November 24, 2014: The Ohio Fuel Cell Coalition partnered with the NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC) to host a Technology Roadshow at the Lorain County Community College (LCCC) on Tuesday, November 18, 2014. The roadshow provides local technology-based companies access to the expertise, research capabilities, and resources of NASA GRC. With a fuel cell focus, the Ohio Fuel Cell Coalition and LCCC identified seven companies that have technology challenges with new or existing products, or manufacturing operations that could be solved during one-on-one consultations with NASA subject matter experts.
Of the seven identified, American Trim of Lima, Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus, Energy Technologies of Mansfield, NexTech Materials of Lewis Center, and OcuFreeze of Uniontown received in-person consultation during last week's event. The remaining companies will meet with NASA subject matter experts at a later date.
"It's an incredible advantage to our region's technology-based companies to have the NASA Glenn Research Center in their backyard," said LCCC Entrepreneur-In-Residence, Lisa Delp. "Lorain County Community College was pleased to sponsor an event that increases the connectivity of regional entrepreneurs to these valued subject matter experts."
William (Bill) Whittenberger knows well the impact of NASA GRC's assistance. His company, Catacel, makes catalysts on thin metal foil substrates for a variety of energy applications and was struggling to set up test models for computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and extract the appropriate data. Whittenberger took his problem to NASA technologists Chris Johnson and Maria Kuczmarski at the Roadshow in Youngstown last year.
"I knew there were engineers at NASA that ran CFD all the time," he said. "We spent nearly five hours with the NASA technologists and came out of that meeting with a list of homework for both Catacel and NASA."
After a few follow-up calls and visits, Whittenberger and his technical team advanced their models, extracted the data they needed, and brought their technology to a place where it attracted a global catalyst company.
Catacel was bought by Johnson Matthey in September 2014.
"That NASA consultation led to additional understanding that made Catacel technology more attractive to our new parent," Whittenberger said.
Larry Wilkerson of stamping and decorating manufacturer American Trim hopes his company can achieve similar results from their consultation this week. His team is looking into high-power switching through electromagnetic forming, which he believes can improve an already advanced and complex technical process. And he thinks NASA engineers are the people who can help.
"NASA's subject matter experts have the exposure and experience we're looking for because of their work in propulsion," Wilkerson said. "We're looking for an alternative method to what we're doing today and if we leave with that, we'll improve our time to market, our reliability, and the life of the componentry."
Helping regional technology companies like Catacel and American Trim is part of NASA GRC's more aggressive approach to collaborate and partner with organizations within Northeast Ohio's entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem according to Joe Shaw, Deputy Director of the Office of Technology Partnerships and Planning at NASA.
"We're seeing were we can add value, not in our eyes, but in the eyes of the partners within the ecosystem," Shaw said.
With that goal in mind, NASA is making certain all 20 companies that applied to participate in the Technology Roadshow, even those not that did not fit the Roadshow criteria, receive the guidance they need. Those companies will be meeting with mentors from the Great Lakes Innovation & Development Enterprise, the technology incubator on the LCCC campus, to discuss their technology challenges and devise a plan for finding the solutions.
As NASA evaluates the overall success of the Technology Roadshow, Shaw is hopeful the broader entrepreneurial community begins to understand how accessible NASA's experts are.
"NASA engineers and scientists want to solve problems. While they typically solve NASA mission problems, these people enjoy taking their skills and expertise and applying them to other sectors," Shaw said.
"If there's one theme that resonates from this Roadshow it's that you can work with rocket scientists."