You could call the brand new Timken Engineered Surfaces Laboratories a place for slick science at the University of Akron.
It is, after all, dedicated to finding cutting-edge ways to reduce energy-robbing friction, wear and corrosion — the kind of behind-the-scenes stuff that sounds dull but is oh-so-vital to making everyday things run better, last longer and minimize the use of expensive fuels.
The six-laboratory facility, part of the UA College of Engineering, is also more than just a place where scientists and graduate students get to dream and experiment.
It is a unique venture between the university and a large company, $5.2 billion Canton steel and bearings maker Timken Co., officials said at the dedication Friday morning. The event involved speeches and tours of the 6,000-square-foot facility and its $2.5 million in equipment.
The laboratory “is about the definition of an entirely new model for industry working with universities,” said Luis Proenza, University of Akron president.
The university and Timken worked out how to protect Timken’s intellectual property in a way that other manufacturers and industries can benefit, Proenza said. “This truly is a new kind of model.”
Jim Griffith, Timken’s president and chief executive officer, said the work to be done inside the campus building involves “really advanced technology. This is nano surfaces on products and very, very far-out technology.”
In Timken’s case, the company-developed technology being refined at the laboratory can extend the life of a bearing almost infinitely, he said. But the partnership with the University of Akron will allow for different uses — including markets that Timken isn’t interested in but others are, he said.
“It solves friction problems in lots of things that have nothing to do with bearings or gears, which is basically our core technology,” Griffith said. “Really, it is groundbreaking from a relationship between a company and a university, to put core technology out into the open.”
The intent is for the Timken Engineered Surfaces Laboratories to advance knowledge for the world, Griffith said. “And, obviously, we all hope, advance the economy of Northeast Ohio. That’s what it’s about.”
Just 15 years ago, all of Timken’s technology was locked within the company’s tech center, Griffith said. The company did everything itself, he said.
“Well, the world is moving too fast for you to be able to do it yourself,” Griffith said. “To take something that is core and was always kept secret and put it out in the open is a very difficult thing to do.”
As part of the partnership with the university, Timken has protected the intellectual property for the applications it is interested in, Griffith said. But the University of Akron now has the ability to use the Timken technology for anything else other than the company-protected uses, he said. That could lead to breakthrough developments in applications completely unrelated to anything Timken does, he said.
“There’s risk and opportunity. If you want to have no risk, you keep it all to yourself, you think,” Griffith said. “Except, the risk of having it all to yourself is, you might miss that ‘Aha!’ moment. And so it is a balancing of the opportunity we see with the risk.”
Tom Stimson, Timken’s director of technology advancement, was among the company executives pushing for the new partnership with the university.
“We had some good technology but we were struggling at the pace of development — how we could apply it and create more in a much more quicker process,” he said. The company started to explore the “open innovation” process and worked things out with the University of Akron, he said.
“The analogy that I use all the time is, let’s break up this technology so we can grow it in a new way,” Stimson said.
The new laboratories at the University of Akron bring together like-minded people that are focused on innovation, he said.
“We want to accelerate it for the betterment of Timken and the betterment of the United States. Or the world,” Stimson said.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org