On Feb. 1, Daniel Walczyk, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the New York State Center for Automation Technologies and Systems (CATS) at Rensselaer, and Casey Hoffman, Ph.D.’12, co-founder and chief operating officer of Vistex Composites, appeared before the New York State Senate and Assembly Finance and Economic Development Committees. They testified about the importance of the New York State Centers for Advanced Technology. Founded in 1989, the Rensselaer CATS provides a means for industry to utilize an extensive pool of knowledge and expertise in the science and technologies of automation.

Walczyk shared his own background, which included attending three New York schools for engineering degrees, and seven years in industry with New York companies. After four years of graduate study in Massachusetts at MIT in advanced manufacturing, he returned to his roots in New York to become a faculty member at Rensselaer and began working with the CATS. “Up to that point in time, it was heartbreaking for me to see so many New York manufacturers downsize, offshore their production or close their doors because they could not compete. Naturally, I leapt at the chance to lead the CATS and be a part of the solution,” Walczyk said.

“New York has a rich and somewhat unique history of recognizing and supporting university-led research to create, nurture, and support businesses,” Walczyk testifed. “According to data supplied to Empire State Development over the past 10 years (2005-2015), CATS has generated a combined economic impact of $328 million and helped create or retain 1,050 jobs from a state investment of about $9 million,” he said.

Casey Hoffman, Ph.D. ’12, discussed his experience with the CATS, and the assistance they provided, eventually helping him to co-found Vistex Composites LLC. Vistex Composites is an advanced manufacturing company that has developed new ways of turning high-strength composite materials (like carbon-fiber) into products that can benefit society, such as safer helmets, and lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Hoffman went on to say that the “partnership provides our business with access to cutting-edge equipment and top-notch faculty and staff who have helped us to grow and attract start-up investment and customers.” Citing the partnership, Hoffman went on to say that, “they would not be speaking here today if it were not for the RPI Center for Automation Technologies and Systems.” Vistex is currently a three-person start-up with commercial customers and angel investment located in Rotterdam.
Walczyk shared examples of how a CATS partnership has helped to expand and grow several New York state small businesses. One example is Ecovative Design, a biomaterials company, famous for mushroom packaging that was started in 2007 by two Rensselaer alumni. Ecovative has grown into a 70+ person firm with a corporate/R&D facility in Green Island and a dedicated manufacturing facility in Troy. Through a series of five R&D projects between 2011 and 2015, the CATS helped Ecovative technical staff develop the company’s new line of biocomposite materials. “As the company has grown, Ecovative has helped lessen the ‘talent drain’ by hiring graduates to work as engineers and scientists in New York,” Walczyk said. “These employees have gone on to pay taxes, and to contribute to the local economy.”