RIT is confronting the global challenges of sustainability through interdisciplinary programs that integrate engineering and science with economics and public policy.
by: Kara Teske May 2010
RIT provides an environment that inspires new ideas and propels them into tangible innovations with real-world benefits. Liban, Inc., a company formed out of technology developed at RIT, is a prime example of how the university can help to accelerate economic development.
Smart product systems have been the focus of research at RIT's Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies (CIMS) for over a decade. Through support from the Department of Defense, engineers and co-op students at CIMS have developed a system that monitors and assesses the performance of light armored vehicles. A computer installed on the vehicle monitors the vehicle's sensors and custom software developed at RIT monitors the driving behavior and maintenance condition of the vehicle.
In partnership with the U.S. Marine Corps Systems Command, the vehicle health management system was deployed on vehicles at Camp Pendleton, California. An unscheduled test of the system, where an equipped vehicle was sunk, tested the capability of the system. Following the accident, engineers were able to provide a play-by-play of the event, proving the robustness and maturity of the equipment.
In 2007, RIT partnered with Lockheed Martin to respond to a $150 million competitive contract with the U.S. Marines that would equip 10,000 military vehicles with the vehicle health system technology. To respond to the demands of the contract, Liban, Inc., was formed in January 2008.
RIT, through its Intellectual Property Management Office, transferred the technology to Liban to commercialize it into a product that can be sold to Lockheed Martin and, eventually, commercially. In October of 2008, David Chauncey, an experienced entrepreneur and electrical engineering alumnus, joined Liban as the chief executive officer, and the company quickly began to take shape.
While the military applications helped to accelerate the company, Chauncey conducted a market analysis and developed a business strategy that expands the technology into broader markets, such as the commercial freight industry. A team of students from RIT's Executive MBA program also conducted an in-depth marketing analysis for Liban as their capstone project. The report provided Liban with a wealth of information and insight of the industry, competitor landscape, and marketing strategy.
A talented board of directors was assembled to advise the young business endeavor, pulling expertise from the university and industry. Ron Zarrella, RIT trustee, former chairman of Bausch & Lomb, and past president at General Motors when OnStar was developed, provides unmatched industry experience. Other members include Dick Kaplan, CEO of Pictometry and serial entrepreneur, Dr. Jim Watters, senior vice president of Finance and Administration at RIT, Dr. Nabil Nasr, director of CIMS at RIT, and Geoffrey Rosenberger, co-founder of Clover Capital Management.
And in the fall of 2009, Ed McCarthy, senior program manager at CIMS and head engineer on the initial development of the technology, joined Liban as vice president of engineering.
Based at RIT's Venture Creations in the Clean Energy Incubator, the company is leveraging the university's infrastructure, allowing Chauncey and McCarthy to focus on product and business development. "Being here at Venture Creations has been critical to us," says McCarthy. "The incubator gives us all the conditions we need to grow, from office space, to access to university resources and co-op students, to a networking infrastructure. These resources are invaluable to us."
The system now collects the data via Wi-Fi or cellular on a secure database that can be accessed via a Web-based interface. In almost real-time the customer can access the information about vehicle location, condition, and driver behavior.
Liban has proved its vehicle health management system can lead to an estimated $3,000 savings per truck annually. The savings comes across in three forms: fuel economy, maintenance, and driver safety. "A driver can have a huge impact on the fuel efficiency of a vehicle, by as much as 30 percent," says Chauncey. "By monitoring driver behavior and coaching drivers, we've been able to consistently show a 10-percent savings on fuel."
The system also allows operators to adjust the maintenance schedule to service the trucks when necessary rather than according to an arbitrary schedule. Additionally, when a vehicle does need service, diagnosing the problem earlier and ordering parts in advance can reduce offline times. Finally, by monitoring driver behavior, most companies will receive cost savings from their insurance companies.
To date, Liban employs 10 full-time employees, including an office manager, two salespeople, a marketing coordinator, and four engineers. Co-op students have also been brought on to assist with accounting and engineering.
Engineers at Liban continue to partner with RIT for technical support, software development, and troubleshooting. "RIT has been an integral role in this process and will continue to be as we go after advanced technologies and new capabilities," McCarthy says. For example, Bruce Hartpence at RIT's B. Thomas Golisano College for Computing and Information Sciences is helping to develop secure wireless communication networks for Liban's customer data through a Corporate R&D collaboration.
"RIT has shown itself as an institution that can transfer technology, take it from a research lab and actually have real customers using the technology," adds McCarthy.
"That has always been the vision at CIMS; we do cutting-edge research, but we always keep the customer in mind," says Dr. Nabil Nasr, director of CIMS. "It's this passion for engineering and the passion for economic growth that has helped to fuel the success of Liban."