The Mercer Engineering Research Center started in Warner Robins 30 years ago with three employees working out of a small strip mall office.
Today it is a major operation with 180 employees in a large complex that requires high-level security clearance to work there.
In recognition of three decades of operation, the center gave media tours of the building Tuesday, where a wide range of work supporting Robins Air Force Base and the Department of Defense takes place.
At the building’s entrance is a large table covered with 20 model aircraft that represent all of the planes for which the center has done some type of related work. That could include software engineering, fatigue testing or reverse engineering components. The table also includes a model of a submarine, for which the center also has done work.
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Students in Mercer’s School of Engineering gain experience there while some of the staff members are also teachers at the school.
Andi Mitchell, the center’s senior director of operations, said it gives good hands-on experience to the students.
“Should they go to work at Robins Air Force Base, they are ready to hit the ground running,” she said. “They get to work side by side with professional engineers.”
Brian Fulwood, the chief design engineer, works in a lab that reverse engineers aircraft parts that are no longer available. From the original part, they do drawings and then 3-D printings to validate their drawings. The Department of Defense can then use that information to get bids from contractors to manufacture the parts.
On Tuesday, he showed a loader for 20mm ammunition on fighter jets that his lab had reverse engineered. One of the first steps in the process is to get an understanding of the part and how it works. That can mean going out into the field to see the part at work on the aircraft.
Fulwood said he has designed parts for equipment ranging from life rafts to fire trucks.
“There’s a lot of variety,” he said of his job. “You never work on the same thing twice.”
Mercer started its engineering school in 1985 at the request of Maj. Gen. Cornelius Nugteren, then commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, Mitchell said. Nugteren, who died Aug. 24, said the base was having trouble finding engineers, and he asked Kirby Godsey, Mercer’s president at the time, to start the engineering school. Godsey agreed, and two years after the school started, the Mercer Engineering Research Center was founded.
The center is a nonprofit, and while Robins and the Department of Defense are its primary customers, Mitchell said the center also does work for the private sector.