Ventures helps Knauf find solutions

Relationships born amid private- and public-sector partnerships continue to bear fruit at Rose-Hulman Ventures, as the team wraps up two projects building specialty test equipment with Knauf Insulation.

Knauf, a family-owned, 5,500-employee, multinational manufacturer of building materials with more than 40 sites in 15 countries, began collaborating in 2013 with Rose-Hulman Ventures through the company’s Shelbyville location and IMPaCT Shelby County. Talks that began with Rose-Hulman students working summer internships at Knauf helped pave the way for Ventures involvement, and participants on all sides of the arrangement expect more collaboration in the future.

Pat Noonan, manager of product development and laboratory services at Knauf, described the situation as “win-win” and credited the success to strong relationship between students, project managers and Knauf R&D leadership.

“I think there was good interaction and good communication,” he said. “I kind of wish we had had something like this when I was in college.” - Pat Noonan, manager of product development and laboratory services at Knauf

The two projects were both testing-related, with the first involving the Rose-Hulman Ventures team designing, building and testing a customized tensile-strength tester for batts of insulation. The system comprised a mechanical tensioning system and relevant instrumentation to determine tensile strength of the batt under test. The project’s four phases included a high-level design, subsystem prototyping and testing, safety and system integration, and final testing. The second project involved building a pipe insulation testing machine capable of characterizing the thermal properties of pipe insulation. The machine would thus consist of a main apparatus pipe for the test, guard heaters on both sides of the main pipe, control of the heater cores, and instrumentation to measure power input and heat distribution. This project’s three phases included the heater and instrumentation placement, control design and safety, and finally system integration and testing.

Noonan said the company had been considering some of the related concepts involved for quite a while, but hadn’t had the time to really delve into a full-blown project. The company’s positive experience with Rose-Hulman students as summer interns led to the idea of giving Ventures a chance to tackle the project, he said, acknowledging the strong project managers who mentored the students throughout the process.

This budding relationship also is linked to Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology’s partnership in IMPaCT Shelby County. The Innovative Model: Positioning Communities for Transformation (IMPaCT) matches the institute with Shelby County and the City of Shelbyville as economic development partners via the Intelliplex in Shelbyville, matching industry needs with eager students seeking experience working on real-world problems.

Mitch Landess, director of business development and operations at Rose-Hulman Ventures, said the Knauf partnership is ideal in that it capitalizes on Ventures’ assets. A consulting engineering group that specializes in research and development, Ventures brings world-class project managers and students together with industry to pose problems and figure out solutions, drawing upon the strengths of each partner. And while undergraduate- and graduate-level students are involved, one big difference between Rose-Hulman Ventures and other facilities is its year-round engagement, which is not constrained to the academic cycle. Furthermore, and particularly of interest to industry, is the fact that all intellectual property remains with the client.