UNL leads partnership to cultivate Nebraska manufacturing

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Craig Chandler | University Communications
Biological Systems Engineering Prof. Curt Weller and Steve Weier, FPC Pilot Plant manager, look over equipment.

A new partnership involving UNL’s College of Engineering and the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources as well as Central Community College in Grand Island will help small- and medium-sized manufacturers fuel Nebraska’s economy.

This year, UNL will receive up to $600,000 in federal funding through the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or MEP.

The Nebraska affiliate of the national partnership will be based at the university with field staff throughout the state, said Curt Weller, UNL professor of biological systems engineering and the partnership’s director.

He said matching funds from within UNL and the community college would allow the new MEP to “grow the competitiveness and profitability of Nebraska’s manufacturers by strengthening their position in the global market through innovative, relevant, responsive and profit-based business solutions.

“We’re drawing upon resources available within the University of Nebraska system and beyond,” Weller said.

According to the National Institute’s website, the partnership works with small and mid-sized manufacturers to help create and retain jobs, increase profits and save time and money. The nationwide network provides a variety of services, from innovation strategies to process improvements to green manufacturing. The partnership also works with partners at the state and federal levels on programs that put manufacturers in position to develop new customers, expand into new markets and create new products.

As a program of the U.S. Department of Commerce, it offers a range of effective resources to help manufacturers identify opportunities that will accelerate and strengthen their growth and competitiveness in the global marketplace.

From within UNL, the Food Processing Center could provide testing and development expertise to food manufacturers and the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility could provide product testing for civil infrastructure. Central Community College would provide workforce development training and business management services.

Weller said participating companies could benefit from learning and applying quality improvement methods and accessing market research to explore new products or innovative processing technologies. Other participants could work with UNL’s Engineering and Scientific Research Support Facility to generate new product prototypes.

The institute has stated that funds are renewable annually, with cost share from the state center rising after three years.

An aim of the UNL-based partnership is to boost the university’s efforts with Nebraska manufacturers and convert innovations from researchers’ lab benches into products for the marketplace.

Prior to UNL leading the Nebraska partnership, the State of Nebraska Department of Economic Development directed the NIST affiliate in the state.

The Food Processing Center, a UNL-based partner of the Nebraska MEP from its start, will continue in the repositioned Nebraska MEP. Weller said with this partnership in its early stages, a scorecard is taking shape to measure its impact: tracking companies served, new and retained sales, new jobs created and other cost savings found.

Manufacturers interested in these services through the Nebraska MEP can contact Weller at 402-472-9337 or cweller1@unl.edu.

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