Wisconsin is home to approximately 10,000 small to medium manufacturers, which provide approximately 430,000 jobs. UW-Madison has a long history of manufacturing research, education and outreach, and the UW E-Business Institute (UWEBI) and its corporate membership arm, the UW E-Business Consortium, are especially active with the manufacturing industry. Directed by Robert A. Ratner Undergraduate Chair and Professor Raj Veeramani, UWEBI is a multidisciplinary center that conducts research on e-business strategies, emerging information technologies and innovative business practices.
UWEBI has a decade-long relationship with the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP), which aims to keep state manufacturers competitive, profitable and growing in a global economy. The organizations currently are working together on a two-year initiative to introduce WMEP customers to the best practices that UWEBI and its affiliates have learned over the years. “We reach out to only the best organizations for partnership,” says Roxanne Baumann, WMEP director of partnerships and alliances. “UWEBI builds trust and communication with manufacturers and creates a safe haven for learning and coaching.”
Veeramani says working with WMEP allows UWEBI and its consortium members, which typically are large companies, to share lessons learned with the broader state manufacturing community. “This allows us to amplify the impact of those lessons,” he says.
In addition to workshops, webinars and conferences, UWEBI offers WMEP customers the opportunity to participate in student projects that address a company’s specific challenges or needs.
In spring 2011, UWEBI students worked with Waunakee-based Hellenbrand Inc., which produces custom water-softener systems, and Madison-based Bock Water Heaters, among other companies. At Hellenbrand, students helped the company rethink its sales and engineering processes as it prepared to adopt a new product configuration software tool.
With Bock Water Heaters, students redesigned the shop space and streamlined operations to make room for new model production. Bock now plans to apply principles from the project to other areas of the company. “Together we’re providing hands-on learning, skills and knowledge transfers that really enhance the competitiveness of small manufacturers in Wisconsin,” says Baumann. “By keeping their performance strong, we continue to build jobs and the state economy.”