Innovation is invention on steroids and a catalyst for growth
The word “innovation” was once hurled as an expletive, not enshrouded with reverence. A transformation began during the Industrial Revolution, when “innovation” began marching in progressive lockstep with “industry” and “science.”
Today, think of innovation as an invention on steroids, the act of introducing something new to solve old problems, and a catalyst for economic growth.
“Such innovations help our region be more competitive,” says John Davies, managing director of the Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana.
Now in its 13th year, the Society recognizes and celebrates this ageless spirit of innovation in our seven-county region. Through a project of the Gerald I. Lamkin Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center of Ivy Tech Community College, more than 1,600 innovative pioneers have been heralded.
“This is one of the most exciting times in our history as we enter a second decade,” says Davies, whose coveted Society was launched in 2005.
This year, the Society’s panel of judges selected five individual fellows and two team awards: the Chanute Prize for Team Innovation and the Accelerating Greatness Award, awarded to co-awardees. These recipients were inducted into the Society – and publicly heralded – during an Oct. 26 ceremony at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond.
“They are to be inducted at what we call the Nobel Evening for Northwest Indiana,” Davies says.
Here is a glimpse of the awardees, their genius contributions, and how they revolve around the lodestar of innovation.
Gerald I. Lamkin Fellow for Innovation & Service – Dr. Chenn Q. Zhou, Purdue University Northwest
Chenn Q. Zhou is founding director of the Steel Manufacturing Simulation and Visualization Consortium based at Purdue University Northwest. Named a Society Fellow in 2005, and a recipient of the Chanute Prize in 2012, Zhou organized a steel consortium to advance the beleaguered steel industry by focusing on new technologies, including simulation and visualization.
“I was, of course, honored to receive the recognition…because it acknowledges the importance of the work we do and its contributions to industry and education,” says Zhou, who shared the recognition with her staff, students, colleagues and partners.
Knowing that sustainability and competitiveness of U.S. steel manufacturing are at risk, she invited steelmakers from across the country to develop a partnership, earning a $480,000 grant to do so.
“I have great passion for my work and am so appreciative that my passion has been acknowledged by this award, which is especially significant for its prestige in Northwest Indiana,” Zhou says.
Chris Mahlmann, founder and publisher of Ideas in Motion Media
Good news is too often an oxymoron in the media industry. However, not for Chris Mahlmann’s Ideas in Motion Media, which began over his garage in Valparaiso. His novel business model features only positive news in Porter, Lake and La Porte Counties. His online publications – ValpoLife, PortageLife, LaPorteCountyLife, NWIndianaLife – reflect the uplifting actions and affirmative messages of thousands of the region’s residents.
“You can’t tell me that you don’t read a story that is affirming and not feel better about it,” says Mahlmann, who stresses the importance of creativity to his staff of 20 employees. “I always assume new and different is the way to go. Whatever we achieved yesterday is the starting point for today.”
The former president of a financial markets company received news of his Society fellowship with a sense of pride, surprise and appreciation.
“I’m excited to have our team earn an award that validates the ridiculous amount of work it took to get here,” he says. “I’m surprised considering the kinds of people the association has recognized for this award. And proud that collectively we could prove all the skeptics wrong and make good news work.
“Being recognized as a fellow is a sign that we had the resilience and creativity to battle all the obstacles that new ideas face, as well as the hundreds of mistakes made along the way,” Mahlmann adds.
Norm Fischer, The Fischer Group
For 38 years, Norm Fischer toiled as a problem solver in his industry, culminating with the patented invention of an energy-efficient compressed air desiccant dryer. Think of it as a high-tech new way to remove humidity and contaminants from the air, a necessity for industrial manufacturing.
A desiccant air dryer is an industrial piece of equipment that accomplishes this process by sending air through a dryer made up of tanks filled with desiccant, a substance that absorbs moisture (similar to the little packets packed with new cameras.)
His firm designed, built and installed three large dryers for ArcelorMittal, with energy savings in excess of 7 million kilowatts annually, the equivalent savings of $500,000.
“Meeting a specific goal with customers, recognizing the goal was met successfully has always been recognition enough for me,” says Fischer, chief engineer of The Fischer Group in Crown Point. “Now, the fact that recognition has come from others is extremely rewarding and new to me. It gives me a great boost of encouragement to continue to press on with other projects I have been working on.”
“I was astonished,” he says regarding news of his fellowship. “I am truly humbled.”
Mike Schrage, president and CEO, Centier Bank
Michael Schrage underwent two transformative changes in his life–first, the financial crisis of the 1980s and second, a personal health crisis in the 1990s. Both life-changing challenges would prompt him to change how banking was done in his company.
The chairman, president and CEO of Centier Bank, based in Merrillville, transformed a small, family-owned bank into the largest bank of deposit in Northwest Indiana, and Indiana’s largest private bank. The bank is 122 years old, with nearly 900 employees, and still “Not for Sale,” its popular marketing slogan.
“To me, doing banking differently was my way of innovation,” he says. “It was adapting a banking style to a future environment, taking the ma and pa shop–the wonderful bank of more than a century ago–and catapulting it into the 21st century.”
