YSU Excellence Center Could Be Hub for Research, Commercial Applications

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Aside from preparing future generations for careers in advanced manufacturing, the Excellence Training Center at Youngstown State University stands to accelerate research, development and commercialization of new products or processes for the private sector, officials said Monday.

“I think that’s going to have a lot more impact than people know,” YSU President Jim Tressel said after a ribbon cutting ceremony dedicating the opening of the $12 million facility. “It’s going to be about little kids dreaming of working in a place like this all the way to inventing something that could change the world.”

The center is a partnership between YSU, Eastern Gateway Community College, America Makes, the Youngstown Business Incubator, Youngstown City Schools, and the career and technical centers of Mahoning, Trumbull, and Columbiana counties. 

Corporate interests such as Fanuc and Rockwell Automation are likely to play a role in the center’s future, Tressel said. Local companies too could use the center as a laboratory to train employees, solve problems or experiment with new product prototypes or materials, he added.

“We’re going to take our molds from Leetonia and bring them here,” said Mark Lamoncha, president of Humtown Products, Columbiana.  The company over the last five years has worked with additive manufacturing technology to perfect the production of sand molds used in foundries.

Humtown will transport its 3D-printed sand molds from its Leetonia site to the new center.  There, molten metal would be poured into the mold to create new components. This work over the past four years has been done at YSU’s art lab, he said. 

Other opportunities could include work with the U.S. Department of Defense through other partners, said David Sipusic, executive director and YSU associate general counsel for research.  “We’re reaching out to other industry partners to do R&D,” he said.  “We’re meeting regularly with companies on how they can take our equipment and do their own research here.”

The 54,000-square-foot center is fully secure, so any company interested in performing research and development can be assured their intellectual property is protected, he said.

Elected officials joined YSU President Jim Tressel, right, to cut the ribbon on the university’s new Excellence Training Center in downtown Youngstown.

At the Excellence Training Center, situated at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Commerce Street in downtown Youngstown, companies could make use of a robotics lab, CNC machining, 3D printing, metrology and other resources, Sipusic said.

So, too can students as they pursue a path toward earning a degree or certification on some of this new equipment.

“We’re trying to cover a wide variety of advanced manufacturing,” he said, including industrial maintenance, CNC and traditional machining, additive manufacturing, robotics, and automation. “The learners are not just degree students, they’re also non-degree students – adult learners who are looking for another pathway or to upskill their current job.”

Moreover, the center enables faculty to work alongside students or the private sector on different projects, he said. 

Carl Kovach, a machining instructor at Eastern Gateway, said the new center should encourage higher enrollment in his program. “We’re constantly growing, but being in this building brings a lot more eyes on the program,” he said. 

Eastern Gateway President Michael Geoghegan said the new center fits squarely with the community college’s mission and vision. 

“This is going to give students opportunities they never had – with all of the state-of-the art equipment here,” he said. “These are all skills that are in high demand.”

EGCC’s machining program, for example, was housed at Choffin Career Center and is now at the Excellence Training Center. “We have eight industry credentials just in machining,” he says. 

Such training opens up a pathway to not just employment, but also the opportunity to return to school and work toward degree programs at EGCC or YSU, Geoghegan said. 

Nearly eight years in the making, the center was able to secure $7 million in funding from the state of Ohio and $5 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration and the Appalachian Regional Commission. 

The site, Tressel said, serves as a link between the university and downtown resources such as EGCC, the YBI and America Makes. 

He credited a long list of those who helped marshal the project to its success, including the federal government,  Gov.’s John Kasich and Mike DeWine, the Ohio General Assembly and former Ohio budget director Jim Keen, who served during the Kasich administration.

Tressel also emphasized the support from local partners such as the Mahoning Valley Innovation Commercialization Consortium, education leaders and elected officials who helped make the project possible.

“It took a lot of people coming together and really sorting out what we needed during a changing time,” Tressel said. “It took a lot of collaborative strength.”

Still, Tressel said the effort is just halfway finished.  

“Now, we have to go prove that what we said could happen if we built this will happen,” he said.  “The end game is strengthening the workforce, helping people get excited about the future of manufacturing, helping people to be upwardly mobile, all the way to creating research that could change the world.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.