Manufacturing is in Dan Radomski's DNA, and his rich background is an asset to the LTU Collaboratory, a manufacturing startup incubator and accelerator based at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield's City Centre.
Radomski started his career with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. In charge of new business development, he learned about "every manufacturing technique known to man," including composites, next generation metal cutting, metal forming, and micro-machining. He specialized in clean energy product manufacturing, such as wind turbines, solar panels, and fuel cells.
"I lifted up a whole business unit at SME focused on clean energy products and how to better manufacture them and to drive out costs and make them more affordable, so they'd be used more," Radomski says. That expertise took him to NextEnergy, a clean energy incubator in Detroit.
"Eventually, I took over running the incubator, helping companies commercialize new, clean tech products, many of which were physical products, so they required a team to be able to design their products for manufacturability, durability," he says.
Radomski recognized the strength of Michigan's accelerators to provide business planning and strategy support, but he saw a gap in education about product development, specifically design for durability and reliability. He sparked an idea for a training curriculum to support startups working to commercialize a physical or hardware product, which he pitched to the Department of Energy for funding. To pilot the program, he connected with LTU Collaboratory executive director, Mark Brucki.
"They eventually asked me to come on and be the director," says Radomski.
We caught up with Radomski to learn more about his role, and the future of the LTU Collaboratory.
Metromode: You have just such a wealth of experience in manufacturing and the Collaboratory is an accelerator for startups that manufacture physical products. From a broad perspective, why this type of support is important to the Michigan economy right now?
Dan Radomski: There's a wave of innovation in hardware and it's easy to overlook it but when you take your eye to new products, whether it's consumer products or even business products, you'll notice that due to the number of different technologies converging, we can turn any unintelligent piece of hardware into an intelligent piece of hardware. With embedded sensors giving everything a wireless address, allowing it to connect and to provide data, the ability to quickly perform data analytics and remote control devices, provides for just a wave of innovation and products. From something as simple as a Fitbit to an autonomous vehicle. Nest, an intelligent thermostat or drones that'll do just about anything. It's all around us.
This wave of innovation is creating an incredible amount of new product innovation and it creates an opportunity to have a number of new company startups that ultimately bring in new product and markets, but also manufacture here in their own state. So, we're trying to capture as much of this innovation that's out there in new companies and design engineering and manufacturing that goes along with it. Most new companies are not going to manufacture out of the gate, right, so partnering them with local design, engineering, testing firms, prototyping, and suppliers is a part of what we do.
The Collaboratory offers virtual reality and augmented reality. That recently became sort of a big thing. Can you talk about the benefit?
These tools are starting to be used for collaborative product design where you can visualize what you're developing, and they're also supporting existing manufacturing operations. So, if you have a product you're manufacturing, it gives you the the ability to visualize the manufacturing process, and perfect it before you make investments, setting up equipment and tuning.
We're connected with a number of the VR, AR, AI firms that are bringing these solutions to market and trying to introduce them to our clients. We have regular events where they're exposed and can have demonstrations, learn about case studies where it's been applied.
I'm sure it blows the minds of a lot of people really.
Yeah, mine included.
There's a new building on campus that belongs to the Collaboratory. What's going into this building?
It's a building that's partly used right now by Michigan Works. We will occupy about half of the bottom floor. It's 6,000-plus square feet of shared working space for innovators and our clients.
It will also serve as a true product design center. People call them makerspaces, but this will be different because we will have tools that will help companies prototype their products, like additive manufacturing, 3D printing machines. A lot of makerspaces have machine tools so you can cut metal or wood or plastics. We're not going to have those types of tools, but we will have people that can do engineering analysis known as FEA, finite element analysis, to stimulate stresses on the product before they spend a lot of money on manufacturing process.
We will have equipment to scan a physical object, and create a CAD file or a FEA model and that's critical to be able to benchmark. A lot of people start with a physical prototype, but they don't have a CAD file, which they eventually need to be able to quote and redesign. We also plan to have some additive manufacturing, 3D printing, for parts.
When will it open?
We are set to open, if all goes well, April of 2019.
How do you see the Collaboratory complement other accelerators in the area?
Two ways that we're really different. One is that we're focused specifically on only hardware and physical products not software companies and app companies. Then two, we're providing a deep level of knowledge and training and one on one support to help lean the existing product design and help with the design of manufacturability with that design and then once the company already has the product in market, helping them scale their business.
Tell me about your experiences working in the Southfield City Centre. What do you enjoy most about working there that people might be surprised by?
I love what we've been able to do in this city to create a vibrant ecosystem that includes large companies, small companies, and the connection to the university. We're starting to see a lot of collaboration with companies working on collaborative R&D projects and or supporting student programs and to me that's just great to see that connection so deliberate and vibrant now.
Innovators, small manufacturers in the area, we encourage them to start coming to our events, sign up for our monthly newsletter, just get acquainted to what we're trying to do to help the community.