Expansion of the Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation at Purdue University Calumet bolsters the region’s and the state’s attractiveness to business.
“This,” said a smiling Dan Hasler, standing in the middle of the new immersive theatre in the Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation (CIVS) at Purdue University Calumet (PUC), “is bait.”
The Indiana Secretary of Commerce wasn’t the only person impressed with the $2.7 million renovation and expansion of the Center, which was completed last October. “This Center is a dream come true,” said Daniel Hendricks, Vice Chancellor for Advancement. “it is two or three steps up from where we were before.” That claim sets a high bar, considering that the original incarnation of CIVS opened in 2009 is credited with helping companies save more than $30 million.
After the upgrade CIVS has grown to a 6,300-square-foot, multi-disciplinary research center with a 70-seat Immersive Theater for advanced research projects and 3-D virtual classroom instruction, and conference rooms.
The facility allows users to immerse themselves in a virtual reality environment that can model virtually any structure or system. Companies in fields as diverse as biomedical, construction, energy, economic development, marketing, manufacturing and more have taken advantage of its capabilities to increase production, improve quality and reduce costs. Since 2009, CIVS has collaborated with more than 41 external organizations.
Several were on hand at last fall’s ribbon-cutting ceremonies to detail their experiences. “This place is a game-changer,” said Don Babcock, Director of Economic Development for NIPSCO. The utility turned to CIVS to resolve issues with exhaust ducts at its Bailly generating station. By building a virtual model at CIVS, NIPSCO was able to experiment with new duct designs until they developed one that didn’t inhibit its boilers. As a result, the station’s generating capacity grew by 20 megawatts and customers saved $1.9 million a year.
The Center was also used by a consortium of steel industry companies and organizations, including ArcelorMittal, U.S. Steel and the U.S. Department of Energy, to develop a comprehensive blast furnace model in order to further refine what John D’Alessio, Manager, Blast Furnace Engineering and Technology, for U.S. Steel – Canada, called “700 years of development.”
“We had a problem with our blast furnace and a belief on how one should run a blast furnace,” he said. As things so of ten turn out, however, what they believed wasn’t necessarily so, and the results of the simulation “changed the way we operate. We achieved $8.5 million in savings with no capital investment, “D’Alessio said.
“Our applications are unlimited,” said Chenn Zhou, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of CIVS. “We have developed this as a win-win partnership with the community and industry. They are facing more and bigger global challenges and our facility can provide the tools to meet those challenges.”
Cornerstone of Growth
Those challenges made it imperative for CIVS to be designed as a practical, solution-oriented facility. “When Dr. Zhou was conceiving the research center, she wanted to pursue a deliberate application of information, imagination and initiative to achieve greater value from resources and to incorporate all the processes by which new ideas are generated and converted into the useful solutions, products and services, which is, as a-matter-of-fact, innovation,” noted Vice Chancellor Ralph Rogers.
CIVS can be a cornerstone of economic development in Northwest Indiana, said PUC Chancellor Thomas Keon. “If there is a region in the United States with a strong economic development program, you will find that’s a region with a strong university. We must be a center for economic development, and we must become a center for commercialization as well,” he said.
In the meantime, Secretary of Commerce Hasler has hooks to bait. In his conversations with companies who are considering moving to Indiana, Hasler explained that the questions he most often gets aren’t ones about taxes and incentives and utility rates. “They can read all that online,” he noted. “What they want to know is about Hoosiers and about their values? Who are they? Do they lean into technology?”
CIVS, he continued, shows that they don’t just lean into technology, “they chew it up and spit it out. This shows there is a source of talent and innovation here just waiting for them, and it also shows why Northwest Indiana deserves to be an engine of growth for Indiana.