A goal to provide more high-paying, high-quality jobs drives all of Embry-Riddle’s industry partnerships.
Volusia County entrepreneur Kristi Myers — inventor of a potentially game-changing medical device to help minimize the risk of health care-acquired infections — needed engineering assistance to finalize her design, so she teamed up with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Her startup company, Myers Devices LLC, could generate as many as 15 new jobs once it gets up and running.
At the other end of the business spectrum, Sparton Corporation currently supports 534 employees and has had a presence in the DeLeon Springs area for more than 50 years. Yet, day-to-day production pressures often leave too few hours to pursue innovation. That’s why Sparton calls on Embry-Riddle to help assess manufacturing challenges.
Sparton Corporation and Myers Devices LLC, an incubator tenant in the John Mica Engineering and Aerospace Innovation Complex (“MicaPlex”), are examples of how Embry-Riddle works with both emerging and established businesses to stimulate innovation and promote job growth in Central Florida.
Across the country, university-industry research partnerships are vitally important to U.S. manufacturing in particular, and to economic development more broadly. The manufacturing sector contributed $2.18 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has reported. In Florida, the manufacturing of durable and non-durable goods, from electronics to beverages, provided 365,600 jobs as of May 2017, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Importantly, of the 251,901 manufacturing firms in the United States, the vast majority are classified as small businesses — much like those being incubated at Embry-Riddle’s MicaPlex.
How do university-industry partnerships work?
As one case study, Myers, a practicing nurse-anesthetist, invented a patent-pending disposable holster called the Yankaddy to provide doctors and nurses with a safe, convenient way to store the widely used Yankauer suction instrument. The standard practice of leaving the Yankauer suction instrument under patients’ pillows or on countertops poses a serious problem, given that some 1.7 million U.S. patients suffer health care-acquired infections every year. Myers developed many prototypes of the Yankaddy holster until she finally hit on the right design, but she wanted to perfect her manufacturing plan, too.
Embry-Riddle graduate student Jason Jarnagin, an Eagle Scout and Daytona Beach native, leveraged his computer-aided design skills — under the guidance of Embry-Riddle mechanical engineering Professor Dr. Sathya Gangadharan — to help finalize Myers’ design and ensure it would be compatible with key manufacturing steps.
“He changed the lid and he combined two pieces so they can be manufactured in the same mold, which means it can be produced in half the time and it will be more user-friendly, too,” Myers explained. “He brought fresh thinking to the problem.”
Sparton Corporation was looking for similar insights — on a broader scale — when the company reached out to Embry-Riddle, said Mark K. Madore, Sparton’s general manager. The longstanding partnership also allows the company to identify new engineering talent.
As part of a Computer Integrated Manufacturing course offered by Dr. Gangadharan, Sparton engineers Ron Sheldon, Bret Reid and Scott Anderson worked closely with Embry-Riddle graduate students, who then presented their recommendations for improving various manufacturing processes. A global leader in the manufacture of “sonobuoys” — SONAR-based anti-submarine listening devices — Sparton’s business depends heavily on being able to efficiently move product components between workstations.
After analyzing a key system for delivering materials to Sparton’s production line, one group of students recommended advanced inventory control software. Storing excess product over many days can cost tens of thousands of dollars, the group reported. Precise inventory-tracking helps keep those costs down. During the student presentations, Sparton managers realized they could integrate their existing management software with the proposed inventory control software. It was a kind of “Aha!” moment that could significantly increase efficiency and profitability for a major Volusia County business.
American manufacturing, hit hard by the recession of 2009, has been making a significant, if uneven comeback, thanks largely to technology-focused innovations.
A goal to provide more high-paying, high-quality jobs drives all of Embry-Riddle’s industry partnerships and the research park that is now taking shape along Clyde Morris Boulevard. The university research park model has worked well in other regions of the country, and Volusia County deserves the same kind of success.
Butler is president of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.