By Kathryn Kopchik
LEWISBURG, Pa. — Jeremy Horning, a senior majoring in chemical engineering at Bucknell University, wanted real-world experience before he graduated, so he took a job with the Bucknell Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
The SBDC put Horning's studies to good use right away, asking the student consultant to sniff out a solution for a local company with a stinky problem: metal powders manufactured by the firm were arriving overseas smelling of sulfur.
Hugh Weber, plant engineer of Hoeganaes Corporation in Watsontown, contacted the SBDC in 2008 for technical assistance when a South Korean customer began cancelling orders.
Steven Stumbris, assistant director of technical consulting with the SBDC, arranged for Horning and Jim Maneval, associate professor of chemical engineering, to meet with Weber at the manufacturing site to investigate the problem.
"The work I did was to detect what kind of reaction the powder was having to the environment that would cause such a reaction," said Horning, who worked with Maneval as an adviser on the project.
The culprit was water or humidity that collected in transit or at the destination and caused a smelly chemical reaction. The discovery led to Hoeganaes changing its chemical compound.
"By tapping university resources, the SBDC enabled us to correct an engineering issue and regain a market segment we had lost to foreign competition years ago," said Weber. "This assistance enabled us to grow sales by $1 million and keep 25 hard-working people in their jobs here in our region."
Horning's accomplishment was recognized recently by state Sen. John Gordner and Susan Matthias, regional coordinator for U.S. Rep. Chris Carney, during a plant tour of Hoeganaes. The tour highlighted how the regional economy benefits from university-industry collaboration through the Bucknell SBDC.
"This is the type of project that you need to put the money into," said Gordner, who has advocated for sustained state funding for the SBDC program. "During times of recession, SBDCs help retain local jobs." Gordner has been twice been recognized as the small business legislative advocate of the year by the Pennsylvania SBDC
Student research aids local companies
"Jeremy's research helped Hoeganaes recapture former clients and expand business into overseas markets," said Stumbris. "This research is just one example of how Bucknell students and faculty work in conjunction with the SBDC to solve local and, in this case, worldwide manufacturing problems.
"Over the past four years as a Presidential Fellow and student consultant with the SBDC, Jeremy has had the opportunity to apply his engineering skills to work with companies developing and commercializing new solar power and biofuel technologies."
Following graduation later this month, Horning plans to work as a distribution engineer at UGI utilities in Bethlehem.
"The beauty of the system at the SBDC is that it helped a business while allowing me to gain real world experience in problem-solving," Horning said.
Students employed by the Bucknell SBDC's specialty Engineering Development Services have assisted clients in launching five innovative new products to markets so far this year, such as the Hexagon Wood Stove from Vargo Outdoors. Recently, Brent Noll, a mechanical engineering master's degree candidate, saw his computer-aided design (CAD) models help the Lewisburg-based retail and manufacturing company bring its product from concept to reality.
Each year more 30 students engage with small businesses through the SBDC to help them solve the real-world challenges they face. Part of a statewide network of 18 centers, Bucknell's is the only provider of direct technical assistance through its Engineering Development Services, and it is the first SBDC in the nation to be hosted by an Engineering College.
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