TechConnect speaks with Dan Viens, Surface Mechanics at United Technologies Research Center
What are technology/solution areas that you have a primary interest in?
In addition to the technologies that are of direct interest to our business units, United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) concentrates its research efforts on three strategic initiatives: autonomy, advanced manufacturing and service technologies. These initiatives focus on cross-cutting and game-changing technologies. The latter includes human-machine interaction, cyber-physical security, big data analytics, and cloud computing. Within the advanced manufacturing sector, we leverage our strong physics-based modeling competencies to develop and optimize manufacturing processes, including additive/hybrid manufacturing, cold spray, machining, and composites. Our work in autonomy centers on the development of algorithms and software in the areas of perception technologies, dynamic obstacle avoidance, autonomous navigation and multi-vehicle collaboration – primarily for aerospace applications. Overall, UTRC’s deep competencies in modeling, particularly process modeling, enable us to minimize the amount of testing typically required to develop new processes and products.
What level of commercial maturity do you typically look for in technology partnerships?
As a corporate research center and the innovation engine of United Technologies Corp. (NYSE: UTX), UTRC is tasked with early-stage technology development that defines new frontiers and solves tough problems for our customers. This work is performed in concert with UTC business units (which include globally respected brands like Carrier air conditioning/refrigeration systems, Otis elevators, Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines and Sikorsky helicopters) as well as a variety of external customers: U.S. government agencies, universities, national laboratories and large/small companies worldwide. As such, UTRC identifies and demonstrates feasibility of breakthrough technologies, and then delivers them to its UTC and industry partners for commercialization. Therefore, our partnerships run the gamut from collaborative research and development to transitioning technologies to the marketplace.
Please describe your company’s Innovation model and how this model helps to find new innovations.
Within UTRC’s technical workforce – which represents top-tier talent from around the globe – 96 percent have earned advanced degrees and 76 percent hold Ph.D.s. UTRC uses a formal innovation pipeline and separate innovation program to encourage creative thinking among these progressive scientists and engineers. Our innovation pipeline provides a mechanism for staff to easily propose small research projects for low-technology-readiness-level concepts and enables UTRC as a whole to examine dozens of new technologies every quarter. Those concepts demonstrating true and viable technical and business opportunity are then further explored/developed. A separate innovation program provides our technical staff nearly a week’s worth of time every year to research any topic of personal interest. Together, these internal processes help UTRC identify the next generation of technologies that keep UTC’s business units at the forefront of their respective industries. In addition, UTRC has recently instituted a new business model that allows UTC to capitalize on its wealth of intellectual property via licensing agreements with third party organizations.
Why work with TechConnect and the National Innovation Summit as a technology prospector? Who are you looking to meet with?
The National Innovation Summit provides an opportunity for UTRC scientists and engineers to meet with new and existing prospective customers. We anticipate meeting with government agencies and potential new collaboration partners at the 2015 event in June.
What did you like most about the 2014 conferences?
We enjoyed meeting new partners, including small business innovation research (SBIR) companies, which we are currently working with on a variety of research and development projects. Also, the Federal Agency Expo-Rapid Fire Questions Session was a great opportunity to interface with multiple government agencies, including the DOE and DOD.