Michigan Tech
Somero-MTU Agreement Pays Off

HOUGHTON--A cooperative agreement between Somero Enterprises of Houghton and Michigan Tech's Keweenaw Research Center (KRC) is paying big dividends for both.

"Somero had a vision of a control system attachment for our laser screeds that would allow us to expand from laying concrete on flat surfaces only to working with complex contoured surfaces," said Engineering Manager Jim Desrochers. "We needed a system that could be used on such areas as industrial and commercial floors with drains, parking lots, loading docks, service ramps, and driveways--something that would allow us to gain a share of the outdoor market instead of being limited to the flat surfaces found mostly inside buildings."

Since Somero and KRC had worked together on previous projects, it was natural for the company to ask the center to research the design of a 3-dimensional control system for the Laser Screed that would enhance its capabilities.

Four years ago Somero and KRC submitted a joint proposal to the State and received a Michigan State Research Fund grant for $100,000 to investigate methods and prove a concept of control in a 3-dimensional world. At the time, technology limited many of the projects objectives, but a prototype system was successfully built at KRC and subsequent testing proved that its objectives could be attained. So Somero and KRC decided to proceed to the next phase, with money provided directly from the company's Research and Development fund.

The project encompassed several aspects of design, including writing custom software, circuit board hardware design, data analysis, creating a system operation manual, establishing a manufacturing process, assisting with customer support, and installing field prototypes.

Eventually, previous obstacles were overcome by advancements in the computer industry. Five pre-production systems were built at KRC and placed at various sites around the United States for field testing. Information acquired during the field tests helped determine the final product design.

Project TeamSomero applied for a patent and began manufacturing the Somero 3-D Profiler System in 1998. The system was introduced to the market at the World of Concrete Show held in Las Vegas in January 1999. The system allows the user to measure existing elevations at the site or import a surveyor's file. This information is used to generate a 3-dimensional contoured surface and store it as a file. When the concrete is ready to be placed, the surface file is loaded into the memory of the computer and the elevation is controlled to create the desired surface. Once a surface is created, it can be duplicated anywhere in the world. This advantage is especially valuable where all locations require the exact duplicate, such as racetracks, street intersections, and vehicle test tracks. The 3-D Profiler is also being used to white top and repair roadways, runways, taxi ways, and bridges.

Recently the patent for this technology was approved. The agreement between MTU and Somero gives the company exclusive rights in exchange for royalties. So far the Profiler has resulted in about $5 million is sales for Somero and the University just received its first royalty check in the amount of $143,000. Another royalty check will be forthcoming in July of this year. The inventors of the system are Carl Kieranen and Charles Hallstrom from Somero and Glen Simula, Nils Ruonavaara, and Jim Waineo from KRC.

Somero and Michigan Tech are both pleased with their collaboration.
"I hope we can continue to have similar success stories like this between Somero and Michigan Tech," said Somero Vice President of Manufacturing Jim Torvinen. "It has been a good partnership."

Jim Baker of MTU's office of Corporate Services agreed. "It is always gratifying to see the University's technology transferred to the private sector," he said. "In the case of the continuing partnership between Somero and Michigan Tech, the local economic impact is an added benefit for everyone involved."