Academic Rigor, Industry Speed

October 12, 2021
Baylor University’s industry-facing service centers were formed to provide cutting-edge research capabilities that foster collaboration and address industry challenges—and to do so in a way that eliminates many of the common challenges faced in academic-industry partnerships. Partners find that these core facilities, located within the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative, provide managed services within state-of the-art facilities, led by experienced problem-solvers.

Baylor’s Materials Testing and Characterization Core (MTACC) and ProtoLAB are two service centers that provide full-service, multi-discipline engineering services, design and project management, along with ISO-accredited materials imaging, testing, manufacturing and more.

Raymond Curtice, engineering manager of ProtoLAB and Blake Heller, Ph.D., MTACC director, bring deep industry experience to their roles. Curtice spent nearly two decades in aviation and aerospace engineering, including over a decade at L3Harris Technologies; Heller is a Baylor alum who served in materials engineering at Schlumberger before returning to his alma mater.

In this Q&A, they share how MTACC and ProtoLAB offer a new approach to industry-university research partnerships that offers academic rigor at industry speed.

What is MTACC, and what services does it provide?

Heller:
MTACC is an industry-facing, ISO-accredited materials testing facility with the resources, equipment and expertise to do standard testing (to ISO, ASTM, SRM standards) and custom testing on a wide range of materials, plastics, composites and metals. As a service center in a research university, we have equipment others don’t, as Baylor has invested in state-of-the-art equipment that can advance university research and can be utilized to solve industry problems. Partnering with MTACC is a partnership with depth.

What is ProtoLAB, and what services does it provide?

Curtice:
ProtoLAB takes technology from idea to product through full-service, multidisciplinary prototyping and engineering services. It’s important in the development of a technology to have something that investors and other people can look at, touch and feel. We create those prototypes to help commercialize technologies developed in Baylor labs, and our services and resources provide a gateway for industry into the university research world.

ProtoLAB’s four pillars are mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, software development and human-centric design, and we have the expertise to address financial oversight, invention, consulting and other services. In short, ProtoLAB is here for industry to come to us with their hard problems, and we’re equipped to address them together.

How do MTACC and ProtoLAB represent a new model for university-industry research partnerships?

Curtice:
We’ve both worked on the industry side and know that industry is looking for schedules and budgets unique to them. They need deliverables on a reasonable timeframe. Traditionally, university research takes place on a very different timeframe, and it’s difficult to align those. These service centers are a key cog in Baylor’s system to address this and provide a value proposition to industry. We help industry access the right research facilities and the right personnel throughout the University, and work beyond sponsored research agreements to cover IP, NDAs, and more, and work on timelines based on industry needs.

Another challenge we address for industry comes through our edge as a research university. Research and development can be very expensive. But at Baylor, we can do it more inexpensively than industry can. So, if we combine speed to the cost-effectiveness of the academic world, and enable industry to access the depth of information that our outstanding faculty can provide, that’s a unique value we bring to the forefront.

What resources does MTACC offer that meet industry needs?

Heller:
We say, “chances are MTACC has it” because of the substantial investment made by Baylor into equipment and instrumentation that many industries are unable to access. We have ISO accreditation and state-of-the-art equipment in imaging, materials characterization, materials fabrication and processing, sample preparation and measurement devices and more. I don’t know how to say it without sounding boastful, but because of our research backing, we have equipment that industry testing labs do not, allowing us to provide comprehensive testing services that most places don’t have.

MTACC and ProtoLAB are a part of a growing research university. In what other ways can that benefit industry partners?

Curtice:
First, we’re surrounded by world-class faculty and outstanding students, many of whom are our neighbors in the BRIC. When we have questions about physics or computer science, for instance, we have access to some of the top professors in their field to share their insight and expertise. When there are pieces of equipment that we don’t have in ProtoLAB or MTACC, there’s a good chance another professor on campus might have it. It’s access to a depth of information that most engineering organizations don’t have.

There’s also another benefit to industry: we want you to poach our students. The cool thing about this is that we get to do all this under an umbrella that benefits Baylor students. For industry, there are many positives to that. When you hire a consulting firm, you are traditionally disincentivized from hiring any of them full-time. We are the opposite. Our students are going to graduate. We want them to leave the nest, and when you partner with Baylor, you’re going to work with students who could make great employees who will already be familiar with your organization and needs.

CONTACT

MTACC:
Blake_Heller@baylor.edu (254)710-1172
ProtoLAB: Raymond_Curtice@baylor.edu (254)710-3607
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