Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Tuesday, November 29, 2022

A New Home Under Construction for CCAM’s Unique Blend of Industry/Academic Collaboration 

<img style="float: left;" src="" alt="" width="94" height="62" />Due for occupancy Sept. 10, the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing new 60,000 square-foot facility will allow this unique public/private partnership to conduct leading-edge research into advanced manufacturing techniques.

For the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, Sept. 10, 2012 is a particularly auspicious.  That’s the target date for the CCAM staff to vacate their current temporary quarters provided by Virginia State University and move into a brand new 60,000 square-foot facility.  

Located in Price George County, Virginia, just south of Richmond and adjacent to the new Rolls-Royce manufacturing plant, the site will house computational and large-scale production labs, as well as open production space for heavy equipment and surface coating operations.

CCAM president and executive director David Lohr explains that the Center is unique. It’s the only collaboration of its kind in North America with the mission of bridging the gap between fundamental research typically conducted by universities, and product development conducted by companies.  The idea is to accelerate the movement of research innovation from the laboratory to commercial use with substantial business benefits accruing to its member companies.

As Lohr says, “What’s unique about CCAM is that we have created an organization and a governance structure that allows industry to drive research that is important to their future success and competitiveness.  And we’re doing it in a way that utilizes the universities in a user-friendly fashion while providing companies with control and ownership of the intellectual property (IP) being generated.”

CCAM is partnered with three of the state’s leading academic institutions – the University of Virginia, Virginia State University, and Virginia Tech. In particular, Virginia Tech is one of the top research universities in the nation. Last December it unveiled HokieSpeed, a 455 teraflop supercomputer fast enough to win a 96 place rating on the Top500 list.  The system’s capabilities are part of the computational power available to CCAM members.

Among the Center’s corporate members are such top firms as Canon, Sandvik Coromant, Siemens, Newport News Shipbuilding, and Rolls-Royce.

In this public/private partnership, CCAM can conduct directed research for the exclusive, proprietary benefit of an individual member or generic research where the resulting IP can be accessed and used by all member companies.  

The Center is focusing on two specific aspects of advanced manufacturing research: manufacturing systems and surface engineering.  

According to the Center’s web site manufacturing systems efficiently integrate processes associated with the conceptualization, design, production and service of manufactured parts. CCAM manufacturing systems research will increase product integrity, competitiveness, performance and time-to-market.

Research will include:
•    Computer-aided manufacturing
•    Computer-aided process planning
•    Production execution
•    Virtual manufacturing systems
•    Integration of manufacturing data into the design process

Surface engineering alters material surfaces to provide properties not originally inherent in the material. Automotive, aerospace/aeronautical, energy, electronics, biomedical, textile, petroleum, materials manufacturing and construction industries all have surface engineering needs.

CCAM will:
•    Develop new and advanced surface engineering systems and processes that will deliver desired surface properties cost-effectively.
•    Evaluate and assess surface and part properties to understand relationships between process parameters and resulting part properties.
•    Simulate manufacturing processes so that virtual design becomes an accepted industry practice.

Ready to Research

When the new facility is ready on Sept. 10, it will be fully furnished and partially equipped to begin conducting research.  

On-going research under the CCAM banner is already underway at its three member universities. For example, generic research projects now being conducted in the universities’ research labs include:
•    Adaptive machining – identification and integration of sensors to support adaptive cutting processes
•    Human factors – characterization of human performance using continuous motion data
•    Multi-modal part inspections
•    Surface characterization and identification

All members have non-exclusive, royalty-free license to IP resulting from generic research.  Tier 1 CCAM members, on the other hand, own the IP that results from directed research that they sponsor. A third category of research funding is supplied by federal agencies.

When the Center staff take possession of the new facility, the data center and all of the IT infrastructure will be in place, as well as other key pieces of laboratory and research equipment. Among the equipment sets that will be functional is a state-of-the-art plasma spray cell for thermal barrier work. Work will also begin on more classical organic liquid and other corrosion resistant and friction-reducing coatings conducted inside traditional spray painting booths.  Also, a machining center will have several kinds of cutting machines ranging from standard mill-turn equipment to advanced 5-axis CNC cutting machines, as well as electrical discharge machine (EDM) capabilities.

A fully robotic, laser power deposition unit will be available for additive manufacturing including laser micro cladding for rapid prototyping and manufacturing.

Working with its university partners, CACM is already involved in intensive simulation and modeling on behalf of its members. However, the new facility will allow the Center to take full advantage of its agreement with Siemens PLM. The data center is being specifically designed to support the full complements of Siemens product life cycle management capabilities involving computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), computer-aided engineering (CAE), product data management, and digital manufacturing.  The new data center with its high end cluster computing capabilities will also allow researchers to use such high end tools as computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and finite element analysis (FEA) to solve design and engineering problems through advanced modeling, simulation and analysis.

A Potential Template for Other Centers

Lohr notes that it will take a number of iterations before the new facility reaches its full potential and, of course, even then it will continue to be a work in progress.  However, right now CCAM’s unique approach to collaboration between industry and academia is a template that can be used to build other CCAM-like organizations in other states or even other parts of the world.  

He says that the scientific focus for each center should be unique and separate – for example, it doesn’t make sense to have two centers built on this model addressing surface engineering or manufacturing systems.  But there are no shortage of topics and technologies that need to be addressed; in manufacturing alone centers could tackle such disciplines as robotics, composites, advanced forming and machining…the list goes on.  

“The key is getting the universities to come to the table and approve a master agreement where they yield their IP rights to the research center,” Lohr says. “This allows these rights to be controlled by the member companies and used commercially without their having to pay for the research and then go back and license the technology.”

But right now, construction crews are swarming over the CCAM site, racing to meet the Sept. 10 deadline.  All the better to help Lohr and his staff meet the organization’s charter of “delivering production-ready manufacturing solutions while combining the speed and ROI expectations of business with the intellectual rigor and innovation of universities.”  As CCAM moves forward to meet its five to 10 year growth plans that include 60 employees (most of them PhD researchers), more than 30 industry members, and an annual budget somewhere in the $15-20 million range, the Center could well become an example of how to build a collaborative industry/academia partnership that can be replicated for other disciplines in other locations in the U.S. and around the world.


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