Making advances in central Virginia

By: Barry W. Johnson | Richmond Times Dispatch
Published: November 18, 2012

Advanced manufacturing is the integration of technology, processes, policies and people to produce complex products in a cost-effective, flexible and efficient way. Advanced manufacturing differs from traditional manufacturing by the extensive use of automation and other technologies, as well as much less dependence on the manual labor of workers.

The result is that labor costs are becoming less relevant in determining where to locate advanced manufacturing capacity. More important to the final decision is: (1) availability of a skilled, productive, and dependable workforce; (2) access to innovative new technology and ease of transitioning it into commercial practice; (3) availability of dependable and cost-effective suppliers; (4) ability to efficiently deliver products to customers; and (5) predictable and business-friendly governmental policies such as taxation and export control.

Companies will locate advanced manufacturing facilities where an ecosystem exists with the five core features listed above to support creating, making, and delivering their products. The Commonwealth of Virginia is well positioned because we have been working to create such an ecosystem, and central Virginia is at the heart of it.

Central Virginia enjoys an excellent geographical location from which to serve the markets in a vast majority of the United States and abroad with easy access to an outstanding deep-water port along with good roadways, rail systems and airports. The ongoing enhancements to the Panama Canal will only amplify the ability of central Virginia to cost effectively connect suppliers and customers around the world.

Central Virginia is also home to the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM). CCAM is an innovative public-private partnership created to bridge the gap between basic research performed at universities and commercialization performed at companies, thus accelerating the introduction of new technologies into the marketplace. CCAM connects multiple companies and universities to align diverse industrial sectors with the combined expertise of the university partners.

CCAM forms the core of the advanced manufacturing innovation zone developing in central Virginia. If it is properly nurtured, Virginia can create one of the top 10 manufacturing clusters in the United States with significant impact on not only central Virginia but southern and southwest Virginia as well.

It is a privilege for me to be a member of the team that is creating CCAM. It has been a unique opportunity to work with our CCAM founding partners including Canon Virginia, Chromalloy, Newport News Shipbuilding, Rolls-Royce, Sandvik Coromant, Siemens, Sulzer Metco, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia State University and the Commonwealth of Virginia. It has been particularly insightful to visit the manufacturing facilities of our partners in England, France, Germany, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States to witness firsthand the advanced manufacturing industry and its challenges and opportunities.

Advanced manufacturing also depends on logistics to provide dependable supply chains as well as the delivery of goods and services to customers. Logistics is the management of the flow of goods and services between a point of origin and a point of consumption to meet stringent requirements including reliability, security, sustainability and cost. A logistics system is an integrated set of resources that provides a customer with an end-to-end solution.

The Commonwealth Center for Advanced Logistics Systems (CCALS) is modeled after CCAM and will provide industry and government with transformational improvements in the design and analysis of logistics systems for military, commercial, consumer, manufacturing and emergency applications.

Complex logistics systems involve global processes, policies, technologies and human factors much like advanced manufacturing. The unique focus of the CCALS will be on integrating solutions in these diverse areas to form logistics systems that are cost effective and dependable. The CCALS university partners include Longwood University, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia State University.

An additional advantage of the CCAM and CCALS partnerships is that they provide the advanced manufacturing and logistics sectors within Virginia access to focal points for workforce development and industry image building.

This enables companies to: (1) increase the awareness of career opportunities in advanced manufacturing and logistics; (2) provide input on the workforce skills currently needed by the manufacturing and logistics industries; (3) provide input on the types of jobs that will be emerging in manufacturing and logistics in the future; (4) access potential employees with the education and skills needed by the manufacturing and logistics industries; and (5) provide feedback on the quality and preparation of the potential employees, specifically work readiness and industry/occupational credentials, as well as government and private-sector educational pathway resources. This fills a missing link that connects industry with universities, community colleges, high schools, and training centers to ensure that the workforce of the future meets the needs of industry.

In summary, central Virginia has a unique opportunity to position itself as a top 10 manufacturing cluster in the United States and to attract the companies and jobs that come along with such a status.

Local, state, industry, university, community college and high school officials are strongly encouraged to engage with the CCAM and CCALS partnerships to ensure their success and to create the magnet that is needed to attract advanced manufacturing and logistics industries to Virginia.

Specifically, the local industry must become engaged in these partnerships to ensure their success and the fulfillment of the overall vision. Furthermore, the CCAM model should be replicated in other sectors, such as energy, information technology, and health care for the benefit of our commonwealth of Virginia. Our future economic growth depends upon it.

Editor’s note: This column is part of a continuing series exploring what’s ahead for our region and how best to identify, create and expand opportunities. The series is a collaboration between The Times-Dispatch and Richmond’s Future, the think tank led by Eugene Trani, president emeritus of Virginia Commonwealth University.

Barry W. Johnson is senior associate dean and L. A. Lacy Professor at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. He is also a member of the CCAM Board of Directors and served as its first chairman. To learn more about Richmond’s Future, go to richmondfuture.org.