The Enterprise Systems Center (ESC) has been a national center of excellence in systems engineering and leadership development through experiential learning for the past 37 years. Since its inception, the ESC has completed more than 1000 research and development projects with over 400 industry partners, and has had over 3,000 undergraduate and graduate student researchers from the engineering, business and arts/science colleges. Participation in diverse teams achieving high ROI deliverables provide students with experiences that greatly impress corporate recruiters. ESC engages students with professors, experienced mentors and industry partners, working in interdisciplinary teams, to help companies use technology tools to grow and compete in a global marketplace.
In 1973, Dr. Emory Zimmers received a computer graphics terminal from Bell Labs. This grant, along with several mini-computer systems from Western Electric’s Allentown Works marked the birth of the precursor to today’s Enterprise Systems Center. In those days it was known as the Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) Laboratory. These early efforts established the ESC at the forefront of computer and systems technology and began a tradition of industry-driven technological leadership. In the next stage of growth funding from the National Science Foundation and a major partnership agreement with IBM spurred the creation of the Computer-Integrated Manufacturing Laboratory (CIM Lab) in 1985. This was concurrent with the IE department’s move to the Harold S. Mohler Laboratory and an expansion of facilities for student instruction, research and projects with industry. CIM enabled an entire production process to be controlled by computer. This was ground breaking technology, maintained with ongoing support by IBM. The mainframes and peripherals in those years filled one-third of Mohler Lab’s second floor.
The organization was formally named the Enterprise Systems Center in 1995, reflecting the broader shift toward an overall systems approach to manufacturing and business operations. In 1998, the mainframes started to be replaced with other distributed platforms and the ESC developed the learning “Collaboratory,” aimed at promoting further cooperation among academic, industry, and government partners. The mission was to discover more effective ways to teach and learn in a collaborative environment using advanced technologies for virtual, internet, and multimedia learning.
Since 1995, the ESC has leveraged its industry relationships and experiential learning success, adding new synergistic centers and programs. The PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) funded the Pennsylvania Agile Manufacturing Program through the ESC in 1995. The goal was to improve the competitiveness and growth of PA manufacturing companies by implementing agile business practices. DCED has remained a strong partner throughout this decade. In 2004, the National Science Foundation invited Lehigh to become a partner in their Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers Program. As part of this initiative, Dr. Zimmers was asked to lead the Center for Engineering Logistics and Distribution (CELDi) at Lehigh University, which worked in partnership with the ESC. In 2006, Lehigh was invited to be a founding member of the National Coalition for Manufacturing Innovation (NCMI). This national coalition was dedicated to sustainable manufacturing practices, which conserve vital and non-renewable natural resources and severely limit negative environmental and health effects.
The ESC continues to provide experiential learning support to numerous academic programs through projects developed with industry partners. All projects stress a systems approach, leadership development and sustainability while striving to deliver a significant return on investment to the industry partners.