By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
For Paul Jennings, the new Southeastern Automotive Manufacturing Technology Acceleration Center (SA-MTAC) is just another building block in his organization’s portfolio of assets to better serve Tennessee industries.
Jennings is Executive Director of the University of Tennessee’s Center for Industrial Services (UT CIS), a 51-year old organization that is one of the oldest collegiate-based, industrially-focused programs in the country. It also runs the Tennessee Manufacturing Extension Partnership program that is part of a national network.
SA-MTAC is a $500,000, multi-institution program that is funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and, as the name implies, designed to accelerate the adoption of new technologies in the automotive sector.
“We are focused on understanding how SMEs in Tennessee make technology decisions about new products, process improvements, and other enhancements,” Jennings says. SMEs are small- and medium-sized manufacturers, specifically Tier 2 and 3 suppliers. Companies falling into these two categories are not direct sellers to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) like Nissan or Volkswagen.
“We are learning how they do it (innovation), so that we can better connect the SMEs to research assets,” Jennings explains. In Tennessee, those resources include UT, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Tennessee Board of Regents institutions.
SA-MTAC is a consortium of five Manufacturing Extension Partnership programs that cover Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina in addition to Tennessee. Those states house almost all of the transplant OEMs that Automotive News dubbed the “new American automotive manufacturers.”
“We are interviewing automotive suppliers,” Jennings says, adding that the interviews involve Tier 2 and 3 companies of varying size and executives within the companies who hold different positions. Suppliers who have not been contacted and want to participate should contact Rod Kirk, UT CIS Solution Consultant (firstname.lastname@example.org; 615/532-4910).
Representatives of UT CIS will be at this week’s Southern Automotive Conference in Birmingham, interacting with suppliers.
For an overview of SA-MTAC, click here.
The earlier building block reference is to another recently announced win, where the Institute for Public Service, UT CIS’ parent, led a consortium that garnered one of 12 national “Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership” (ICMP) designation.
Dubbed DRIVE for “Drive for the Future Consortium,” this larger effort is focused on further accelerating the growth of the region’s large and robust automotive cluster. As noted in a recent teknovation.biz post, automotive jobs account for more than a third of all manufacturing positions in Tennessee.
“We have a license to hunt,” Jennings says of DRIVE. There was no direct funding for the consortium, but the designation gives the alliance an advantage as it pursues $1.3 billion in new federal grant opportunities.
“It’s all connected,” Jennings adds, citing several other complementary activities. UT CIS has been involved with Roane State Community College’s Advanced Composites Accelerator (ACE) program and the Regional Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (RAMP) that is operated by Tech 2020. The latter’s inaugural “RAMP Trade Conference and Expo” concluded yesterday.