WMU News

Hydro sets up engineering unit in BTR Park

Nov. 13, 2003

KALAMAZOO--A corporate reorganization by Hydro Aluminum North America will bring a new engineering group to Western Michigan University's Business Technology and Research Park in a move designed to consolidate engineering functions for the firm's transportation sector initiatives.

A 10-person staff will open its offices in the park's Pro Line Tech building in mid-December. The unit will be headquarters for the firm's Hydro Aluminum Transportation Components unit and will have engineering operations responsibilities for facilities in Sydney, Ohio, and Fayetteville, Tenn., as well as sales engineering responsibilities for the company's seven other North American sites that produce parts for the transportation industries.

The engineering unit will occupy approximately 2,700 square feet in the Pro Line building, which already is home to three other advanced engineering firms. To round out the unit's capabilities, at least two new engineers will be added to the Hydro staff in the near future.

According to Jack C. Pell, Hydro's vice president and general manager for transportation components, the reorganization has been in the planning stages for 12 months. A successful transition could set the stage for an additional Hydro manufacturing facility in Michigan, possibly in the Kalamazoo area.

"If Transportation Components grows and is successful, there will be opportunities for more work in the future in Michigan," Pell says. "While we'll have operational control for facilities in other states, we chose to stay here, because this is where our market is. In five years, one metric for our success would be the launch of an additional manufacturing facility in Michigan."

In addition to work with the facilities in Ohio and Tennessee, the Transportation Components engineering team will interact with parent company Hydro Aluminum's technical center and its Hydro Aluminum Automotive manufacturing site in Holland, Mich. Research and development and manufacturing at that site focuses on high-end components, such as bumpers, engine cradles and windshield surrounds produced through the company's crash management initiative.

Lance Auyer, director of business development for transportation components, says that as the reorganization evolved, it became clear that it was advantageous for engineering operations to be disassociated from Hydro's Parchment, Mich., facility.

"It became clear to us that Parchment should continue to be what it is--a diverse manufacturing site," Auyer says. He notes that the new engineering unit will be primarily a manufacturing support unit rather than a design or engineering analysis team. For that reason, the proximity of WMU's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences was a special draw when it came time to select a base for the Transportation Components engineering team.

"We would like to consider some technical projects that could be set up more like consulting work for students," Auyer says. "For some time, we've also felt that we'd like to look at sponsoring a senior design project, but that's tough to do when you're not right down the road and don't have easy access to students and faculty."

Pell notes that his company has a long track record of working with students on technical projects. Last summer, for instance, Hydro worked with University of Kentucky students and donated an aluminum frame for that university's solar car, which raced against WMU's Sunseeker in the 2003 American Solar Challenge. Pell says his company also has worked on projects with young engineers from Michigan Technological University.

"Our company is in the process of sponsoring aluminum design expos over the next two years--one specifically aimed at students," Pell says. "That's also something WMU students could get involved in."

"Hydro Aluminum North America absolutely fits in with the mission of the BTR Park," says Bob Miller, WMU associate vice president for community outreach and the University's point person on the park. "There's a real synergy that fits with some of the core competencies of our College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The company's engineers already have been in conversation with our mechanical and industrial engineering faculty to explore the opportunities that exist."

Hydro Aluminum North America is a leading extruder, the largest drawn tubing producer and the operator of the largest remelt network in North America. It is a unit of Hdro Aluminum, one of the world's three leading integrated aluminum companies. Hydro Aluminum has 27,000 employees in 28 countries and is part of Norsk Hydro ASA, a leading Norwegian industrial company. For more information, visit <www.hydroaluminumNA.com>.

WMU's Business Technology and Research Park shares the University's 265-acre Parkview Campus with the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Launched in 1999, the park is home to companies in the fields of advanced engineering, information technology and life sciences. The park is one of 11 sites around Michigan designated as a SmartZone by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and has won commitments from more than 20 partner firms, attracted to the SmartZone by the prospect of collaboration with a major research university and the opportunity to take advantage of business incubator/accelerator services. Information is available at <www.wmich.edu/btr>.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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