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Funded projects provide student engagement and faculty research opportunities with Pennsylvania manufacturers

This March, five Penn State research teams were awarded grants through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Manufacturing PA initiative. The initiative awarded $2 million across 29 grants in total, bringing together government, industry and higher education in holistic collaboration to spur new technologies and processes in the manufacturing sector.

“We are thrilled to see these funded research projects and relationships established between Pennsylvania manufacturers and Penn State,” said Tanna Pugh, PennTAP director and PA Manufacturing program lead for Penn State. “This program provides opportunities for leading university researchers and students to build relationships in the manufacturing industry, and to push forward innovative research that will have a real-world impact.”

Pairing Penn State students with local manufacturers

The approved projects are part of Manufacturing PA’s fellowship program, which unites eligible graduate and undergraduate students with local manufacturers. Once they are paired, the students embark on research projects to both develop new technologies and advance innovation statewide. The approved projects help advance innovation in several sectors of manufacturing, including medicine, energy and consumer goods (read more about all five research projects here).

In a statement about the grants, Governor Tom Wolf said, “Pennsylvania’s manufacturing industry continues to grow and advance with new technologies and practices, despite the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic posed for us all, and this funding provides support to innovative projects from our state’s higher education system in collaboration with local manufacturers.” 

“Partnering with PA manufacturing has benefits on all sides”

Ed De Meter is the principal investigator of one of the research groups awarded a grant. A professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering and mechanical engineering, he heads a research group that studies manufacturing processes, manufacturing machines and metrology. 

His group won a grant to research with industry partner Extrude Hone LLC, an Irwin, Pennsylvania-based company specializing in abrasive flow machining, electrochemical machining and thermal deburring.

“Our relationship with Extrude Hone started a few years back,” he says. “We purchased abrasive flow machining process equipment and pulsed electro-chemical machining process equipment from them two years ago, with funding from an Office of Naval Research grant.” 

Penn State has the largest number of engineering and science faculty in the state. I believe this increases the likelihood that faculty from the university are doing work that is of benefit to Pennsylvania manufacturers.

Since then, he says that his team and Extrude Hone have had a symbiotic relationship, and that the company has supported graduate student research in a variety of ways. They are already working on an existing Manufacturing PA Innovation grant together, and will be beginning a new project with another PhD student in May. 

He says that partnering with Pennsylvania companies has benefits on all sides. “The benefit to our graduate students is huge. It gives them the opportunity to work hand in hand with their counterparts in these companies. They get to know a lot more of the practical aspects of their field, and get first-hand exposure to the industrial side.” 

“There’s such a benefit to the companies as well,” DeMeter says. “We are able to do R&D for large companies on more long term projects, and also work with smaller companies who need product development help on a much quicker timeframe.” 

Of the 15 Pennsylvania universities that received the March grants, Penn State holds the largest number: five. DeMeter says that the number ebbs and flows with each round of grants, but, “at the end of the day, if the professors are doing work that is what Pennsylvania companies need, we can create a marriage of convenience and identify opportunities together.”

“I think that the reason Penn State has been successful in establishing so many successful collaborations with companies within Pennsylvania — and correspondingly why we’ve been so successful in acquiring the PMFI grants — is Penn State’s size and scope. Penn State has the largest number of engineering and science faculty in the state. I believe this increases the likelihood that faculty from the university are doing work that is of benefit to Pennsylvania manufacturers.” 

“Penn State has been highly successful in this particular funding source,” he says, “And that shows that we are doing work that is closely in tune with what Pennsylvania industry wants and is doing.”

For more information about industry partnerships at the University, visit the Corporate Engagement Center website and the PennTAP website. Interested faculty may consult the manufacturingPA.org website for more information and can contact the Corporate Engagement Center for assistance with the application or facilitating manufacturing partnerships.