What do you get when you combine the best minds in advanced manufacturing research & development with world-class manufacturing companies and engineering talent from leading universities? The answer is the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing.
Located just south of Richmond in Prince George County and adjacent to the modern aero engine component factories of Rolls-Royce, CCAM is an important economic development asset helping Virginia to retain and attract advanced manufacturing companies.
Since opening its doors in 2011, the center has quietly grown an impressive staff of highly experienced researchers in its next generation facilities. Its 31 members drawn from industry, research-based universities and government come together to solve a range of manufacturing challenges. Each month, CCAM operates close to thirty research projects on automation technology exploration, pre-production validation and technology development. This year, its research spending will top $6 million.
“We build advanced manufacturing capabilities that help businesses succeed,” says CCAM CEO Will Powers. “Companies benefit from our unique intellectual property model where they jointly own the research created with our university members, and our university members – including faculty and students – get access to industry scale equipment, technology and software. It’s a true win-win.”
Situated in an ultramodern 62,000 square-foot research facility, CCAM researchers, staff, interns and graduate research assistants work in a clean, bright and safe environment – a stark contrast to the commonly held notion of manufacturing as dirty, dark and dangerous. They conduct general and directed research moving between labs and high-bay research areas quietly humming with a giant ABB robot, cutting-edge machine tools, metrology labs and spray booths that develop surface coatings for industrial applications.
Led by Chief Technology Officer Jaime Camelio, CCAM draws on engineering faculty talent and resources from its five top-flight member universities and provides internships to their students. “For engineering students, it’s a pretty special opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a high-tech environment,” says Camelio, who, in addition to his role as CTO, is the Rolls-Royce Commonwealth Professor of Advanced Manufacturing in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech and the Director for the ICTAS Center for Innovation-based Manufacturing at Virginia Tech. And that practical experience isn’t lost on students, says VCU School of Engineering Dean Barbara Boyan, Ph.D. “There is a growing awareness and excitement about the real-world experience that CCAM can impart to their classroom work.”
In addition to preparing the next generation of engineers, CCAM and its members are working to develop a skilled work force, partnering with the Virginia Tobacco Commission and the Commonwealth of Virginia to create the CCAM Apprentice Academy. Academy apprentices will receive training and certification preparing them for high paying jobs in machining, welding and mechatronics. “We are working hard with the U.S. Department of Commerce – Economic Development Administration and state initiatives like “GO Virginia” to secure funding for these projects in 2018,” says Bruce Sobczak, CCAM Apprentice Academy Director of Workforce Development.
With every program, CCAM keeps its focus on discovering and developing better manufacturing methods that translate to a thriving workforce and stronger economy. “The goal of our innovation efforts is to create value for our members, develop high paying jobs from engineering to shop floor, and bring stakeholders together to drive economic growth,” says Powers.