Research center in Prince George is a collaboration between academia and industryMarch 28, 2012 6:00 AM
by Gary Robertson
Put an ice cube into a roaring furnace.
Now, keep the ice cube cold.
That’s not a riddle. It is the kind of challenge that researchers at the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) in Prince George County — heralded as a paradigm for industry-academic collaboration in Virginia — soon will be trying to address.
But there will be much more at stake than ice cubes. “Fundamentally, this is about jobs. It’s about keeping jobs in America,” Peter Diakun, vice president and chief technology officer of Newport News Shipbuilding, says in a video interview for CCAM.
The goal of the research at CCAM is to produce game-changing technology that can be used in high-value manufacturing operations.
The ice cube analogy, attributed to an unidentified executive at Rolls-Royce — a leading manufacturer of aircraft engines — was an effort to explain the oftentimes-arcane research that will go on at CCAM.
But the analogy illustrates the needs of Rolls-Royce, which is constantly on the lookout for materials and coatings that can resist the scorching heat of jet engines and other power systems.
In fact, plans for Rolls-Royce factories in Prince George were the catalyst for creating CCAM. In evaluating potential factory sites, Rolls-Royce wanted to have the kind of partnership between industry and academia that it has enjoyed in university technology centers in other parts of the world.
The first Prince George factory, Rolls-Royce’s $170 million jet engine disc manufacturing facility, opened in May 2011 on a 1,000-acre campus called Crosspointe. It employs 150 workers.
In March, Rolls-Royce tentatively announced plans for a second plant at Crosspointe, a 90,000-square-foot advanced blade machining facility, which would open in 2014 and have 140 employees. In future expansions, the company’s total investment in Crosspointe is expected to exceed $500 million, and the campus will employ 500 people.
The growing number of jobs at Crosspointe and the promising research at CCAM attracted the attention of President Obama. He came to the Rolls-Royce plant in early March to announce plans for a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, a group of collaborative research centers like CCAM designed to create new technologies and processes for manufacturing. The $1 billion proposal would require action by Congress, but the president plans to start a competition for a $45 million pilot program using existing funds from several federal agencies.
CCAM’s research focus will be on surface engineering and manufacturing systems.
Surface engineering, as the term implies, alters the surface of materials to create properties such as heat resistance.
Manufacturing systems research, for example, might find ways to test products or parts virtually, without time-consuming manual inspection, or enable machinery parts to last longer, reducing material and labor costs.
David Lohr, president and executive director of CCAM, says the center will perform two kinds of research projects, directed and generic. “Directed projects are limited to the needs of a single member who funds that research and who owns all the resultant intellectual property. Other CCAM members have no access to these directed research results,” he says. “Generic projects are ones that will benefit multiple CCAM member companies who share a common technological challenge.”
The intellectual property resulting from generic projects will be available to all CCAM members through a nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free license.
Researchers from three state universities with engineering programs — the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University — will conduct research with industry partners on the CCAM site in Prince George and in school laboratories.
“Our universities have all agreed to relinquish all rights to IP [intellectual property] that they develop for CCAM,” Lohr says.
He describes Robert W. McClintock Jr. as the architect of CCAM. McClintock, director of the research division of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, helped bring the manufacturers and universities together. He says agreements over the use of intellectual property constituted “the big compromise” in negotiations to establish the center.
Tier I and organizing members of CCAM — companies committed to paying a fee of $400,000 a year for five years — can devote half of their fee to company-specific research. The other half will go toward generic research. (Tier 2 industry members are committed to $100,000 annually for five years.)
McClintock says professors at the three universities will be able to publish their research findings, meeting a critical professional need.
The universities also receive funding for their participation, a total of roughly $40 million for the three institutions over five fiscal years.
Part of the money endowed three engineering faculty chairs each at U.Va. and Virginia Tech, as well as three additional faculty chairs in U.Va.’s McIntire School of Commerce. VSU will be hiring additional faculty in areas related to advanced manufacturing, a CCAM official says.
The funding also will be used to upgrade infrastructure at the universities and to hire junior research faculty.
In addition, Barry Johnson, senior associate dean for the University of Virginia School of Engineering, says the universities will benefit from collaborative research funded by the federal government and other entities.
“For example, if CCAM received a federal grant and awarded a subcontract from that grant to one of the universities, then the universities would own any intellectual property created by that university’s employees on the grant,” he says.
CCAM members have been meeting at Virginia State University near Petersburg to plot their long-term research goals.
CCAM already has authorized $750,000 in generic research projects at the three universities.
Building under construction
The 60,000-square-foot CCAM building will be situated on 20 acres adjacent to Crosspointe donated by Rolls-Royce to the University of Virginia Foundation.
The foundation is in charge of constructing the CCAM facility, and will own and maintain it, leasing the property to CCAM. W.M. Jordan Co. of Newport News is building the complex.
The total cost will be approximately $17 million, says Frederick Missel, director of design and development at the foundation.
CCAM’s initial funding came from grants from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification Commission and Community Revitalization Commission and federal Recovery Act bonds from the commonwealth.
CCAM says that 25 to 30 people will be working at the center when it opens. Of those, 10 to 12 will be CCAM employees, while 10 to 13 will be representatives from organizing members, and three to six will be student interns.
CCAM’s roster of companies includes: organizing members Canon Virginia Inc.; Chromalloy; Newport News Shipbuilding; Rolls-Royce; Sandvik Coromant; Siemens; and Sulzer Metco; and Tier 2 partner Aerojet.
CCAM does not require its members to have operations in Virginia. Some do and officials hope that the others will eventually make manufacturing investments in the state.
CCAM recently was honored as a recipient of the eighth annual Manufacturing Leadership 100 Awards.
It won in the New Workforce category, which recognizes companies that have created innovative ways to bring workers with new, in-demand skills into the workplace.
Lohr, CCAM’s president, says the research center is perfectly aligned with government efforts to spur advanced manufacturing.
In fact, CCAM representatives already were involved in the Obama administration’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership before his visit. The initiative is designed to create high-quality manufacturing jobs and strengthen the nation’s global competitiveness.
CCAM officials say the success of their venture will be measured in multiple ways.
One will be its ability to develop technologies that industry partners can use in their factories to save money and improve products.
Another measure will be how well CCAM communicates to academia the type of training needed to produce workers for advanced manufacturing operations.
“We will need engineers and scientists in our factories or floor workers in that same environment,” Lohr says.
McClintock of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership believes that CCAM’s success could have a multiplier effect, attracting other companies to CCAM or perhaps spinning off additional research centers.
(In one way, it already has. Rolls-Royce collaborated with the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech in setting up the Commonwealth Center for Aerospace Propulsion Systems (CCAPS), which conducts research in university laboratories.)
In appearances across the state, McClintock has emphasized that CCAM should not be viewed as just a Prince George facility.
“This is an asset that can help manufacturers anywhere in Virginia, and companies that have outposts beyond Virginia,” he says.
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