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Emerson opens ‘Helix’ center on UD campus

Building meant to be a birthplace for ideas.

University of Dayton students will be getting unique hands-on training when Emerson Climate Technologies opens its $35 million Helix Innovation Center on UD’s campus today, allowing researchers to simulate conditions on a summer’s day in Orlando, Fla. — or a winter’s day in Alaska.

Within the Helix, you’ll find life-size models of a two-story home, a 2,500-square-foot grocery store and a 1,500-square-foot working restaurant kitchen, all meant to give staff and students a place to study how to make those environments comfortable in efficient ways.

>> RELATED: 11 images giving you a peek inside Dayton’s newest innovation hub

The Dayton Daily News was given an exclusive look inside the Helix where simulated temperatures range from minus-30 degrees Fahrenheit to 130 degrees in certain locations of the building.

“I can control the indoor temperature of the (model) grocery store here, as well as the humidity,” Emerson Vice President Rajan Rajendran, said. “But I also can control the outdoor ambient temperature for this store. So all the outdoor equipment for running this store is actually sitting in another environmental chamber behind the building.”

St. Louis-based Emerson is a $22 billion company that designs and makes the inner electronics and control systems of everything from heating-ventilation-and-air-conditioning systems to kitchen appliances, such as refrigerators, stoves and more.

The company’s name may not appear on the outside of central AC units, but quite often those units are controlled with technology from Emerson, which has 4,900 employees total in Ohio, including 1,700 in Sidney.

About 35 Emerson employees will work in the new center, which received $5 million in Ohio Third Frontier incentives with additional local incentives. But the center, located at 40 W. Stewart St., is expected to create another 45 new jobs elsewhere in Ohio by 2019, the company said.

Emerson leases the land just west of the Main-Stewart streets intersection from UD.

One reason Emerson built on the UD campus is the company has long had roots with the university, particularly its research institute, said Bill Bosway, Emerson group vice president, solutions and technology.

“That’s where the collaboration occurs,” Bosway during a tour of the building last week. “We’ll have students from UD involved, through internships and co-ops.”

The climate control industry needs help from academia and beyond to deal with what Bosway calls its “problems.”

“We have a variety of things around environmental challenges, energy efficiency performance challenges,” he said. “Some of it is regulated or is becoming regulated.”

Many of Emerson’s customers are businesses. They want to lower their costs while strengthening environmental stewardship, he said.

Helix is a place where those issues can be tackled.

“We know it’s a beautiful building,” Bosway said. “We’re happy about that. But it really is the thought process. It’s a different lens to look at our industry.”

Though today is the official opening, the center has quietly welcomed more than 2,000 visitors since early December, Rajendran said, including chemical suppliers, service contractors, UD faculty, representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy and many others.

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