The new Clemson Vehicle Assembly Center that was unveiled last week in Greenville, S.C. aims to expand manufacturing research and workforce development in the area.
It’s a collaborative effort with industry partners such as BMW and Siemens as well as the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) and Greenville Technical College.
The 4,000-square-foot center, located at the Greenville Technical College Center for Manufacturing Innovation, will have a full vehicle assembly line, joining lab, sub-assembly lab, embedded devices lab, collaborative robotics center and autonomous factory vehicles.
“To stay competitive, the BMW Group must be involved with technological developments in all regions of the world and quickly adopt innovative solutions,” said Dirk Hilgenberg, senior vice president for Technical Planning at the BMW Group. “The speed of adoption is critically important. The Assembly Center will allow for quicker evaluation and development of new technologies to provide solutions to our global BMW production network. The students trained in the Vehicle Assembly Center will be key enablers to implement the results effectively in real-world production.”
A large portion of the research will be done by faculty and students in Clemson’s College of Engineering Computing and Applied Sciences. Greenville Technical College students will be enrolled in manufacturing training programs.
“We are embarking on a new model where academia and industry can drive compelling research while simultaneously defining a new education paradigm as students at the graduate, undergraduate and technical college levels collaborate on full-scale manufacturing projects and fortify each others’ learning,” said Laine Mears, Vehicle Assembly Center director and BMW SmartState Chair in Automotive Manufacturing at Clemson University.
One of the difficulties with manufacturing research is that researchers often need to shut down assembly lines or wait for a pause in work, Mears said. The Vehicle Assembly Center eliminates the problem by giving them their own three-station assembly line to experiment without the pressure of being on a factory floor. “This new model is a way to address those pressures while creating unique learning experiences,” he said.
In addition to the manufacturing improvements is the opportunity to train the workforce for the future of auto manufacturing..
“BMW Plant Spartanburg continues to grow,” explained Knudt Flor, CEO of BMW Manufacturing. “A highly-skilled, well-educated workforce is essential to meet the challenges of the next generation of vehicles. The Vehicle Assembly Center and its project-based learning approach promise to prepare a workforce with the skills needed to be successful in the premium automotive industry.”
The Vehicle Assembly Center will tackle some of the industry’s most compelling challenges, such as the manufacturing skills gap and effective integration of automation with humans.
“Efforts toward process automation are driving demand for new skills," Mears said. "The industry is looking for a workforce with information and systems integration experience. The human element in manufacturing is not going away: It is getting smarter, more agile and increasingly plugged into this evolving Internet-of-Things.”