ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steelmaker, is mining something besides iron ore these days – the knowledge and technology generated by local universities and colleges.
The company has a College Partnership Program and challenged Purdue University Calumet students at the new Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation, or CIVS, to find a solution for a technical inefficiency in its strip processing line.
"The center serves as a good forum to explore potential business solutions while offering students the opportunity to tackle a real issue," said David White, director of process research at ArcelorMittal.
The company didn't have to test on an actual production line, which meant it wouldn't need experimenting with the costly resources used in producing steel. The end result included a high profit margin and competitive edge.
Wes Lukoshus, vice chancellor at PUC, said local universities have moved from fringe players to being at the heart of economic development.
Advancing Northwest Indiana and economic regeneration is incorporated into the university's strategic plan.
Raj Selladurai, director of Indiana University Northwest's Small Business Institute, said through the Center for Management Development, IUN has helped ArcelorMittal, U.S. Steel, NIPSCO, BP and Strack & Van Til. The center also has worked on projects for IUN and Methodist Hospitals.
"We have a key role to play by virtue of our intellectual and technological resources," Lukoshus said.
PUC houses seven centers that grew out of the needs of regional businesses, but companies of any kind and size are encouraged to tap the resources of, for example, the Water Institute, the Center for Packaging Machinery Industry or the Center for Energy Efficiency and Reliability.
PUC students also saved NIPSCO $1.9 million annually on a pollution-control project. They conducted a computational fluid dynamic study, which allowed the company to achieve full output on two power units at its Bailly Generating Station in Chesterton.
In a project triggered by BP's Whiting refinery modernization, which will increase the processing of heavy Canadian crude, the Water Institute has been exploring emerging technologies for wastewater treatment.
The Institute cultivates intellectual capital at PUC and Argonne National Laboratory, and, in turn, the advancement of water-related technologies benefits regional development.
"We're an institution geared to educating students who earn degrees, take them into society and have a positive impact on the world," Lukoshus said.
"A vast majority of our graduates return to our region so they're applying their college degrees here. A vital, viable Northwest Indiana translates into job opportunities for graduates. It's one hand helping the other, and it benefits everyone."