A recent Harvard Business Review article indicates that in the last decade, “There has been an explosion in the number of research deals between companies and universities.” We have noticed this in our industry circles, but I hadn’t really considered that it was a “movement” of sorts.

What has driven this change? It’s a combination of reducing corporate R&D budgets and more limited government support of academic research. There has always been some collaboration on single projects of particular interest to the company involved, but what we are seeing today is an effort to develop long-term, collaborative relationships.

Evidence of this change is the goal of companies to have their R&D presence near major research universities. This has resulted in companies like Pfizer and Philips Healthcare moving their technology headquarters to the Boston/Cambridge area. General Electric also transferred its world headquarters and 600 tech-focused jobs to Boston in 2016. 

There are a number of models for how companies collaborate with universities. Companies can fund or co-fund individual researchers working on projects of interest to the company. Instead of funding individuals, companies can connect themselves to an institution in order to develop a long-term research relationship. Sometimes these cooperative relationships are in the form of a consortium of companies that can take advantage of a larger pool of research through their participation in the consortium.


Materials Characterization Facility

Enter Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa. This month, we begin our quarterly “Academic Pulse” (AP) column in 2018 with a new contributor. Dr. Marc De Graef is a professor of Materials Science and Engineering, the department from which I hold my master’s degree. This series of columns will discuss the Materials Characterization Facility (MCF), which is involved in an industrial consortium comprised of about seven companies. The basic concept is that the consortium companies have access to all of the research being done at MCF and have input into future projects. This is a perfect example of what we discussed earlier about these industry-university collaborations.

In his column, Professor De Graef will shed some light on the type of research being done and help us better understand this type of collaboration. Perhaps someone reading this column will decide to take advantage of this opportunity. The AP column on page 18 introduces us to MCF, its capabilities and current projects.

Months ago, I was invited to visit the university and meet with Dr. De Graef to see the facility. We took a number of photos, and you can find them in the slideshow accompanying this column on our website. The resources at MCF are impressive and fairly unique. They have six SEMs, which use either a gallium or Zenon focused ion beam to see a 3-D micro. The Zenon unit is one of only three in the U.S. Other equipment at their disposal are TEMs as well as scanning-probe microscopy.

The iDome (pictured here with yours truly) is a device used to view things in 3-D using glasses similar to what you use for 3-D movies. This unique device is one of only two in the U.S. The other is at Baylor University.

Check out the videos on our website for more information about other research being done at CMU. This includes additive manufacturing (AM), which will certainly help industry by sorting out the process and better learning how to produce quality parts. CMU recently announced that they created a new master’s-degree program in AM to equip graduates to move this process forward.