What are the problems you’re facing today? What do you need? How can we help?
Those are the questions staff from the Wright State Research Institute (WSRI) ask their customers in business, industry, and government as they form a partnership.
“We want to focus on customer-driven problems,” said S. Narayanan, executive director of WSRI. “It’s about being proactive, being nimble, and being responsive to customer needs. Ultimately, it’s commitment to excellence and delivering high-quality solutions at a very competitive cost.”
S. Narayanan Ph.D.\, P.E.
WSRI was the vision of David Hopkins, Wright State University’s president. Planning for the research institute began when Hopkins was provost of the university. WSRI is structured as a primary driver of the university’s economic development activities, linking its academic mission to industry and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Since WSRI began operations in January 2007, it has executed 62 projects and more than $3.6 million in research, created more than 20 jobs, and supported more than 25 students through research projects and industrial internships.
WSRI prides itself on being customer focused, agile, flexible, and able to provide highly individualized service. “We walk in and we listen. That’s not the normal academic approach to research. This is ‘let me help you solve a problem’ and customers have really responded to that. They can contact the institute and we’ll find the resources across campus to solve their problem,” explained Ryan Fendley, WSRI’s business manager.
WSRI is composed of core staff members, supplemented by the technical expertise of Wright State’s faculty. The capability to draw from any resource within the university to develop a solution to a problem helps WSRI build collaborative partnerships within the university and with outside partners.
Key projects and partnerships
Ongoing research for the Center for Operator Performance is one of WSRI’s most successful projects to date. The center brings together a group of petrochemical companies and control system vendors to undertake research of immediate importance that will impact their operations and bottom line. Marathon, Chevron, and Nova Chemicals are just a few of the companies across the United States and Canada who pay membership fees to belong to the center and direct research projects.
Wright State University worked with David Strobhar, president of Beville Engineering and a Wright State graduate, to create the center. “The Center for Operator Performance is improving the safety of oil refineries and pipelines in Ohio and across North America,” said Strobhar. “The center is able to conduct research that would be difficult for any individual company to justify or even know how to do, so it really fills a need. WSRI provides the oversight and rigor to the research that is needed to make multi-million-dollar decisions and/or influence regulatory agencies.”
According to Narayanan, “This has given us some great opportunities to work with different companies. Our faculty already has a lot of expertise in human factors and decision making, but now they have the opportunity to apply it to specific industry problems.”
Jennie Gallimore is a professor of industrial and human factors engineering at Wright State. She also serves as the university’s faculty liaison with the Center for Operator Performance. One of Gallimore’s research projects for the center was to look at color guidelines for the hundreds of display screens used by process operators and recommend an industry standard. “The older displays looked like Christmas trees. It was just a big color mess,” said Gallimore. During her research, Gallimore recognized that there were more pressing issues at hand than just color. “The biggest problem was, is the information presented in the right way at the right time to make the right decision,” she said. This conclusion led to a new project to reduce the number of displays to improve the quality of decision making.
“When a system goes down, it affects the economy. You’re directly affecting the economy when you solve problems to keep these plants from going down,” explained Gallimore. “If something has to be shut down, they lose millions of dollars. This is very important in terms of solving problems.”
The Aerospace Technology Evaluation and Assessment (ATEA) program is Mark Wysong’s biggest project. Wysong is program manager for WSRI. The ATEA provides research and engineering for the Air Force Research Laboratory and Aeronautical Systems Center. Wysong sees this five-year-long project as a good fit for WSRI. “A lot of our capabilities are lined up very well to the Air Force’s mission,” he said. Working with prime contractor Infoscitex, WSRI will provide operations research and modeling and simulation capabilities for new air vehicle technologies, including unmanned aerial vehicles.
The Automatic Target Recognition Center (ATR) is another partnership between WSRI and the Air Force Research Laboratory. Led by Brian Rigling, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Wright State, the center focuses on sensors technology and target recognition applications. As Rigling explains, ATR uses computers or processors to derive information from sensor data and make decisions. “This kind of technology has fairly broad applications. It’s by no means just a military application,” said Rigling. Medical imaging is just one example where ATR can be used to highlight potentially cancerous regions in a mammogram or a cervical cancer–screening slide.
An engine for economic development
“Whenever a university wants to grow in their capability to support others on the outside, it should form a research institute,” said Bart Barthelemy, associate director of the Wright Brothers Institute and Tec^Edge. Barthelemy has worked with WSRI since its inception and serves on WSRI’s advisory board. “As WSRI’s stature and contributions grow, it will really enhance the region. The potential is there for a huge amount of money to come into Wright State and the region. WSRI can be a powerful engine for economic development.”
This is a mission wholeheartedly supported by WSRI’s leader. “We are focused on increasing the overall research and development portfolio within the university,” said Narayanan. “Ultimately, it’s about collaboration with industry to help them be more successful, so there are more jobs created within the region.”
Wright State University: A Culture of Innovation and Collaboration Video
S. Narayanan, executive director of the Wright State Research Institute, discusses the innovations and collaborations at Wright State University.