Can I Borrow Your Engineer?

Steve from FuzeHub, sits down with the team at the Manufacturing Technology Enterprise Center (MTEC) to talk about their work as the Hudson Valley Manufacturing Extension Partnership Center.

Steve Melito: Welcome to New York Manufacturing Now. I’m your host, Steve Melito. We are here today at the Manufacturing Technology Enterprise Center, MTEC, in Highland, New York. And we’re going to talk to several folks, so we’re going to start right from the top with the executive director, Tom Phillips. Tom, welcome.

Tom Phillips: Thank you, Steve.

Steve Melito: What is MTEC?

Tom Phillips: Probably the easiest way to describe MTEC is we are a business consulting firm. However, we’re slightly different than what you would expect in that number one, we’re not for profit. Also, we are very focused on supporting manufacturing here in the Hudson Valley, small to mid sized manufacturers, technology companies. And what that means is companies up to about 500 employees. As part of being MTEC and everything that goes with it, we’re part of both a state and national network of MEP centers that provide similar support throughout the United States in every state plus Puerto Rico.

Steve Melito: Just for anyone that’s not aware of what MEP means, it’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

Tom Phillips: Actually, add Hollingsworth to the beginning of it and you got it perfect.

Steve Melito: All right. Excellent. So Tom, as the executive director of an MEP center, this one, what are some of your responsibilities?

Tom Phillips: Basically, the day to day operations and the strategic planning and execution, but probably the most important function I have is making sure that we satisfy all the obligations of our contractual agreements with our stakeholders, namely the state and the feds. And most of that comes in the area of finances. We’re given money for a very specific purpose, and my primary responsibility is to make sure that’s where we spend that money and for those purposes only. And that’s where I spend probably the most of my time in the course of a workweek.

Steve Melito: So Tom, you’re a true manufacturing resource. What did you do before joining MTEC?

Tom Phillips: I spent about 30 years in a local very large manufacturer, whose presence has gone from 30 some odd thousand folks here in the valley to probably under 1000, and namely, IBM. In IBM, I was fortunate, I had a number of opportunities in different career areas. I ran a manufacturing fab. I managed an equipment engineering group. I had a group of industrial engineers. I ran production control. I was also the material manager. And I was fortunate to have a three year assignment doing materials management from a headquarters level. So I was a Jack of all trades is what I walked out of there with.

Steve Melito: So I think you answered a lot of my next question really, which is how your industry experience has helped. Is there anything else you would add, anything else you learned at IBM that you’re using here now, or just from your time in manufacturing in general?

Tom Phillips: Yeah, I do. And I think I’m going to surprise you with the answer because I think one of the things that came across very strong to me from my experience at IBM was the value of applying technology. I was there, I started in the early ’60s. I don’t know if you’re familiar with a spreadsheet called Lotus 1-2-3.

Steve Melito: I am.

Tom Phillips: But we used to use Lotus 1-2-3, which I spent a couple hours putting all the data in, then we’d hit the calculate button and we’d go on a cigarette break. Today, it seems like the systems that we’re using are calculating the information before you even got it in there. In addition to that, I also in the experience of running the manufacturing fab, very early on, this is probably in the early ’80s, we started introducing lean manufacturing. So when I took over the fab, there was probably 500 people that were operators running around in the bunny suits, as we called them. By the time we were done putting lean and stuff in, we’d cut that number almost in half and got the same output, so it was a very early experience understanding the power of lean. The other thing that I brought out of IBM is they never stopped hammering you about you’re never too old to learn and you should be learning continually, lifelong learning. And I think I’ve carried that from the IBM days into working with the small to mid sized manufacturers here in the region.

Steve Melito: So over your time with MTEC, what are some of the challenges and success stories with clients that you’re especially proud of, or have been especially challenged by?

