Statewide Support: Georgia Tech Helps Georgia Businesses Compete

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Georgia Tech now serves a broad range of companies with a goal of helping them compete better in world markets.

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Written by Rick Robinson

The Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) was chartered in its original form in 1960 to help the state’s industry and began its existence as the Industrial Extension Service of the Engineering Experiment Station, which is now the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI).  Building on that foundation, Georgia Tech now serves a broad range of companies with a goal of helping them compete better in world markets.

  • When Super Lawn Technologies Inc. of Fort Valley, Ga., needed assistance with manufacturing issues, Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2) personnel applied lean manufacturing principles and design engineering expertise to help the fast-growing company develop a lighter, stronger and more efficient hydraulic ramp system for the specialized trucks it builds for landscaping companies.
  • Struggling in a down economy, Sustainable Resources Group of Savannah turned to the Georgia Tech Procurement Assistance Center (GTPAC) to learn about winning government contracts. Today, the six-employee construction business is thriving financially and planning to add more workers.
  • Seeking to make its laboratory processes more efficient via process improvement principles, Athens Regional Medical Center in Athens, Ga., worked with the Healthcare Performance Group at EI2 to decrease fluid-processing times by 66 percent, saving thousands of dollars.
  • When Georgia food industry companies wanted to reduce product loss due to processing variations, engineers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) developed a camera-based system to ensure proper meat cooking, reducing waste and promoting food safety.

“We have a brick tower here at Georgia Tech, not an ivory tower,” said Stephen Fleming, Georgia Tech vice president and executive director of the Enterprise Innovation Institute. “We use Georgia Tech’s expertise in science, technology and innovation to support Georgia businesses around the state.”

A Half-Century of Outreach 

The Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) in EI2 was chartered in its original form in 1960 to help the state’s industry. It began its existence as the Industrial Extension Service of the Engineering Experiment Station, which is now the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI).

The GaMEP provides a broad set of services for improving the competitiveness of Georgia manufacturing companies. It offers direct technical and engineering assistance, as well as continuing education courses and networking opportunities.

GaMEP’s staff of 30 engineers and other professionals work from nine Georgia Tech regional offices throughout the state. They offer broad expertise to client companies, and can also tap the extensive resources and expertise at the main campus.

“In fiscal 2009, EI2’s Manufacturing Extension team helped manufacturing companies reduce operating costs by $67 million, increase sales by $143 million, and create or save 1,150 jobs,” said Chris Downing, P.E., a mechanical engineer who directs of EI2’s Industry Services unit.

“In addition to providing direct expertise, we take advantage of academic and research units such as the Georgia Tech Research Institute and the Manufacturing Research Center,” Downing added. “That helps us improve Georgia companies’ competitiveness through innovative solutions.”

Lean and Green 

Lean enterprise techniques can help Georgia companies achieve major savings, said Larry Alford, director of the Georgia Tech Lean Consortium, a service of the GaMEP.

“A lean enterprise focuses on eliminating waste throughout the business – waste that costs time and money but adds no value for your customers,” Alford said.

Building flexible, predictable and capable processes increases the resources that can be redirected into growth and innovation strategies.

“When you’re sure of your ability to meet customers’ needs, it’s amazing how much time you have to be creative,” he added.

Rotary Corp., a Glennville, Ga., manufacturer, employs 450 people and recently turned out its 150 millionth lawnmower blade. Working with Robert Wray of EI2, the company participated in an initiative to identify new ideas and approaches to help the company grow.

Rotary was able to evolve new product ideas and improve its ordering system. Ed Nelson, Rotary’s president, credits the process with substantial benefits including $1.5 million in increased sales, $2 million in retained sales and 50 retained jobs. He adds that the company avoided $262,000 in unnecessary investments as a result of Georgia Tech’s assistance.

Collaboration between Georgia companies is an important new direction that can translate into waste-eliminating process improvements, Alford said. He points to Kason Industries Inc. of Newnan, which is working with other Georgia enterprises through the Lean Consortium.

Kason is participating in reciprocal meetings and plant tours with two other Newnan-area companies, E.G.O. North America Inc. and Bonnell Aluminum Inc. Currently, 34 organizations across the state are advancing their knowledge and use of lean principles through shared training and peer-to-peer relationships.

“In going through different factories and facilities, we’re able to learn new ideas and then try to expand on them within our own facilities,” said Skipper Schofield, continuous improvement manager for Kason.

Energy and environmental management are also areas where companies can readily cut waste and become leaner. The Bostik plant in Calhoun, Ga., a facility belonging to a large adhesive and sealant maker, recently worked with EI2 energy specialist Jessica Brown to reduce its energy consumption.

According to production manager Dan Conetta, Brown’s help allowed Bostik to reduce its energy consumption by some 56 percent, saving $40,000 annually.

“We needed to move to a more sustainable mode of operation,” Conetta said. “The level of expertise and the availability make the Enterprise Innovation Institute a valuable resource.”

