Despite the many challenges faced throughout 2020, Happy Valley lived up to its name this past year, rising above the fray and continuing to shine. The year may not have been easy, but it certainly was noteworthy. We’re taking a look back at eight of the biggest stories from 2020.
When COVID-19 swept the globe and upended the business landscape, Happy Valley’s manufacturers didn’t just adapt, they led the charge with a robust COVID response that had many area companies stepping up and stepping in.
Actuated Medical, a company that traditionally manufactures minimally invasive surgical instruments, used its resources and expertise to create breathable, durable face shields for first responders, children, athletes and more. It's produced more than 40,000 face shields, in addition to specialty models made to attach to football helmets and hard hat shields, as well as a model sized for kids.
SEKO Logistics likewise immediately felt the call to action when the pandemic arrived and as hospital bed shortages became a reality across the country. This omni-channel supply chain company partnered with one of its long-term clients to create low-cost hospital beds that could be quickly sourced and delivered. During its first phase, SEKO Logistics distributed roughly 35,000 beds to front-line hospitals.
In 2020, Penn State’s rankings from the National Science Foundation rose above all other universities in the United States, based on research expenditures. Not only does its ranking outshine other well-respected institutions like Johns Hopkins and MIT, it's also a reflection of the university's interdisciplinary strength, which has steadily been gaining traction over the last few decades.
“This milestone reflects both the strength of external support for the university's research activity and the broad impact of that activity on solving complex societal problems,” as Eric Barron, Penn State's President, explained. “Penn State's research enterprise is dedicated to improving the overall quality of life for people in our communities, our nation and our world.”
During the 2019-2020 fiscal year, Penn State spent $1.01 billion in research, much of which came from a record-breaking $633 million in federal grants – a $40 million increase in federal funding from the year prior.
Although COVID-19 impacted many businesses and manufacturers in the region, it didn’t dull the shine as Industry 4.0 continued moving forward.
In the face of the extraordinary business challenges that COVID-19 brought with it, Happy Valley companies like Minitab continues thriving. While other companies may have been forced to downsize, Minitab has continued investing in its employees and its innovative solutions. It has also launched Minitab Connect its new cloud-based platform and, over the year, it helped healthcare providers like Adventist HealthCare make more efficient, fast, data-driven decisions to cope with COVID-19.
Another Happy Valley gem, Raytheon Technologies, announced a merger with United Technologies in April 2020, giving the newly formed organization even more clout and a larger reach. At the 2020 AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition, which was held virtually due to the pandemic, Raytheon Technologies demonstrated some of the exciting innovations it's working on to bring Industry 4.0 to the U.S. Army.
DiamondBack Covers also experienced explosive growth during a year that many businesses struggled. DiamondBack reports that, by the end of 2020, its revenue doubled what it made in 2017.
Penn State is a hub, renowned for its culture of innovation that's embraced by students and faculty alike across the university’s interdisciplinary research institutes and colleges. In addition to its elite status as one of the top research universities in the nation, it also embraces and nurtures entrepreneurship.
This year, Penn State researchers teamed up with researchers in China and together they've discovered smart sensors and robotics that could help people with disabilities. Another set of researchers are using sensing phenomena found among animals to make improvements to the sensors used in homes, factories and other environments. They've discovered that adding background noise can actually boost weak signals, a finding that could have groundbreaking results.
Much of the research accomplished at the university remains in Happy Valley, as budding entrepreneurs move forward to create startups and thriving corporations that drive Industry 4.0 forward. QuantumBio is a prime example. Born from the technologies that were developed from 1995 through the mid-2000s, this company has progressed from research to startup and is now a thriving company that helps pharmaceutical companies determine which drugs might be helpful, and which drugs could be harmful, to their causes.
Happy Valley is a mecca for smart tech, which is why it’s a leader in Industry 4.0. And it’s paving the way to making Industry 4.0 even smarter thanks to Happy Valley industry leaders like Warlowe, Sensor Networks Inc. and KCF Technologies.
Warlowe, a five-year old company started by two electrical engineers who worked together to meet a need they saw in the local market, originated as a side hustle. It has since grown into a bustling venture that brings its smart-industry solution to fields ranging from aerospace to medical equipment to manufacturing automation (and beyond). It's helping to turn traditional factories into smart factories, transforming the landscape. As one of its co-founders told us, “Smart industry is where this is all going.”
Sensor Networks, Inc. was similarly founded by two bright minds, working together. One had the idea to update the technology they were working on, the other had the idea to start a business. Together, they've created a company that provides the technology needed to solve some of the biggest challenges that refineries, plants and pipelines face. From smart sensors to remote visual inspection tools, Sensor Networks, Inc. aims to continue bringing smart solutions to its customers around the world.
KCF Technologies was founded by a group of Penn State researchers in 2001. It has since gone on to create invaluable savings for its customers – savings projected to reach $2 billion over the four-year span of 2016 to 2020. It’s experiencing rapid growth while helping manufacturers and those in the energy industry catch machine failures before they ever occur, with its innovative sensor technology.
Happy Valley's been making news for decades now, with praise for its low-stress lifestyle among its earlier accolades. More recently, it's garnering headlines across the nation as one of the U.S.'s best cities for entrepreneurs. The region boasts world-class technology, rich resources, a vast pool of talent and a low-cost of living and working. In addition to all that, Happy Valley has a unique ecosystem that supports entrepreneurship and innovation.
The ecosystem is already slated to get an upgrade in 2021, with a new Invent Penn State Innovation Hub set to open in downtown State College in Fall 2021.
Eight teams were admitted into Happy Valley LaunchBox's FastTrack Accelerator Program for Fall 2020. This program, offered through Invent Penn State, aims to smooth the bumpy road that starts at an idea and ends with getting a product to market. Once accepted, entrepreneurs keep all their equity, while FastTrack Accelerator provides access to free tools, a pool of experts and up to $6,000 to use for discovery, market tests and more. The program runs from November through April, with 15 virtual group sessions held weekly, and virtual one-on-one sessions.
The eight accepted early-stage startups boasted business ideas that ranged from an online stock footage marketplace to an analytic platform to help law enforcement agencies identify parolees who might relapse. Other ideas include a health tech startup aiming to improve quality of life for the disabled, an automated recommendation platform for maintenance technicians and biodegradable seed squares that grow plants while repelling weeds.
HappyValley Industry reached out to plant managers working in national paper mills to gauge some of the roadblocks they face. What were some of their biggest pain points? Downtime continues to vex.
Downtime decreased over the past decade, but most plant managers still faced downtime caused by a poorly trained workforce. In fact, nine out of 10 respondents indicated that their biggest challenge was finding and training the right workers.
When asked about the potential for digital solutions to help them overcome challenges, the managers indicated that they thought digitization could mainly help with workforce scheduling and process analytics. Those who actually added sensors and other digital solutions to their plants went on the say that it delivered the outcome that was promised.
As we head into 2021 and look back on some of the biggest stories to come out of Happy Valley, we can’t help but look forward to all the innovations ahead.