Alliance to Work as Extension Service for Industry

Article excerpt

By Bill May

Journal Record Staff Reporter

A new twist on an old idea is helping further diversify Oklahoma's economy and fuel a growing feeling of economic recovery.

The old idea is the agriculture extension service, which has been in existence nearly a century to help farmers learn more about farming and new farm technology as well as how to deal with new markets.

But the twist is taking that service into the manufacturing sector which will enable small- and medium-sized companies to take advantage of technological improvements and capture new markets.

"Even that's not new," said Edmund J. Farrell of Tulsa, president of the Oklahoma Alliance for Manufacturing Excellence Inc. "When they started the agricultural extension service, there were major discussions on whether this service should be offered to industry or agriculture. Because farmers seemed to need the most help, agriculture was selected as the recipient of the government service."

Still, Oklahoma's idea is to develop an extension service which will help manufacturers learn more about technology, its application to specific industries and how to take advantage of it.

While Farrell down played the significance of Oklahoma's plan, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency, has twice awarded grants to the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology to implement the plan.

Announcement of the latest grant came in mid-December when the federal agency said of the 37 states which applied for grants, only six were awarded, and Oklahoma's idea was in the top two.

Idea behind the alliance is to "increase the wealth of every Oklahoman by increasing the wealth of each company by improving the amount of business that it does," Farrell said.

"We developed this program through a series of planning meetings where the customer, the individual small and medium business, told us what they need and want," he said. "The problem is identifying exactly what is technology transfer and how will this affect the small business we're dealing with.

"Everything we do that makes a change in one aspect of a business will make a change in nearly every other aspect of the business.

"As an example, a small machine shop is known for its quality work and has a good base of customers suddenly starts losing out to competitors, and finds the reason is the company cannot hold tolerances to the proper levels.

"Probably what that company needs to do is switch from a manual machine to a CNC (computerized numerical control) machine which will hold exact tolerances time after time. The only problem is that now the company has a whole new bunch of changes to deal with.

"First, someone has to help the company set up the work flow, the paperwork flow, the quality inspection so that everything can be documented. Since the new machine is computer controlled, the company must have someone who can program, operate, maintain and repair the computer, a job that didn't exist.

"What other procedures, upstream and downstream, will have to be changed just because this machine was adopted?

"That's technology transfer, even though the company may still be making the same low-technology part," Farrell said. "There's a company in Poteau (Johnson Controls Corp.) which is definitely a low-tech operation. …