When entrepreneur Joe Strauss was looking for a draftsman to help him work on designs for his precious-metal-atomization machine, he wandered into the Northeast Manufacturing Technology Center (NEMTC), at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He didn't find what he was looking for, but he wound up saving his start-up, HJE Co., $20,000. Technicians in the NEMTC's Small Shop Production-Oriented Computer Integrated Manufacturing Center, affectionately known as SPOC, persuaded Strauss to design his machine on one of their computer-aided-design systems rather than manually. "What took weeks to do before literally took one hour," says Strauss, who is positioning his machines for use in the dental, electronics, and jewelry industries. Designed to assist bootstrapping manufacturers like Strauss, SPOC houses $2 million worth of leading-edge manufacturing hardware and software (donated by vendors). The charge for using it is $75 a day, a price that includes lunch. "We can simulate a manufacturing environment all the way from receiving a purchase order to cost estimating, designing, and machining a part," says facility manager Rick Korchak. Federally funded, SPOC has had an average of 20 company visitors per month since it opened, two and a half years ago. As for manufacturers in the Northeast unable to make the trek to Troy, N.Y., SPOC will come to them, for $250 a day, in the NEMTC's mobile lab, the Vehicle for Manufacturing Technology.

-- Alessandra Bianchi