Tom Phillips: I thought about this one because you gave me an ahead look at this question. And I don’t think there’s any one client. I think each client in its own way has been a success story. And I qualify that in probably in the 20 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve gotten numerous letters, unsolicited letters from clients who have basically praised the staff here for the work that they’ve done to help them resolve their problems and grow. And I think that’s the best testimonial of this job and what it means to the people in the valley.

Steve Melito: Okay. Thank you, Tom. That was Tom Phillips, who is the executive director of MTEC. Now we’re going to go over and talk to some other important members of Tom’s team, Bob Incerto is the director of engineering here, and Joe Adamczyk is also part of Bob’s team. Welcome to the podcast.

Bob Incerto: Hi Steve.

Joe Adamczyk: How’s it going?

Steve Melito: All right. So Bob, you’re the director of engineering. What are some of your responsibilities?

Bob Incerto: Okay. Well, MTEC is a little unique in the sense that we have a direct engineering consulting service that we provide to our clients. And as the director of engineering, I’m responsible for the day-to-day operations of that organization, which includes other engineers, computer science people, and a long list of interns from a local college. They all work on projects for various clients, and they’re responsible, or we are responsible for meeting the clients’ requirements and meeting their specifications and their deadlines. So basically, if I look at a day-to-day activity, I’m managing that entire gamut of many, many different projects at one time. And also, because we are a relatively small organization, I get to do a lot of engineering involved with those clients. But now that I have Joe here, he also gets to help me do that.

Steve Melito: Great. And Joe, just to get you involved here, it sounds like you were an intern at one point. Is that true?

Joe Adamczyk: Yep.

Steve Melito: So Bob, I want to come back to something that you said about MTEC being unique. And I’m wondering: Do all MEP centers provide the type of engineering services that you deliver? Or is MTEC truly unique in that sense?

Bob Incerto: MTEC is truly unique. There are four organizations in the country that have in house engineering services. We’re being one of them. The three other that I think is two in Texas, one in California or someplace, they all are associated with universities directly. We are the only ones that are an independent organization, where we do the engineering in house. Now several of the other MEP centers will help you with engineering projects, but they all do it through third parties. So we do it in house here, we have the staff here and the equipment here to actually take a project from its beginning, inception, all the way through commercialization.

Steve Melito: Bob, what are some of the common challenges you’re seeing among companies that reach out to MTEC? For example, do they tend to struggle in certain areas?

Bob Incerto: Yes. We have a very large gamut of companies that we work with. Some of them are established organizations that have been in business for many, many years. And they are manufacturing companies, and their engineering staff is either very small, so they need some help to complete their projects, or they have some strategic projects they would like to do, but they’re tied up to the day-to-day operations, so they don’t get an opportunity to do that. So that’s where we can come in and help them meet those challenges. Now on the other gamut, we have a lot of what I’ll call entrepreneurs and startup people who have an idea, and who have not really been able to develop that idea because it’s on a piece of paper, but they think it’s the greatest thing to come down the world. And we have to work with them to not only develop their idea, to get it to the point where it is a prototype that can be shown to be operational, but to lead them through the commercialization process because most people when they come in have no idea how many steps or how long it takes to take an idea and get it through where a manufacturer can make the product for them.

Steve Melito: Joe, are you seeing a lot of the same things, those common challenges, that is inventors, entrepreneurs that need assistance with figuring out how to get it made?

Joe Adamczyk: Yeah. I think the biggest thing that they struggle with in the beginning is kind of getting the infrastructure in place to start their project. So they have the idea, they often have very good ideas, but in terms of the process to get it started and go through the project to the closing part of the project, that’s something that they often need help with that we end up lending our assistance to.

Steve Melito: So Bob, what is or was the most unique or memorable engineering project, something that you’re proud of from your time here at MTEC?

