STEAM ENGINE USA
Polaris Rhode Island MEP
Polaris MEP, a division of the URI Research Foundation and funded by NIST (National Institute of Standards & Technology), works with Rhode Island manufacturers to achieve sustainable growth, innovative technology strategies, and cost efficient operations.
Rhode Island’s economy was slow to rebound from the Great Recession and wanted a fresh approach to economic development. The state’s economic development agency first contracted with Fourth Economy Consulting to develop what became known as the Economic Intersections of Rhode Island strategy. In it we noted that Rhode Island had the opportunity to leverage its world-class design community to support the growth of its many small-scale manufacturers.
The resulting vision and additional planning on our part led to the creation of STEAM ENGINE USA, an effort to power the next generation of manufacturing.
Our team, in partnership with MYRANDA Group and DESIGNxRI, developed and secured funding for a pilot program to work with defense industry suppliers. Integrating the unique perspective of designers with the research and training systems of educational institutions, STEAM ENGINE optimizes the process of developing and manufacturing new products. Accounting for workforce development, the materials and processes that go into manufacturing, and the function, value, and appearance of products, STEAM ENGINE addresses all aspects of business innovation. A new, durable, and nimble approach, STEAM ENGINE aims to spur diversification and acceleration with design and design thinking as the linchpin. Our team served as Project Manager and employed over 30 individuals and organizations to facilitate the full execution of the pilot.
Following the successful pilot, we supported CommerceRI in securing additional funding and helped transition the pilot to full implementation with Polaris MEP as the project manager. The investments secured and programs developed have catalyzed an increase in design-manufacturing collaboration revenues by manufacturing companies, and have allowed Polaris MEP to expand their range of services.
The greatest lasting impact of our work was our role in leading the initial design of what is now known as the Manufacturing Innovation Challenge. This holistic business opportunity and strength assessment has proven to be a very successful model. Interim results of the Challenge, reported in 2018, had already demonstrated the impact of this initiative. While most companies were still in the early phases of implementing the recommendations of the Challenge those able to report on results noted $15M in increased revenue and $2.5M retained, $30K in follow-on investments and 56 jobs created plus 5 retained. These impacts resulted from a federal and state investment of $783k. More on the Manufacturing Innovation Challenge process and results can be found