Innovative Lab Design Fosters Collaboration Between Industry, Academia

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Oct. 22, 2018, 12:15 p.m.

Partnerships between major research universities and private industry leaders are becoming increasingly important. Interaction between students, faculty and industry is essential in an evolving economy.

Collaborative spaces are one great way to foster this interaction

That was the goal of the newly designed Aerospace Engineering Science Building (AES) at the Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver). The AES represents a true partnership between The Centennial State’s industry leaders in advanced manufacturing and aerospace and MSU Denver. Not only did the collaboration allow students to engage industry leaders in programming and designing the science labs, but also allowed them to have a hand in building the curriculum for its new Advanced Manufacturing Sciences Institute.

This new program is expected to provide flexible maker-spaces that encourage iterative, changing interaction between students, faculty and industry essential in an evolving economy.

During the 2018 R&D 100 Conference on Nov. 15, a team involved in the creation of this unique lab space will explain why this university/industry partnership is key to the future of aerospace innovation.

Erin Hillhouse, a senior associate at Anderson Mason Dale Architects, is part of the four-person team that will present “Lift-Off: How Fostering Industry Partnerships Fueled a New Cutting-Edge University Laboratory for Aerospace Advanced Manufacturing” during the conference.

Hillhouse recently spoke with R&D Magazine to give a preview of the upcoming presentation and explain how important this partnership is for both the industry and the students involved.

R&D Magazine: Can you highlight some key points from the case study you want to hit on during the R&D 100s?

Hillhouse: The AES building began as a chance for MSU Denver to build on its tradition of community service by establishing a conduit between the region’s underrepresented populations and the region’s thriving aerospace economy.  The driver for the MSU Denver AES project are partnerships between this aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries and the University.  Those partnerships shaped the curriculum, the physical configuration of the building and the funding model for the program.

R&D Magazine: What do you hope attendees learn from this case study?

Hillhouse: We hope that attendees will be able to see how a grass-roots level of partnership between industry and academia can fundamentally shape an academic building and the program it houses.  Furthermore, the project is a model for a very fluid, flexible design process that allows an institution and regional industry partners to learn how to work with one another and shape space within which to do this together.

R&D Magazine: Can you give me some background on this study and what the intent was?

Hillhouse: We would characterize the project as the result of a series of studies, rather than a singular one.  The intent of our project was to foster connections between the University and industry.  In a traditional programming-design-construction process, the steps are sequential and linear.  The innovation, we think, in the AES project, was the team’s embracing of a non-linear process.  In some cases, this meant quickly studying a change to the building to pivot towards an industry need.   In other cases, studies of the site suggested certain opportunities, which were presented to industry.  Allowing for a free-flowing design and programming process led to many of the partnerships that eventually became central to the project.

R&D Magazine: Can you give me some background on your company?

Hillhouse: Anderson Mason Dale is a 50-person architectural firm with a focus on buildings for Higher Education.  Over the last 10 years, we’ve had the good fortune to design eight major schools of engineering for universities, including the MSU Denver Aerospace & Engineering Sciences Building.  Our work in this area has attempted to deliver on the highly technical requirements for these sorts of buildings, but to go beyond these requirements to provide a structure, which speaks to the vision of the institution we are working with.  We’ve been honored to be recognized with successive international Lab of the Year awards over the last two years for innovative learning environments.

R&D Magazine: How exactly was the new aerospace lab developed?

Hillhouse: The project began with a hope for foundational-level gifts from large companies.  However, the initial fund-raising efforts were hampered because the advanced manufacturing and aerospace economies are relatively new and companies in them tend to be small.  To entice these smaller companies into partnerships, the project was developed around a series of tailored arrangements that are mutually beneficial to each industry partner and the University.  In our presentation, we will review examples of these arrangements, but they include novel arrangements like tenant lease space in the building for start-ups and a designated lab to serve as an equipment showroom.

R&D Magazine: What are some of the goals of the lab?

Hillhouse: The AES building includes many labs, each with specific research or teaching focuses.  But the heart of the project is a set of labs on the ground floor that we call the “Advanced Manufacturing Hub” that is intended to allow students to work in the iterative style of the industry partners.  Students can model an object digitally in the Computational Lab, then prototype the object in plastic in the 3D Print Lab, then, when the object is refined, manufacture the object in metal using computer-driven tools in the Advanced Machines and Robotics Hall. The physical properties of the object can then be tested in the Materials Testing Labs.

R&D Magazine: How important are partnerships between industry leaders and academia?

Hillhouse: The relationships are extremely important and are mutually beneficial.  They present real world career path opportunities for students/employers, they bring otherwise unavailable equipment and technology onto campus, and they provide highly visible locations for and research partners with industry and technology. 

Metropolitan State University took a bold chance with the AES Building. By embracing the future of the regional economy and inviting partners onto their campus in ongoing collaborative enterprise, they have created extraordinary opportunities for students, instructors, private sector partners and the community to collaborate, engage and integrate work, learning and research.  They have arguably altered the course of the University as a result in a very affirmative way that will propel future growth on and off the campus.