Want to Grow Your Company? Find Access to R&D

April 13, 2012
A new facility in Virginia offers a model for advanced manufacturing research.

More than two-thirds of all private-sector research and development comes from manufacturers. Where do they get their inspiration? Partnerships between universities and manufacturers, such as the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing in Virginia, or CCAM,have played major roles in industrial R&D advancements. A number of major manufacturers, including founding members Rolls-Royce (IW 100/229) North America Inc.,Canon Inc. (IW 1000/86 ), Siemens (IW 1000/26), Newport News Shipbuilding, Aerojet and Sulzer Metco are already taking advantage of CCAM's expertise.

The consortium began research activities in 2011, and the facility is scheduled to open this summer in Prince George County, Va., at Rolls-Royce's Crosspointe plant. CCAM members have the opportunity to work with institutions such as the University of Virginia,Virginia State University and Virginia Tech.

Members can request directed research that eventually becomes a company's intellectual property. The center also conducts generic research in which all members share intellectual property rights.

The promise of IP rights sold Canon on joining the group, while Newport News Shipbuilding joined to take advantage of research that had particular application to its business. "The center's focus aligns well with our needs related to coating technologies and manufacturing processes," explains Matthew Mulherin, president, Newport News Shipbuilding. As a manufacturer of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines, coatings are especially important.

Rolls-Royce was the driving force behind CCAM's formation. In 2007 the company was deciding where to locate its new aerospace facility. Rolls-Royce had centers across the United Kingdom that provided cutting-edge research, and the company thought Virginia could provide the same setup. Rolls-Royce modeled CCAM after its Advanced Manufacturing Research Center in Sheffield and Advanced Forming Research Center in Glasgow. "The goal is to create a center of advanced manufacturing that will attract the best and brightest talent," says Lorin Sodell, plant manager, Rolls Royce Crosspointe.

Newport News Shipping joined CCAM as research related to coating technologies applies directly to its aircraft carriers and submarines. The 1035 metric-ton crane spanning the Dry Dock 12 construction area at Newport News Shipbuilding.
Photo by Chris Oxley, Newport News Shipbuilding.

Bridging Research with Commeiicalization

With competition so fierce, CCAM's goal is to bridge the gap between research and commercialization. The group decided to focus on specific areas. "CCAM research attacks surface coating and manufacturing systems issues common to our members," says David Lohr, CCAM's president and executive director. "With members pooling R&D dollars and conducting research here instead of on their own production lines, CCAM translates laboratory innovation into business improvement faster and more cost effectively than ever before."

Companies located both in Virginia and outside of the state saw the opportunity and jumped in. "The complexity is so enormous that you need a type of environment that, without business pressure, you can think about new ideas, develop new ideas and bring them from an embryonic state to where industry can then take it into production," explains Andreas Saar, vice president of Component Manufacturing Solutions at Siemens PLC Software.

What's in it for the universities? Jobs. In the next five to 10 years, CCAM plans to employ 49 Ph.D researchers, 35 graduate assistants and 35 undergraduate interns. The annual research budget is expected to be between $15 and 20 million. "CCAM will serve as a conduit for technologies and people to enter industry in a more effective way," says Barry Johnson, senior associate dean for research at the University of Virginia Engineering School. "In CCAM, we will have a mechanism for testing new technologies on an industrial scale."

At present CCAM has approved $750,000 in research at the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech. The four approved projects encompass research in adaptive machining, human factors and knowledge capture, multi-modal part inspection, and surface characterization.

"This is the first step for what will result in transformational manufacturing solutions for our members to reduce costs and improve quality of their products," says Charles Smith, CCAM's chief technology officer for research and program development.

A rendering of The Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing scheduled to open this summer at Rolls-Royce's Crosspointe plant in Prince George County, Va.

As companies see the value created, Lohr is hoping to turn Virginia into a leading center for advanced manufacturing. As Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said at the groundbreaking ceremony for CCAM's building in March 2011, "Global dynamics will always influence where products are made, and CCAM's collaborative, creative approach to advanced manufacturing techniques gives the Commonwealth a leadership role in determining how the world's most advanced products are made."

About the Author

Adrienne Selko | Senior Editor

Focus: Workforce, Talent 

Follow Me on Twitter: @ASelkoIW

Bio: Adrienne Selko has written about many topics over the 17 years she has been with the publication and currently focuses on workforce development strategies. Previously Adrienne was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck? which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics and EHS Today

Editorial mission statement: Manufacturing is the enviable position of creating products, processes and policies that solve the world’s problems. When the industry stepped up to manufacture what was necessary to combat the pandemic, it revealed its true nature. My goal is to showcase the sector’s ability to address a broad range of workforce issues including technology, training, diversity & inclusion, with a goal of enticing future generations to join this amazing sector.

Why I find manufacturing interesting: On my first day working for a company that made medical equipment such as MRIs, I toured the plant floor. On every wall was a photo of a person, mostly children. I asked my supervisor why this was the case and he said that the work we do at this company has saved these people’s lives. “We never forget how important our work is and everyone’s contribution to that.” From that moment on I was hooked on manufacturing.

I have talked with many people in this field who have transformed their own career development to assist others. For example, companies are hiring those with disabilities, those previously incarcerated and other talent pools that have been underutilized. I have talked with leaders who have brought out the best in their workforce, as well as employees doing their best work while doing good for the world. 

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