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Center of Excellence

There’s an eco-minded place at RIT that’s become a wellspring of bright ideas for manufacturers in New York state. Instead of focusing on innovation by specific industry, the Center of Excellence in Advanced & Sustainable Manufacturing (COE-ASM) at RIT’s Golisano Institute for Sustainability takes a more holistic approach to improving the way manufacturers use energy and manage processes.

“What makes us different from other Centers of Excellence around the state is that we work with manufacturers in a variety of industry segments,” said Mark Krystofik, the center’s senior program manager. “We’ve worked with high-tech companies, startups, a food company— many different types of manufacturers.”

The approach uncovers common threads across industries, making it possible to replicate success in reducing manufacturing’s environmental impact and conserving resources. The ultimate goal, Krystofik said, is to strengthen the bottom line for businesses in New York state.

The center’s efforts are gaining traction as seen in a three-year snapshot of COE-ASM’s work:

  • 42 New York state companies engaged in projects with the center, resulting in a $10 million impact in cost savings, increased revenue, capital investment, and funding (seed or federal);
  • 68 new and retained jobs.

The COE-ASM is one of 11 centers funded by the Empire State Development’s Division of Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR). The Centers of Excellence program, established by New York state, fosters collaboration between universities and the business sector to promote the development and commercialization of new products and technologies. The center at RIT opened in 2012.

Bringing Eco-Innovation to Smaller Companies

Many small- to medium-size companies in the Rochester area manufacture parts that go to original equipment manufacturers. They know reducing energy spend is an advantage, but they need guidance on where to begin, explained Krystofik. For example, while there are energy monitoring systems on the market that target opportunities for energy savings, often they are prohibitively expensive for smaller manufacturers.

One of the center’s current projects uses off-the-shelf components for testing and for the development of low-cost power monitors. The monitors being developed collect data, which can be used to uncover opportunities to improve operations and reduce energy use.

Using this type of monitor, one local company discovered it could shave 20 percent of peak energy demand charges, saving tens of thousands of dollars. The company also discovered ways to reduce electricity consumption costs by 7 percent by shutting off idle equipment, Krystofik said.

“You can imagine the ripple effect if hundreds of small companies start reducing energy use in this way,” he said.

Furniture Manufacturer

The Gunlocke Co. has manufactured furniture for companies, government agencies, and even U.S. presidents over the past 114 years. Environmentally conscious, the company connected with COE-ASM to reduce production costs and build upon its “lean is green” philosophy while remaining competitive in the market.

“In manufacturing, we have a responsibility to use resources and employees’ time as effectively as possible,” said Roy Green, director of stewardship and sustainability at Gunlocke. “So if there is automation equipment or process improvements that allow us to be more efficient, we must consider it.”

COE-ASM conducted a comprehensive assessment that reviewed every phase of production processing for the 750,000-square-foot Wayland, N.Y., facility, including process technology, facility layout, production throughput, supply chain management, energy use, health and safety, and material handling. The analysis identified strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for existing operations and provided economic and environmental justification for each detailed recommendation.

In total, it identified more than $2 million in annual savings from efficiency gains, energy savings, waste minimization, and implementation of alternative technologies.

Gunlocke installed semi-automated equipment that could perform more functions and required one operator instead of multiple employees. The decision increased production and capabilities and saved 900 square feet of factory space.

And, surprisingly, it helped Gunlocke retain jobs in an industry where highly skilled employees are needed to compete.

“Gunlocke’s skilled workers are critical to the quality and beauty of our products,” Green said. “Installing the new equipment allowed us to re-allocate 10 operators to more value-added functions.”