Business Engagement Center, TH Innovation Alliance help small business compete with big ones

By: Dave Taylor, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
April 1, 2013

Owners of a business that supplies computer-control systems to more than 230 manufacturers around the world say the company is poised for growth thanks to a partnership with Indiana State University and an affiliated business development organization.

John Young of Terre Haute launched AIS Gauging in his garage 15 years ago and has since relocated the company twice due to expansion. AIS competes with such industry giants as Honeywell, NDC Infrared Engineering and Zurich-based ABB and many of its customers prefer to do business with a smaller company, he said.

But small businesses often need help with technology and marketing and that's where the company's one-year-old partnership with Indiana State's Business Engagement Center and the Terre Haute Innovation Alliance has proven especially valuable, Young and co-owner Glenn Wrightsman said. The alliance is a collaboration between Indiana State, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, the city of Terre Haute and Terre Haute Economic Development Corp.

"There are a lot of things on our back burner that we haven't been able to accomplish and they've filled that void for us," said Wrightsman, a 2002 graduate of Indiana State's College of Technology. He was the company's first employee in 1998 and went on to become co-owner about eight years later.

While AIS has historically relied upon X-ray technology to monitor the thickness of manufactured products, the Innovation Alliance helped develop an isotope sensor that uses beta radiation and some of the same assembly as the company's X-ray tube.

"This is something that we have not had and it opens a whole new market. This allows us to use the same parts for both types of radiation sources," Wrightsman said.

Faculty and students at Indiana State and Rose-Hulman worked to design a stainless steel holder for the testing material that safely contains the radioactivity.

"This kind of collaboration is good. We are glad that they are happy with our design and everything went well," said Mehran Shahhosseini, assistant professor of applied engineering and technology management at Indiana State. "This is a good thing for Terre Haute because there is a company here that can make devices to successfully measure the thicknesses of products and do so economically."

Shahhosseini and M. Affan Badar, professor and chair of the applied engineering and technology management department, led the AIS product development effort at Indiana State.

Rose-Hulman Ventures helped AIS with a new style X-ray tube holder, which allows the use of a lower-cost version for lower-end markets and has integrated cooling into the design to extend the life of the x-ray tube, Wrightsman said.

"These projects have been ideal for collaboration. They have involved a mix of personnel from Rose-Hulman, ISU and AIS working together on product development issues," said Mitch Landess, manager of client programs with Rose-Hulman Ventures.

"This has been great for the educational missions of both ISU and Rose-Hulman interms of professional development opportunities for faculty and students, it has moved product development initiatives forward at AIS, and we anticipate that it will contribute positively to the local economy when the new AIS products are launched."

Student involvement with AIS has not been confined to the lab and product development. Two Indiana State technology students are serving internships with the business by working to produce installation and troubleshooting manuals for equipment the company makes and developing marketing materials.

"I've gotten a lot of experience doing Autocad designing, drawings and things of that nature, real world experience in my field," said Jeremy Kowalsky of Rockville, a senior mechanical engineering technology major who plans to pursue a career as a technical illustrator.

"I do anything ranging from creating the drawings to give to customers about our gauging systems to working on a PowerPoint to do marketing presentations to potential customers. I also help do wiring on different gauging systems," said Rachel Daniel, a freshman majoring in technology engineering education and computer aided design.

Kowalsky, who first enrolled at Indiana State in 2001 and returned to college two years ago after nine years in the Navy, is set to graduate in May.

Daniel landed her internship at the start of her freshman year and believes more students should be exposed to such experiences early in their college careers.

"Seniors in high school and freshmen in college, you're 18 or 19 years old and people are telling you you need to make a decision that will affect the rest of your life. I think that's a lot of pressure on an 18-year-old," she said. "Getting into industry and seeing different types of things that you can do - like automation, like the public relations side - is really an eye-opening experience and you can really see that, OK, maybe I do want to do this for the rest of my life."

AIS customers are manufacturers in such industries as metal, plastics, paper, wood products, fiberglass, carpet and rubber.

"We provide them with the technology to make their product as efficiently as possible, which allows them to compete not only against local customers but in a global economy," Young said. AIS designs, manufactures and supplies equipment to more than 20 companies throughout Indiana as well as another 200 in other states and about a dozen in other countries, including China, Indonesia, India, Singapore, Czech Republic and United Kingdom. "Our technology allows them to achieve a much better quality product. It reduces scrap and waste and helps them use fewer raw materials."

With a larger line of products thanks to the recent partnership with Indiana State's Business Engagement Center and the Innovation Alliance, Young envisions a new round of growth for the business.

"We see us being able to expand our business and to be able to bring in more employees and more business for Terre Haute," he said. "The Honeywells of the world, the big multi-billion-dollar companies, know us. They know who we are because we are making an impact."

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/ISUphotoservices/AIS-Gauging-Interns/i-hftCfzT/0/L/AIS%20Guaging-7662March%2020%2C%202013-L.jpg - Indiana State University student Jeremy Kowalsky checks the wiring on equipment at AIS Gauging in Terre Haute, where he is serving an internship with the company, a client of the university's Business Engagement Center and the Terre Haute Innovation Alliance. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/ISUphotoservices/AIS-Gauging-Interns/i-BHJZ9S8/0/L/AIS%20Guaging-7698March%2020%2C%202013-L.jpg - Rachel Daniel cleans parts for one of AIS Gauging's computer control systems. The Indiana State University freshman is serving an internship at the Terre Haute business. Her other duties range from creating drawings of the company's products to wiring of gauging systems and development marketing materials. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/ISUphotoservices/AIS-Gauging-Interns/i-ZJdJmZ8/0/L/AIS%20Guaging-7767March%2020%2C%202013-L.jpg - AIS Gauging co-owners John Young (left) and Glenn Wrightsman (ISU photo/Rachel Keyes)

Contact: Jessica Starr, interim director, Business Engagement Center, Indiana State University, 812-237-2536 or jessica.starr@indstate.edu

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or dave.taylor@indstate.edu

 

Story Highlights

Owners of AIS Gauging, which supplies computer-control sysems to manufacturers around the world, say a partnership with ISU's Business Engagement Center and the Terre Haute Innovation Alliance are helping it grow.

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