Q&A with Ian Charnas, manager of CWRU’s think[box]

 

How and when did think[box] come about? Where did the idea start, and who spearheaded it?

In March 2012, think[box] opened in a temporary 2,500-square-foot space on Case Western Reserve University’s campus thanks to a generous gift by CWRU alum and wonderful human being Barry Romich. The facility really took off and before long was receiving thousands of visits a month. University Trustee Larry Sears along with other major supporters led the efforts to procure a new and larger facility, which led us to opening think[box] in a 50,000-square-foot space in October 2015.

Most people don’t know what an open-access innovation center is. How would you describe it? What is its purpose? 50,000 square feet of what?

We describe think[box] as an innovation-focused makerspace. Now, “makerspace” is still a new term for many people, but think of a metal shop and a wood shop combined with all that new-fangled stuff. 3D printing, laser cutting, electronics, textiles, media, you get the idea. We have floors dedicated to prototyping and fabrication, as well as offices of support for entrepreneurship for projects that have the potential to turn into businesses and create jobs.

How has it succeeded, so far?

Innovation at think[box] is alive and well. More than 64 companies and startups have used the facility to raise more than $6.2 million in funding.

What types of things do people make there?

We see everything and everyone, from students working on academic coursework and research projects to startup companies and even folks working on hobbies and crafts. Startups and projects include medical devices, clean energy solutions, consumer electronics, aviation, robotics, as well as art and fashion, and much more.

How many visitors each month?

Currently think[box] receives on average more than 5,000 visits each month. On campus, only the gym and the library receive more visits, according to the provost’s data.

Of these, how many are CWRU students, how many faculty, how many alumni and how many from the community?

Around 80 percent of our visits are CWRU persons (students, staff, and faculty) while 15 percent are from the neighboring Cleveland Institute of Art. We’re very happy about that, of course, because when you get those designers and artists together with our scientists and engineers, and then you add law students and business students, now you have a real-world team that can take a project much further than any one of them could on their own. So that gets us to 95 percent, and the remaining 5 percent are general community members, including folks off the street, alumni, local entrepreneurs, and more.

Do local grade school and high school classes visit for STEM education?

Currently think[box] can host tours of K-12 students; however, the facility isn’t set up to host entire classes working on projects. Individual K-12 students can attend with their parents and a signed waiver. Full details on our K-12 policies are available on our website.

How do you get the word out to the community?

Because of our focus on entrepreneurship, our primary outreach is to the local entrepreneur ecosystem — groups like JumpStart, LaunchPad, FlashStarts, BizDom, and other accelerators and incubators. These groups have each sent startups over to think[box] to take advantage of the facilities here, and, in turn, CWRU has sent student startups to incubate with each of those groups.

I see the list of equipment online. Where did it come from?

The equipment at think[box] was selected by staff after careful consideration of features and after visiting several dozen high-profile makerspaces and shops around the nation, including visits to MIT, Stanford, and other highly regarded institutions.

What is your role there?

As the manager, my role involves fundraising, communications and promoting national visibility, overseeing selection of large equipment, recruiting and training staff, managing strategic projects, and organizational partnership development.

Is training available?

Yes, training is available on all of our machines. Users are expected to do their own design work (we do not offer design help) but staff are here to help show you how to safely operate the equipment.

How can think[box] help manufacturers, and what is its role in contributing to a skilled workforce?

The role of think[box] is to give free, open access to millions of dollars of high-tech prototyping equipment. When it’s time to go to manufacture, we help link entrepreneurs with (ideally local) manufacturers so they can grow their business.

laser cutting area at think[box]fab shop at think[box]computer lab at think[box]3D printing area at think[box]electronics area at think[box]

Local manufacturers partner with CWRU for wind energy research

 

wind turbine

According to the American Wind Energy Association, “With 60,009 megawatts of wind power capacity installed as of the end of 2012 and more than 13,131 megawatts currently under construction in the U.S., companies large and small see opportunities for expanding into the wind energy market.” To develop innovations that can be approved for use, the industry needs to test and demonstrate products on working turbines.

The Wind Energy Research and Commercialization (WERC) Center at Case Western Reserve University partners with industrial partners Cleveland Electric Laboratories, Lubrizol, Parker Hannifin, Azure Energy, Rockwell Automation, Swiger Coil Systems and William Sopko & Sons. These organizations provided $3 million in funding. Since the projects inception, Sherwin-Williams and Northern Power Systems have joined to facilitate industry growth in the wind energy product market.

The center is comprised of three wind turbines as part of the $3-million Ohio Development Services Agency Third Frontier Wright Project. Two of the three turbines are located in Euclid, Ohio, on the campus of William Sopko & Sons. The largest turbine rises 230 feet and generates 1 megawatt that provides power to adjacent Stamco Industries. The intermediate-sized turbine powers Sopko & Sons, while the third and smallest is on CWRU’s campus and powers The Veale Convocation, Athletic and Recreation Center with more than 55,000 killowatts or 5 percent of what the center uses. A large turbine can produce 5 megawatts, enough to power more than 1,400 homes per year.

According to David Matthiesen, WERC faculty director, “The project combines CWRU engineering expertise with funded facilities to provide platforms for the development of wind power supply chain products and long-term educational and training opportunities. In addition to the research data being gathered, the turbines provide energy to nearby buildings.” The manufacturers involved incur no installation, maintenance or disposal costs.     

nordex-n54-and-vestas-v27-turbines Wind turbine on William Sopko & Sons property

Tips & tricks for implementing Lean/Six Sigma tools

Lean manufacturing

(Courtesy of Guest Blogger Chris Adams MBA, Lean BB and Six Sigma BB)

Lean and Six Sigma have been methodologies I have used throughout my career, whether I knew them at that time by those names or not. Educated in Industrial and Operations Engineering “at that school up north,” The University of Michigan, and subsequently obtaining an MBA at The Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, I was fortunate enough to get the strict schooling behind me and then later obtained my Lean Black Belt through the corporate Lean office of Emerson Electric in St. Louis and my Six Sigma Black Belt through Lorain County Community College via Dan Sommers who is a Six Sigma Black Belt alumni from GE Lighting.

The vast majority of my experience with Lean and Six Sigma methodologies has come through the manufacturing world. So, the first tip I would propose is to start with the Lean Journey 5S (or sometimes companies choose to use 6S to call out safety separately) if you and your organization have the wherewithal and commitment. Instituting the rigors of 5S and then maintaining are definitely a place where good standard work and an audit process pay off.

But, many an organization is too impatient to allow for the “cost” of 5S and the, sometimes, soft-cost savings to be returned. So, my second tip, Value Stream Mapping is still the way to make the current state be documented and understood as well as provide for the solid basis on which future-state Value Stream Maps can drive the profitability of an organization in the right direction.

My third tip is to use, sooner rather than later, the Value Stream Mapping process to understand back to the suppliers’ supplier and forward to the customers’ customer. I have been with organizations that have been successful in implementing and working with their suppliers and customers as a win-win in the value chain.

The fourth tip is to have a solid foundation for the process used to implement project- or process-based change. In my last two roles, I have been fortunate enough to work with organizations that were committed enough to the process of leading change that Policy Deployment (or Strategy Deployment or X-matrix) were truly practiced. An organization that waterfalls its top three to five main corporate objectives to the associate on the floor really understands what teamwork is all about.

My fifth and final tip is that, although my experience (and to this point) a significant amount of the use of Lean and Six Sigma tools have come through the manufacturing world, service industries are a hotbed where these tools can be more universally applied. In my personal experience as a volunteer at one of the most respected hospital systems in the world, we’ve learned that a process is a process and can be improved.