E Ink Corp.’s paper-like electronic display technology is used all over, from e-readers and writing tablets to traffic signs, electronic price tags in stores and public art works on buildings.
But Nick Lydon, a junior chemical engineering major, knew nothing about it until he spoke with an E Ink scientist at a mini-career fair for engineering students seeking professional co-ops.
“I was blown away by their technology and how different it was from an LED screen,” Lydon says. “It actually uses no electricity when displaying an image – it only uses power when the display changes.”
Lydon is now nearing the end of a six-month stint in the analytical technology group’s chemistry lab at E Ink’s new campus in Billerica. But professional co-ops and internships are just the beginning of the university’s relationship with E Ink, a pioneer in virtual paper technology and a leader in the global e-paper market, which is expected to quadruple over the next five years, according to a recent market analysis by Zion Market Research.
Recently, the university-corporate partnership has expanded to include E Ink’s use of the Core Research Facilities and a major workforce training program developed by the Division of Online and Continuing Education (OCE). E Ink contacts the Career & Co-op Center when looking for students to perform part-time work. And the company is looking at joining the Innovation Hub and becoming part of the new Textile Discovery Center that will be located there.
“Our partnership with E Ink is really ideal,” Catherine Kendrick, the dean of OCE, said recently at a breakfast meeting on campus between top E Ink executives, including CEO Frank Ko, and university officials, including Provost Michael Vayda and Arlene Parquette, executive director of strategic alliances and industry partnerships. “This is exactly the kind of partnership we want to have with companies, because you’re touching several key areas throughout the university.”
Paul Apen, E Ink’s chief strategy officer, and Lynne Garone, associate vice president of analytical technology worldwide, said the workforce training program has been very helpful so far, and they are interested in exploring more continuing education opportunities for their employees.
“Here at E Ink, which is such a high-tech group, we have a lot of employees who like to be challenged, and UMass Lowell gives us that opportunity,” Garone said.
The training program is funded by a $196,000 state Workforce Training Fund grant. OCE worked closely with E Ink, university faculty and professional trainers to develop training modules on the topics the company wanted to cover and then to apply for the grant, which was awarded earlier this year.
For the past several months, UML faculty and the trainers have been going to E Ink’s Billerica campus to deliver one- and two-day seminars on 18 different topics covering core professional skills, management and leadership, technology and international business. Topics include Intercultural Communication – E Ink is headquartered in Taiwan and has facilities in the U.S., China, Japan and South Korea – Emotional Intelligence and Project Management Boot Camp, says Joanne Talty, OCE’s associate director of corporate education and conferences.
After the breakfast, Jennifer Percival, associate dean of the Manning School of Business, gave the E Ink executives a tour of the new Pulichino Tong Business Center and talked about new tracks within the MBA program, including business analytics and entrepreneurship, that could prove helpful for E Ink employees. All the business degrees are available online, on-campus or as a mix.
But most of the E Ink executives’ questions revolved around the possibility of joining the new Fabric Discovery Center, which will have advanced equipment for prototyping new technologies, including ways of printing electronic ink on fabric for rollable displays, wearable electronics and more. It’s also looking at joining the iHub, whose members can use the facilities at partner innovation incubators in the Boston, Cambridge and Somerville areas.
Ko said he looks forward to expanding the partnership because E Ink will need top-notch chemical and color scientists, engineers and businesspeople going forward. It also has a company-wide commitment to sustainability, while UMass Lowell is recognized nationally for its sustainability efforts.
“E Ink has great potential not just for reading, but for the coming Internet of Things – the IoT device – because we have a great advantage: low-power technology,” Ko said. “We see working with a great university and co-working on the research side as very helpful.”
Meanwhile, UMass Lowell is becoming a pipeline for future E Ink employees. Several alumni are working there and five students are doing co-ops or internships this fall, including chemical engineering majors Robert Rosario and Zenon Nieduzak, who are working with the research and advanced development team; chemistry major Josh Berrios, who is interning in a chemistry lab; and electrical and computer engineering major Daniel Magee, who is testing colored electronic inks and building prototype products.
Rosario, a 25-year-old veteran who served as a Navy laboratory technician, rotates at E Ink among a “wet” chemistry lab, an electro-optics lab and a stress-testing lab, designing and executing experiments and then analyzing the data to plan more experiments or troubleshoot. A rising junior, he’s inspired by the scientists he works with.
“It’s exciting to work with people who are really knowledgeable in their field,” he says.
Magee says he’d love to work at E Ink after he graduates.
“Everyone here is really nice, on top of being smart and innovative,” he says. “This company is at the forefront of the electronic ink industry and has a technology with seemingly endless possibilities for growth. I’d like to be a part of that.”
E Ink is equally impressed with its UML co-op students. Simon Nip, the chief financial officer, says that he always welcomes the new student interns and co-ops from area universities on orientation day and invites them to drop by his office to learn more about the company. Usually, no one takes him up on it.
“Last year, three UMass Lowell kids came by and took an hour of my time,” he says. “They keep coming back, and I have to keep chasing them down to get my books back! They’re very studious, they keep learning, asking questions – you can tell they’re really excited about learning. It’s very different.”