Thriving on creativity: How EWI helps shape the manufacturing industry future
By: Anthony Castrovince
From its humble beginnings as a state-funded welding institute to its current status as a manufacturing industry innovation leader, Edison Welding Institute (EWI) has thrived on the creativity of its people.
“Our associates want to do novel things, and this is an environment that allows for that,” says Jim Tighe, CFO and vice president of administrative services at EWI, one of the leading engineering and technology organizations in North America dedicated to developing, testing and implementing advanced manufacturing technologies for industry.
Take, for example, the day engineers in the EWI lab were developing a high-powered laser system that can precisely strip the paint off an airplane — a necessary precursor to a plane inspection. Trouble was, the system required an exhaust system to clear out the flames and the paint during the stripping process, and they didn’t have the funds to purchase something complex.
As is often the case at EWI, somebody had a brilliant idea. They purchased a leaf blower and reversed its air flow, and with that simple move, the lab techs advanced a vanguard project with an everyday item.
Moments like this have made EWI what it is. The Columbus-based company’s engineers, technicians and other experts are helping to shape the future of the manufacturing industry, not just with their intellect but also with their willingness to take risks and challenge the status quo.
This cultural mindset has allowed EWI to grow and impact an ever-evolving industry, despite limited seed funding and the trials — and errors — that come with effecting change.
EWI was founded in a research park adjacent to The Ohio State University in 1984 as the Edison Welding Institute, one of a several state-funded technology centers. Over time, it evolved into a nonprofit research and development organization that serves as a resource for the manufacturing community to help companies identify, develop, commercialize and implement new technologies and become more competitive.
“Our associates want to do novel things, and this is an environment that allows for that.”
– Jim Tighe, CFO and Vice President of Administrative Services, EWI
But today, EWI operates without support money from the state, and seed funding can be difficult to come by.
“We’ve had to be pretty scrappy to come up with some of the innovations we have,” Tighe says. “You have to get a project to a point where a client or a member is interested in funding it or a government agency is interested in bringing it along.”
Although EWI was established in Ohio, its goal is to support manufacturers across the United States. Spreading the word — and the influence — is an organizational challenge, but recent expansion into new markets has helped.
The state of New York, as part of a series of strategic investment initiatives known as the Buffalo Billion project, identified EWI as a positive force in regional manufacturing and in April 2015 invested $45 million into the EWI-operated Buffalo Manufacturing Works, a facility that features state-of-the-art additive manufacturing and automation equipment. In November 2016, EWI expanded further with the opening of its third national laboratory — EWI Colorado in Loveland, Colorado, where the focus is on nondestructive inspection.
The company, led by CEO Henry Cialone, covers a lot of ground physically, but also figuratively. Its reach has extended into aerospace, automotive, medical devices, space exploration and oil and gas consumer products, operating as a resource not just for commercial businesses but also government organizations such as the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Energy.
EWI’s 160 associates come from a broad range of backgrounds — from recent college graduates to Karl Graff, the company’s founder and first executive director, who remains on staff doing technical project work — but they share a passion for supporting the manufacturing community.
“People work here because they love our mission, they love working with the companies, they love working in cutting-edge technologies,” Tighe says. “That’s one of the things that keeps our turnover low. The work is extremely interesting and challenging.”
Producing a partnership
EWI has evolved over the last 33 years, but one constant has been its relationship with Huntington Bank. The company and the bank have partnered from the very beginning, on Oct. 25, 1984.
“They helped back the original revenue bond to finance the building we’re in now,” Tighe says. “During the Great Recession in 2008, we worked with them to refinance the bond into a more stable note, which was very helpful during a stressful time.”
Brad Mullenix, vice president, senior commercial relationship manager at Huntington, has worked with EWI on the financing of a solar roof project and has provided support through EWI’s commercialization efforts with its members.
“I can call Brad with pretty open questions as far as what the bank can help us with,” Tighe says. “He’s really good about learning our business and can explain our business well to people within the bank, as well as outside the bank.”
For more information, visit www.ewi.org.
EWI's recent contributions to the future of manufacturing include:
- A high-powered laser system that can precisely strip the paint off an airplane
- An ultrasonic bagging technology (known as EWI SonicSeal™) that increases seal life and reduces the amount of film used
- Initiatives aimed at developing the next generation of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce
Fast facts: EWI
- President and CEO: Henry Cialone
- Chief Technology Officer: Chris Conrardy
- Corporate phone: (614) 688-5000
- Founded: 1984, as Edison Welding Institute
- Mission: To shape the future of manufacturing through innovative technology solutions
- Website: www.ewi.org
World headquarters in Columbus, Ohio; Buffalo Manufacturing
Works in Buffalo, New York; and EWI Colorado in Loveland, Colorado