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November 20, 2003

Pitt part of new NSF research center

A new National Science Foundation (NSF) research center with promise to revolutionize product design by making consumers and manufacturers part of the design process will be based at Pitt and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The Center for e-Design and Realization of Engineered Products and Systems is an NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center, merging the strengths of the two universities with a dozen industry partners. The NSF, member companies, government agencies and the universities are providing $3 million over the first five years, in addition to in-kind support. More universities and companies are expected to join the center.

“The center will revolutionize the ways products are conceived, designed, realized and serviced in the world and will spread this new knowledge through programs and training of a new breed of product design engineers,” said Bart Nnaji, center director and Alcoa Foundation Professor of Manufacturing Engineering at Pitt’s School of Engineering.

According to Nnaji, the center initially will focus on the aerospace, automotive and medical device industries. A dozen organizations already have agreed to become corporate partners in the center: Wright-Patterson Air Force Research Laboratory, G.E. Aircraft Engine, Alcoa, Ford Motor Company, ANSYS, Respironics, Lockheed Martin, IBM, Pratt & Whitney, Raytheon, BAE Systems and Parametric Technology.

“Industries are now beginning to realize that the best way to reduce life-cycle costs is to evolve a more effective product design paradigm using the Internet and web-based technologies,” said Nnaji.
Among the most significant problems the e-design center hopes to ameliorate are development times prolonged by redesign and rework, unacceptably long break-even periods in new design profitability, the recurrence of earlier design problems in later designs and lost expertise owing to highly mobile careers.

As partners in this new design model, consumers can express their opinions as to what components and features are most important, and manufacturers can point out potential problems, suggest ways to reduce costs or improve products.

“One of the major issues that industry members usually want to address is being able to assure that proprietary information from all partners — consumers, designers and manufacturers — are protected, while sharing enough information to make the design viable,” said Nnaji. “Fortunately, the National Science Foundation has worked out an acceptable formula for industry over the last 30 years of setting up such centers of excellence.”

Filed under: Feature,Volume 36 Issue 7

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