manufacturers due to fierce competition from foreign manufacturers and from the economic development efforts of other states. Their competitive posture was supported by less expensive labor and, in foreign countries, by government programs that subsidized the manufacturers. Recently under the leadership of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development has joined forces with the Maryland Manufacturers Association to focus on revitalization of the state's manufacturing base.
The planning team behind the foundation includes people from both the public and private sectors. Some of the organizations represented are the economic development offices for the state and a number of counties, the community colleges, the Greater Baltimore Committee, the University of Maryland, the University of Baltimore, Morgan State University, the U.S. Department of Commerce, Westinghouse Electric Corp., Washington Aluminum and Venable, Baetjer & Howard.
Paul J. Coughlin Jr., chief executive officer of Washington Aluminum, remarks that the participation of these various organizations, combined with the input from member businesses, will provide the foundation with valuable knowledge and resources to help local manufacturers. Coughlin, past president of the manufacturers association, helped create the foundation.
Getting started: The project will soon hire its first executive director, whose office will be housed at Catonsville Community College. The office will function as an information source and a clearinghouse for new manufacturing technologies. The foundation staff will start with a market research evaluation of the region's needs. The study will consider the labor-force needs and the necessity for new technology applications.
The transfer of technological knowledge will start in 1991 through the University of Maryland's Technology Extension Service along with the technology centers at Catonsville Community College and Hagerstown Junior College. Training sessions will show new technologies to existing managers and owners. The next step would be to train their employees in the use of the technologies.
At the participating colleges, the foundation will also demonstrate and test new manufacturing technologies.
Flexible manufacturing is a hot topic for this program. According to William R. O'Brien from the University of Baltimore, many manufacturers currently produce products only in relatively large quantities. Flexible manufacturing is a change in the production plan for machinery so that a manufacturer can shift from producing one product to the production of a different one without incurring significant delays or expenses. Using this strategy lets the manufacturer accept production contracts that are for smaller quantities. The foundation will create an outreach program to identify manufacturers that would benefit.
The foundation will try to identify companies that can share the financial burden to purchase new technology and equipment together.
Costs: This is not designed to be a "give-away program," says Coughlin. When expenses are incurred, they will be passed on to the participating manufacturers. However, many of the organizations providing services are government agencies that may absorb some costs.
The foundation will coordinate consultation services, which will be provided by the University of Maryland, the University of Baltimore, the National Institute of Standards & Technology, the Manufacturing Systems & Technology Center and Westinghouse.
To help incorporate new technology on the site, a company will be able to turn to the extension service and to the Maryland State Center for Productivity.
Example: Suppose you manufacture large industrial fan blades, but the blades operate at an unacceptably high noise level. You contact the foundation's office and are referred to someone who will work with you on the design of a new fan blade. You will test the new design in one of the member's laboratories or your own. Then, if necessary, your staff will be trained in the manufacture of the new blades.
While all of the agencies currently exist to provide these 'N services, the foundation will serve as a hub, expediting the process to find the appropriate help and then coordinating your use of the services.
Money: The foundation is still seeking contributions. So far it has received about half of its first year's operating budget from DEED, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and the Abell Foundation. A breakfast will be held Oct. 30 at the BWI Marriott to launch the program.
To get information, make a contribution or attend the breakfast, contact the foundation's acting president, Bob Noble at Westinghouse. (301) 765-6450. To get help now, contact the foundation's acting director, Michael Carrie, associate dean for career programs, continuing education and community services at Catonsville Community College. (301) 455-4257.
The bottom line: The foundation promises to have a significant impact on Maryland manufacturing, but only if local manufacturers take the time to make use of it.
Patrick Rossello, president of The Business Consulting Group, is a member of a number of local advisory boards including the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. Send questions or suggested topics to him c/o Money at Work, The Evening Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.