Schrage belies banking stereotypes by investing in creativity to reap financial dividends.
“Creativity and entrepreneurship go together,” he says. “An entrepreneur wants to invent something different and find a new way of doing things.”
Schrage was taken aback by the Society’s honor, thinking that it was more for the “Edisons and Franklins of the world.” He later realized that making Centier the “uncola” of the banking industry was significant enough for inclusion.
“Innovators do things not for awards but rather their personal passion. Mine is preserving the independent family-owned private bank for generations to come.”
Dr. Teresa Eineman, Superintendent, Crown Point Community Schools
Teresa Eineman led a systems-based, hands-on approach to turn around a stagnant school district over the course of 12 years. This innovation was inspired by the book Good to Great by Jim Collins, which led to more accountability, enhanced performance and new ideas from her team of principals and staff.
“I showed them that greatness is a choice, and we could be the best for our kids, and they did it,” she says.
By implementing a continuous improvement model and applying proven business practices, Eineman’s leadership put Crown Point among elite performing districts in Indiana and the nation.
“Money does not buy me happiness but big hairy audacious goals as catalytic mechanisms do inspire my smiles,” she says.
In regard to her induction into the Society, Eineman described her reaction as “shock and awe” when she first received the call.
“I instantly felt much richer, professionally and personally, being rigorously vetted and then selected for this prestigious award,” she says. “An outside, Leonardo da Vinci type organization understood me. Wow.”
This recognition “authenticates transformative change through innovation and grit,” she says. “It ensure all learners – and I mean all – will reach their full potential.”
Chanute Prize for Team Innovation – The Hammond Group, Inc.
Every day, lithium-ion batteries from cell phones, laptops and hybrid vehicles go into landfills after they’re empty, unlike lead batteries, which get recycled, potentially without limit.
“The battery in your car really has an infinite life, and no other consumer product can make that claim,” says Terry Murphy, president and CEO of the Hammond Group, Inc. “This award helps the public understand that advantage.”
Murphy and his team completed its state-of-the-art Lead Acid Battery Laboratory in 2015, created to work with the industry to improve battery charge acceptance, or “rechargeability,” in order to meet the ever-increasing demands from automobile manufacturers and renewable energy markets.
“We all know that lead was once ubiquitous…but today it is highly regulated, rightly so, for essentially one application, energy storage,” Murphy says. “We see this award as a huge affirmation that lead batteries have a role to play in helping reduce society’s carbon footprint, from both the transportation and electricity generation. It allows a discussion that affirms that lead batteries are unique in their sustainability.”
Nominated by the City of Hammond, the announcement of earning the Society’s Chanute Prize stunned Murphy, even though his firm earlier received the Battery Council International’s inaugural global innovation award for its advanced chemistry breakthroughs and industry commitment.
“One of our key characteristics is our global reach, so it was somewhat poetic when I got the news,” he says. “I was 13 hours ahead in Kuala Lumpur supporting our team in Asia. Hammond Group, Inc. is like every other nominee–we pursue an ever-evolving notion of what we’re meant to become.”
Leonardo da Vinci Accelerating Greatness Award for Team Innovation – Arconic Power and Propulsion, La Porte Engineering Team
The Arconic Power and Propulsion’s La Porte Engineering Team pioneered the manufacturing process for a first-of-its-kind, single-piece casting for Pratt & Whitney’s next generation Pure Power-geared Turbo Fan jet engine. The firm’s La Porte facility is the only place in the world producing this highly complex, mid-turbine frame casting.
“People around the world fly on airplanes made with aero-engine components we produce right here in La Porte,” says Chris Kraynak, director of structural operations.
The innovative casting is nicknamed “the cornerstone” because its implementation laid the foundation for a $100 million plant expansion. This also captures the growing demand for advanced jet engine components while creating more than 300 advanced manufacturing jobs.
“This award is a fantastic honor for our team because it validates the innovative aerospace work we do behind the scenes every day,” Kraynak says. “We owe a tremendous thank you to Pratt & Whitney for pushing the boundaries of aircraft engine design and for turning to us as a trusted partner to help them do it.
“You might have a dozen misses before you hit on the idea that works. But creativity really sparks when you combine diverse experiences and capabilities. Every member of our team owned pieces of this innovation, as did our customer.”
Leonardo da Vinci Accelerating Greatness Award for Team Innovation – ArcelorMittal R&D Center
Creating a first-of-its-kind accelerating cooling technology is not something that a layman would associate with steel mills, but this is what happened with ArcelorMittal’s global research and development center in East Chicago. Partnering with its sister R&D centers in France, the company created a product called ACCtec for steel plate products in this country.
“Being recognized with this award is particularly special, given that members of the Society of Innovators were not stakeholders in our project,” says Charles Romberger, senior principal scientist. “Yet it independently recognized our team’s efforts as innovative, warranting this award.”
The team’s patent-pending application is capable of extremely high cooling rates on thick-plate products, providing less variable mechanical properties and improved flatness. This technology was designed, implemented and commissioned at the Burns Harbor plant’s 160-inch plate mill.
“I was surprised, grateful and humbled by the selection of our ACCtec team,” Romberger says.