In fiscal year 2009, EI2 helped more than a dozen Georgia hospitals adopt process improvement techniques that reduce costs and improve service. With funding from Healthcare Georgia Foundation, EI2 is helping Peach Regional Medical Center in Fort Valley improve service quality and reduce costs with process-improvement techniques adapted from manufacturing.

Peach Regional’s emergency department has already noted a 20 percent decrease in patients’ average length of stay, said Nancy Peed, the hospital’s CEO.

“I think of Georgia Tech as the world-class university with the local focus,” said Dene Sheheane, Georgia Tech’s director of governmental relations. “I love the fact that we are consciously reaching out to towns and businesses throughout the state and saying to them, ‘We’re here for you – how can we collaborate with you?’”

Opening Doors for Business

Learning to navigate the procurement processes of federal, state and local governments can be a challenge for small- and medium-size businesses. Smaller outfits can also have trouble keeping up with industry standards concerning manufacturing and business processes, as well as government health and safety regulations.

The Georgia Tech Procurement Assistance Center (GTPAC), an EI2 unit, approaches the issue head-on. Working from nine locations throughout the state, GTPAC counselors provide classes and other services to Georgia businesses that address the ins and outs of becoming a government vendor.

GTPAC also maintains an online electronic bid-match service that collects contracting opportunities from more than 1,200 websites where government agencies post their needs. GTPAC e-mails clients with potential business opportunities daily.

Smaller Georgia manufacturers and businesses can be handicapped if they don’t comply with worldwide industry standards such as ISO 9000 quality standards or with federal and state regulations governing workplace health and safety.

“A lot of our work is helping smaller companies become certified in standards such as ISO 9000,” said Alan Barfoot, an EI2 senior research engineer who supports businesses in central Georgia. “It isn’t new technology, but it’s often critical for these companies to become certified
to get new customers and grow their businesses.”

When Thermal Ceramics, an Augusta insulation manufacturer, needed to revamp its quality management system, EI2 professionals helped the company streamline procedures and become fully ISO certified. As a result, the company increased sales by $6 million while saving $2 million in costs.

EI2 also works with the Occupational Health and Safety Program at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) to help hundreds of Georgia businesses comply with requirements of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

“It can be challenging for smaller businesses to deal with OSHA and state requirements, and we’re here to help them comply fully and stay safe,” said Daniel Ortiz, a GTRI principal research scientist who directs the OSHA programs at Georgia Tech.

Meanwhile, many regional manufacturers are facing intense competition from imported products. The Southeastern Trade Adjustment Assistance Center (SETAAC), based at EI2 and funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce, supports turnaround strategies for such companies.

In FY 2009, SETAAC helped 11 Georgia companies with 21 projects. The result was an increase in sales revenues of more than $1.7 million and the retention of 230 jobs.

SETAAC’s work has also resulted in gains in the seven other Southeast states that it serves. In the last three years, SETAAC’s clients have increased sales by 26 percent and improved productivity by 28 percent.

When Thomaston, Ga.-based Criterion Technology, an injection molding company, was hit by intense import competition, Mark Hannah, a SETAAC project manager, helped the company prepare an application for the Department of Commerce. The resulting funding allowed Criterion to make research, training and equipment investments that helped company sales rebound.

“When we perform a diagnostic review of the company, we are looking for areas that can help the company improve,” Hannah said. “We develop a list of strategic projects that will have the biggest impact on the firm.”

Supporting Small Businesses 

The Georgia Minority Business Enterprise Center (GMBEC), another EI2 unit, concentrates on aiding minority-owned businesses. It places special emphasis on firms that have potential for rapid growth and high economic impact.

The GMBEC is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency. MBEC’s project director, Donna Ennis, was recently named one of Atlanta’s Top 100 Black Women of Influence by the Atlanta Business League.

“Minority business enterprises are growing faster in our state than the general business community, and in the past seven years GMBEC has helped these companies garner more than $400 million in contracts, financing and sales while creating more than 3,200 jobs,” Ennis said. “While these businesses do have the challenges of raising capital and penetrating markets, they’re making real progress – and we’re here to help them deal with those challenges and grow their Georgia businesses.”

In another effort, Georgia Tech has teamed with the University of Georgia (UGA) in the Georgia Entrepreneur and Small Business Outreach Program (GESBO), funded by the OneGeorgia Authority to focus on smaller businesses outside metro Atlanta.

Through GESBO, Georgia Tech provides technical and government procurement consultation to Georgia manufacturers and other businesses. UGA focuses on providing these companies with marketing support such as website development and e-commerce guidance.

Karen Fite, who directs Georgia Tech’s regional network and is based in Athens, Ga., also leads GESBO for Georgia Tech. Among the program’s new directions, she said, is a series of CEO forums, which are formal mentoring events where company leaders meet in a confidential environment to discuss business issues.

“During our first fiscal year of operation, we served approximately 1,000 companies in the smaller cities and rural areas of Georgia,” Fite said. “Companies reported more than 440 new jobs, $42 million in new revenue, $11 million in new investments and $2 million in operational improvements.”

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of Research Horizons, Georgia Tech’s research magazine.

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