The folks at the Advanced Manufacturing Institute love a challenge.
When Cessna, the aircraft manufacturing company based in Wichita, wanted to create a more efficient production process, AMI was more than willing to tackle the project.
Cessna wanted to develop a machine that would bond smaller, flat aluminum parts more quickly and efficiently than the company's existing setup could manage.
To replace Cessna's method of bonding parts using heat and vacuum, the engineers at AMI designed and built a machine that allows multiple assemblies to be bonded simultaneously without an autoclave. Instead of the autoclave, a large vessel that operates under high vacuum and temperatures, the AMI machine bonds flat aluminum parts using computer-controlled heat and pressure.
"Before we developed the metal-bonding machine, the autoclave had become a bottleneck in the production process for Cessna," said Bradley Kramer, director of AMI. "We were able to build something that decreased material costs, reduced setup time and cycles faster."
AMI is part of K-State's College of Engineering and is a Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation Center of Excellence. It helps companies, entrepreneurs and university researchers develop products and processes and launch them into the marketplace. Student interns from many of K-State's colleges work and learn alongside institute staff.
AMI offers business planning and research, product development, manufacturing process development, custom equipment development, bioprocessing and chemical engineering, design verification and technology development and commercialization.
"In many ways, we operate like a teaching hospital for engineers and business professionals," Kramer said. "We mentor students as they work with our experts on client projects.
Since 1995 the institute has employed more than 400 students from an array of colleges. This semester, students are interning from the Colleges of Engineering; Business; Arts and Sciences; and Architecture, Planning and Design.
"The No. 1 impact we have is on the students," Kramer said. "We help the students do the projects, which gives them experience in their profession. And a high percentage of our interns stay in the state for jobs after college."
"Companies seek to hire our interns," said Scott Case, operations manager for AMI, "because they know they are able to hit the ground running with the knowledge and experience they have gained working here."
When AMI began in 1986 it only employed a few people, Kramer said. Today, the institute has more than 20 full-time staff members and more than 30 interns.
In the last decade, AMI has worked with more than 500 clients from 47 Kansas counties -- and from around the world -- on more than 2,500 projects. In Kansas, AMI calculates it has created around 500 jobs, saved more than 40 jobs, reduced manufacturing costs by $3.7 million and increased sales by nearly $100 million.
It's not just large companies that seek help. Larry Menard, a Manhattan resident, recently sought AMI's services for his PowerDolly, a motorized dolly that allows one person to transport large equipment.
Institute experts were able to help Menard with the design, market research, competitive analysis and the development of marketing materials. Then AMI identified a Kansas manufacturer to produce the PowerDolly.
"I didn't know what to do to take my invention to market," Menard said. "AMI helped me write patents, build the model for production and find a manufacturer -- everything I needed from start to finish."
AMI continues to grow and to gain exposure. The institute recently was featured in the magazine Equipment World for assisting John Deere develop its NeverGrease pin joint.
"We have the capability to look at new ideas and guide the development," Kramer said. "We would really like to work with more faculty members on new technology and developments that could be produced and sold.
"We are always looking to further our partnerships with university faculty, staff and students."
Photos: (Top) Matt Campbell, graduate student in mechanical engineering (left), works on a client project under the guidance of Jon Thurston, an associate engineer at AMI. (Bottom) Dale Wunderlich, industrial designer at AMI, assists Alyssa Williams, senior in graphic design. Photos courtesy AMI.