Press Conference Announces Details of Partnership to
Start-up New Advanced Technology Business in Rockford
The Northern Illinois University ROCK Program (NIU-ROCK) is pleased to have worked in partnership with Congressman Donald Manzullo, the Abilities Center, and Alion Science and Technology to bring an advanced laser cladding technology to Rockford. A news conference was held at the Abilities Center on Tuesday, October 31, 2006 to announce the details of the joint effort and to introduce the start-up of a new business in Rockford, which will be commercializing the advanced robotic laser-cladding technology developed by Alion Science and Technology.
Mike Molander, formerly VP of Technical Services at LJ Fabricators in Rockford,
is launching a new company, Protoform, to help take Alion's robotic laser-cladding technologies to the marketplace. These technologies were developed at Alion’s St. Charles, IL manufacturing research center through the support of a U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) contract over the last four years. Alion received a prestigious "R & D 100 Award" for its robotic laser-cladding system in 2004, which recognized it as one of the most important 100 new inventions in the world as determined by an international panel of scientists. From the beginning, the goal of Alion's ONR contract has been the creation of new American jobs and businesses. Protoform, supported by Alion engineers, Northern Illinois University, and the Abilities Center, will be a vehicle for this commercialization.
The opportunity to bring a new technology to Rockford would not have been possible without the efforts of many entities who worked together to make this happen. Congressman Don Manzullo, who has continuously been a driving force to bring attention to the manufacturing industry in our region, once again played an integral part in bringing this technology to Rockford. As the attendees gathered around the robotic laser-cladding machine, which is being housed at the Abilities Center, 1907 Kishwaukee Street, Congressman Manzullo opened the press conference by explaining some of the capabilities of the machine. He stated that this piece of equipment is the only one of its kind in the world and is the answer to exactly what Rockford has been looking for: a technology that is unique only to this area.
Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey followed the Congressman and added that the effort to bring the robotic laser cladding machine to Rockford has been a long one, over two years, but the efforts of all involved have now been rewarded. He shared the Congressman’s enthusiasm for what this new technology could mean to the Rockford area manufacturing industry.
Robert Rusnak, a representative of Alion Science and Technology who works at a facility near Washington, DC, gave a brief history of the development of the robotic laser-cladding technology. He explained that Alion will continue their research efforts on the machine while sharing time for commercial applications.
A key supporter of the robotic laser-cladding project in Rockford has been Northern Illinois University (NIU) and its engineering outreach staff working for the ROCK Program, which is housed in Rockford's EIGERlab. NIU-ROCK has functioned as a match-maker, bringing Alion Science and Technology, Protoform, and the Abilities Center, all active EIGERlab participants, together as partners. Promod Vohra, Dean of NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (CEET), expressed his appreciation to Congressman Manzullo for his continued efforts to improve the manufacturing economy in this region. Dean Vohra said he is seeing a rise in interest in the CEET programs from the Rockford area and he vowed NIU’s continued support to help further the employee development of the region as well as continue to help businesses innovate and to be a catalyst in the commercialization and R&D efforts.
The Abilities Center was selected to house the project because of its location in the middle of a Federally-designated "HUBzone" (HUB = historically underutilized business zone) and its proximity to the Rockford Airport. HUBzones have been created by the U.S. Small Business Administration to help revitalize older urban neighborhoods in Rockford and elsewhere by offering HUBzone enterprises the possibility of preferential Federal contracts.
News conference attendees were able to view the robotic laser-cladding system and its accessories and learned more about how this powerful new technology will play a vital role in Rockford's economic redevelopment.