Manufacturing Outreach Center benefits businesses and students

Wisconsin State Roundup

Published July 1, 1996  | July 1996 issue

Manufacturers in northwestern Wisconsin don't have far to go for solutions to their planning or production problems.

The Northwest Wisconsin Manufacturing Outreach Center (NWMOC), located at the University of Wisconsin Stout in Menomonie, offers the technical expertise of faculty and students from colleges throughout the region to small- to mid-sized manufacturers, mostly in rural areas.

The center provides direct on-site assistance, refers companies to other agencies when appropriate, and links clients and vendors or other companies with similar concerns or problems. Manufacturers also have access to a Cray supercomputer with a fiber optic link to the university and its engineering and design computer programs. In addition, NWMOC conducts periodic manufacturing seminars for businesses in the region.

NWMOC charges for services on a sliding scale based on several factors, for example company size, but also receives funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the University of Wisconsin System, the Wisconsin Technical College System and the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing and Productivity.

When it began operations two years ago, NWMOC was one of about 30 manufacturing support centers nationwide. It has been so successful in that short time that it has become a prototype operation for the state, which is in the process of adding three other regional centers, according to Larry Schneider, executive director of the Stout Technology Transfer Institute, the umbrella group under which NWMOC operates. Adding more centers is good news to Schneider, who sees the need for greater manufacturing support. "Over 80 percent of NWMOC's new clients have never used third-party services," he says.

Marplex Inc., a wood products manufacturer in Rhinelander, is one company that has profited from NWMOC's assistance. Joseph Ligotte, Marplex's president, says his business "can do more with less," now, and production capability has increased by 20 percent. "We learned to view things from a different perspective," says Ligotte, adding that the student who coordinated his production project was highly professional.

Students are involved in about three-fourths of the projects, on site or on campus, Schneider says. "This kind of experience enhances their receptiveness to academic coursework," Schneider says. "It also keeps faculty current and provides a real service to private businesses," he adds.

Kathy Cobb