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Shaking off the rust 

Case faculty hope to help local factories adopt new technologies.

Northeast Ohio is peppered with small to medium-sized manufacturers that churn out parts and products critical to the region’s economy and the relatively high quality of life here. But many do not have the resources to adopt to new technologies they need to remain competitive. 

Some see a role for Case expertise. 

A faculty team led by Robert Gao, PhD, Chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, has launched a project to help small and medium-sized manufacturers retool and modernize. He wants to bring smart systems and technologies to their shops and foundries. 

“There’s a negative association with the phrase ‘Rust Belt,’ but the truth is that we made — and continue to make — good things here in Northeast Ohio,” Gao said in a press release issued by CWRU. “The problem is that there are a lot of new technologies that many SMMs can’t acquire as easily as [larger] companies. That’s where we come in — by providing one way for those companies to compete.” 

Gao’s factory team, which includes faculty from Cleveland State University and Lorain County Community College, is supported by a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Its assistance will include developing and presenting case studies to manufacturers showing how to use some of the tools associated with the Internet of Things (IoT) — including artificial intelligence (AI) and sensors — to radically update their machinery. 

The group also hopes to forge partnerships that will enhance regional workforce development and talent retention. Collaborators include Lincoln Electric, Dan T. Moore Co., the manu-facturing advocate MAGNET and Team NEO, the state-sponsored economic development agency. 

Greater Cleveland has the highest concentration of small manufacturers in Ohio and the group’s NSF proposal asserts that the success of so-called “legacy factories” is critical to the region’s well-being. 

“So, in a very real way, if we can help these manufacturers improve, become more efficient, and successful, it will directly help their home community,” Gao said. 

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