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New smart factory at WSU promises to improve manufacturing, provide student learning

Deloitte joins Raytheon, Textron, and NetApp on a long list of private companies with operations on Wichita State's Innovation Campus.

The latest private entity to lease land at Wichita State University promises to advance manufacturing in the region.

Deloitte Consulting on Tuesday held a grand opening for its new smart factory on WSU’s Innovation Campus.

“The Smart Factory @ Wichita” features state-of-the-art technology to analyze and collect data on manufacturing systems, along with artificial intelligence (A.I.) and other modern manufacturing features.

Hugo Phan

Manufacturers like Spirit AeroSystems can visit the facility to preview new technology and processes that can improve their own manufacturing systems.

Scott Bishop is the director of advanced manufacturing strategy for Spirit. He said the factory gives Spirit a competitive advantage by helping it envision what its overall production system could look like in the future.

“Three years ago, we were really at the very beginning phases of defining what our ecosystem is, and how each partner company could really help optimize our overall production system, and we’re still working on that,” he said.

Deloitte is a multinational company that provides consulting, auditing and tax services to 90% of companies on the Fortune 500.

It joins Raytheon, Textron Aviation and NetApp on a long list of private companies with operations on Innovation Campus, dating back to its opening in 2012.

WSU has increasingly turned to these private sources of revenue to replace lost revenue from the state.

Aside from providing consultation services, Deloitte is using the new factory to produce smart rover kits, which are basically robotic remote control cars.

Deloitte then ships the kits to middle schools around the country with a curriculum, ultimately aiming to boost STEM education.

Hugo Phan

Deloitte is currently sending the kits to schools in a few metropolitan areas, including Wichita, but plans to provide kits for about 800,000 kids in the next four years.

Since January, the company has produced and donated 250 kits.

Stephen Laaper is a principal and smart factory leader for Deloitte. He said the smart factory will help support a community “known for its deep roots in manufacturing.”

“The Smart Factory @ Wichita is working with Wichita State University, … to bring together Deloitte’s technology expertise with the university’s research, educational and innovation capabilities.”

The 60,000 square foot facility runs entirely on renewable energy and is Deloitte’s only facility of its kind in the U.S.

Like many of Innovation Campus’ other tenants, Deloitte is also promising internships at its new facility.

A Deloitte spokesperson said the company has had about 10 student interns so far but expects that to “grow significantly” in the coming years.

In a written statement, WSU President Rick Muma said the university’s collaboration with Deloitte “deepens opportunities” for students.

“As a manufacturing and technology hub, we continue to draw top talent and businesses to Wichita,” he said.

“And Wichita State University’s collaboration with Deloitte deepens opportunities for our students and community with access to the world’s top innovators and futurists coming through The Smart Factory @ Wichita as they explore how to transform their own business operations.”

Daniel Caudill reports on Kansas state government for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service. He was a general assignment reporter for KMUW and a reporter, photographer and digital content manager for The Derby Informer and an editor and reporter for The Sunflower. In the spring of 2020, Daniel helped cover the legislative session in Topeka as an intern for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @CaudillKMUW.