Bob Incerto: Well, I’m proud of all the projects we’ve done. But besides that answer, we’ve done projects from startups to people who have established businesses. Some of the things we’ve done is we’ve designed jewelry for a client, I never thought I would come out of an IBM existence and be designing jewelry. We’ve designed hats that have unique capability of filtering air for clients. We’ve designed projects that track mail where they go, so those are on the low end. But on the high end, we’ve designed entire systems. So in one project in particular, we helped the client to revamp what they call energy management system, and that included not only doing electronics design for them, but also doing software design, embedded software, et cetera, so it was an entire system. Now that one is most memorable for me for one particular reason. As I mentioned earlier, we do a lot of interns, and we use a lot of interns from the various schools here. And we had a lot of interns working on that project. And when it came to completion, instead of just moving the project over to the client company and having them continue it from there, we actually sent the project and two interns with them. So he hired them full-time as applications engineer, and that was a model that I think we were trying to put together for years, and now that was our first success on that. And they are now working for this company, so it was a natural transition from what they’ve learned here, what their knowledge base was for the project, and now applying that in the industry and to help it be a success.

Steve Melito: And Joe, you were an intern here. Is there a project you’ve worked on, either as an intern or as an employee, that was particularly interesting?

Joe Adamczyk: There’s a couple. I’ll give a software and a hardware kind of example because I think that gives a nice view into that. One of the software projects that we worked on was actually a tablet application, so we developed an Android application for one of the pieces of hardware that we developed as a control interface. I think that was a very practical experience to go through that and learn the whole framework for that, and go through the workflow of putting together one of those applications. On the hardware side, there was a project. It was actually the hat project. Going through the process of designing a printed circuit board for the internal electronics for that device, that is a skill that I never particularly had before coming here, so I was appreciative to actually be able to learn how to do that.

Steve Melito: All right, Bob and Joe, thank you again. We’re now going to talk to Lindsay Thompson, who is the food and beverage and intern coordinator here at MTEC. Welcome, Lindsay.

Lindsay Thompson: Hello. How are you?

Steve Melito: Doing well, doing well. So what are some of your responsibilities?

Lindsay Thompson: As the food and beverage coordinator, I’m actually finding information about new and upcoming, and I don’t want to say old food manufacturings, but gathering information and trying to set meetings and going on client meetings, and promoting some of the services that we offer here at MTEC for these companies.

Steve Melito: What does the food and beverage program do?

Lindsay Thompson: Well, we go into food and beverage manufacturers. We promote our lean initiatives and MTEC services, as well as helping them understand their awareness of FDA regulations that, depending on what food they manufacture is depending on what certifications they need to get from the FDA.

Steve Melito: Is this a unique service that MTEC provides?

Lindsay Thompson: Yes.

Steve Melito: Tell us about Food and Beverage Corner.

Lindsay Thompson: The Food and Beverage Corner is our spinoff newsletter to our regular MTEC newsletter. I go out and seek up and coming and small to mid size food and beverage, whether it be breweries, to salsa, to cookies, to tea, to whatever. And to give them free marketing and publicity, and to get their name out there to the public, we go out, me and a colleague of mine, and we interview them for about an hour. They tell us how they got started, why they wanted to do it, background history and stuff like that. And Molly, my colleague, puts it in a story and she puts it in our newsletter. So it gets their name out there, free marketing, free publicity, and they really seem to love it.

Steve Melito: How do people sign up for it? Do they go to the website?

Lindsay Thompson: They can, yes. A lot of people that we go out and see, we always add them to our distribution list, and we add a lot of other people too. And then other people send other people to us that we add to them too, so it’s kind of just like a big web.

Steve Melito: Sounds like a good idea and something people need to take advantage of.

Lindsay Thompson: Yeah.

Steve Melito: So to change gears entirely to talk about the internship part of your job and what you do, we keep hearing at FuzeHub from companies across the state that workforce development is a huge challenge, so I’m wondering. Since you’ve got this great internship program at MTEC that’s aligned with what local companies need, what can we learn from it? How did you do it? And what do you do to keep it going?

