By Paula C. Squires
A small intersection in rural Prince George County became a global crossroads Thursday, bringing together state leaders, university presidents and executives from some of the world’s biggest names in manufacturing as Virginia celebrated the groundbreaking of its Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM).
Nearly 200 people gathered in a white tent next to a cleared site that will soon house a 50,000-square-foot collaborative research facility. CCAM will be a “game changer”, said Executive Director David Lohr, because it will provide a place where students and faculty from three of the state’s research universities — Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia and Virginia State University — can work with global manufacturers. “Its collaborative model joins academic research with manufacturing’s drive for competitive advantage, and it promises new, valuable innovations faster than ever before.”
Lohr thanked the six companies that have signed on as initial founding members, agreeing to pay $400,000 a year for five years to support the work at CCAM, which is adjacent to Rolls-Royce’s new jet engine components plant. Besides London-based Roll-Royce, the companies are: Canon Virginia Inc. in Newport News, Chromalloy, based in Orangeburg, N.Y.; Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries; Sandvik Coromant, headquartered in Sandviken, Sweden; and Siemens, a Germany-based company with a U.S. office in Virginia Beach.
“From aerospace engineering to digital imaging and shipbuilding, these companies represent the world,” Lohr said.
As founding member, the companies join representatives from the Virginia universities on CCAM’s board of directors. It will oversee the center’s development, research goals, and outreach to additional member companies. Aeroject, a California-based provider of rocket propulsion systems, joined CCAM last month. One of the benefits for member companies is pooling resources to pursue university research and sharing CCAM’s intellectual property.
Wearing hard hats and holding gold-tipped shovels, representatives from the six manufactures were on hand yesterday, along with Gov. Bob McDonnell, to talk with people about CCAM. Armand F. Lauzon, CEO of Chromalloy — which provides parts, repairs and maintenance of gas turbines used in aviation — told Virginia Business, “We thought it was important to get in on the ground floor so we can have an influence. When you bring new technologies in, you bring jobs.”
Ron Briggs, a senior vice president with Canon Virginia, said his company likes the idea of working with the state’s top engineering schools to leverage the knowledge coming out of universities that can help improve manufacturing systems. “It will help us become more efficient, and it sets up a pipeline for getting skilled workers,” said Briggs.
CCAM was one of the reasons Rolls-Royce agreed to bring its manufacturing plant to Prince George County, and Gov. Bob McDonnell said in his remarks that it underscores the role that higher education plays in attracting economic development. “This will help us be a leader in positioning Virginia and America in doing something we need to do better: bolster manufacturing.”
McDonnell added that “it’s important to the heart and soul of America that we still make things here.”
Hamid G. Mughal, executive vice president of manufacturing engineering and technology for Rolls-Royce, said CCAM is the first venture of its kind in the U.S. for advanced manufacturing. Rolls-Royce donated the land for the center to the University of Virginia Foundation. It will build and operate the center, leasing the space to CCAM.
Mughal said Rolls-Royce has helped set up five other collaborative research centers outside the U.S. Four of them are located in England, and the other one is in Singapore. According to Mughal, the centers help manufactures keep their competitive edge. With new innovations and cost efficiencies, new production facilities — and the jobs they bring — don’t have to go overseas to operate profitably, he said.
CCAM plans to two focus on two areas: surface engineering and manufacturing systems. When complete in March 2012, the facility will house computational and large-scale production labs, as well as open-production space for heavy equipment and surface coating processes including a thermal spraying machine and a thermal conductivity measurements system.
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