Lindsay Thompson: Before I came here, we already had the internship program. I just kind of structured it a little bit better, if you could say. I keep in contact with the school and the engineering department, and we take interns from the college, either whether if we need them here at MTEC, or if we have clients that are requesting interns and services from interns, whether it be electrical engineering, mechanical, computer, and we either place them here or with clients.

Steve Melito: So along those same workforce line, there’s been a lot written about the challenges of millennials in the workplace, particularly when it comes to manufacturing. What’s your take on this?

Lindsay Thompson: To start off with millennials, it’s been a little challenge just from my experience here in hiring them here at MTEC. Some have more experience in the workforce than others, just as in regular day-to-day stuff, as in tardiness, communication, attire, stuff like that. But as in the millennials, I think in manufacturing, I believe that their parents have a lot to do with it because manufacturing was frowned upon for so long and considered blue collar. And I don’t think that it’s that way anymore. I think especially these students that are coming out of the engineering department and get jobs or placement into manufacturers, that they realize that they can make a very decent salary.

Steve Melito: They sure can. That’s a great answer. Thank you, Lindsay. So we’re here today at the Manufacturing Technology and Enterprise Center in Highland, New York. Yes, Tom Phillips has something he’d like to say. We’ve got to let him talk.

Tom Phillips: Yeah. Let me jump in because I need to say something about Lindsay because I think she represents what a lot of the staff here at MTEC do. Lindsay took the food and beverage position kind of blind. She worked as a waitress at some point in her life, like most people have, but that was about the exposure. Since she took the position, Lindsay has gone and gotten certified in two different areas. She’s qualified in FQPI or something like that, which says she can write safety plans for food companies. And she also has a certificate in good manufacturing processes. In addition to that, because you heard her say that she’s trying to sell or work with food and beverage companies on things like lean, she is also becoming certified in lean green belt right now as we speak.

Steve Melito: Wow.

Tom Phillips: But I mentioned Lindsay because she’s just one of the folks and what they do here to support manufacturer. And I think it’s a testament as to the kind of folks that I am fortunate to manage on a day-to-day basis. And without them, we are not going to go anywhere.

Steve Melito: So Tom, as a followup to that: If I’m a food and beverage manufacturer in New York state, but I’m not in the Hudson Valley, can I still reach out to Lindsay? Can I still talk to MTEC?

Tom Phillips: Certainly. I won’t guarantee that we’ll end up doing the work directly for you, but at a minimum, we will contact you with the right folks, the right MEP center within your turf, at a minimum. And if it’s something that’s unique to us, maybe the engineering stuff, yes, we will work with anyone.

Steve Melito: Okay. So the same is true of the work and Bob and Joe do.

Tom Phillips: Yep, the client comes first no matter where they are in New York state.

Steve Melito: So on behalf of FuzeHub, we’d like to thank the MTEC team for your time here today at the podcast. And Tom, I’d really like people to make sure they understand, if they’re a manufacturer in the Hudson Valley and they want to talk to you, you’re ready to have that conversation. How do they get in touch with you?

Tom Phillips: They can either call, and my number is area code 845-391-8214, direct extension 3006. Or by email, it’s tom.phillips, Phillips with two Ls, @ And that’s Henry, Victor, Tom, David, Charlie. And the more the merrier, I look forward to talking to everyone. Thank you, Steve.

Steve Melito: Thanks, Tom. To wrap things up, you’ve been listening to New York Manufacturing Now, powered by FuzeHub. This is your host, Steve Melito. We’d like to thank you for listening. If you’re a manufacturer anywhere in New York state and you have a request for assistance, if you need help, if you need guidance, whether it’s design, manufacturing, some other aspect, please reach out to us. And you can get to FuzeHub online anytime 24/ 7 at, F-U-Z-E-H-U-B. com. And when you’re there, choose either the contact us link, or even better, look in the upper right-hand corner for the solutions program, submit a request for assistance, and you and I will have a chance to talk on the phone. Thank you.

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