Va. center aims to help US reclaim manufacturing

Associated Press Published: November 23, 2012
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Those involved say the center allows industry and universities to solve real problems and gives companies a low-risk environment in which to examine new ideas.

"The factory floor today isn't designed for experimentation, it's designed for efficient production. When you're interrupting that with experiments, then you disrupt the intended purpose of the factory," Lohr said. "Having an independent location where you can do research and do it at the same speed as you would at a factory, it takes that risk out of the equation."

Lohr said when you're making really expensive parts, "you don't want to send one to the lab and cut it up after you've invested all the money making it — you want to sell it."

Similar public-private collaborations are taking place across the world.

In the U.S., BMW partnered with Clemson University in Greenville, S.C., for research that focuses on automotive technology, Lohr said. And President Barack Obama announced a $30 million federal investment in a manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio that will bring together manufacturing firms, universities, community colleges, and non-profit organizations from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

From a workforce standpoint, Barry Johnson, senior associate dean at the University of Virginia's School of Engineering and Applied Science, said the collaboration allows universities to better understand what types of jobs and skills needed in the advanced manufacturing workplace, ultimately putting the U.S. in a better position to attract factories that may have otherwise gone to areas overseas.

"Companies have the ability to put these businesses anywhere in the world, and they're going to put them where those factors are favorable to them," Johnson said. "We in the U.S., we can compete with China, we can compete with India, we can compete with other parts of the world that have low labor rates."

Lohr agrees.

"The opportunity to reclaim manufacturing as a viable industry in the United States is there for the taking, if you do it with advanced manufacturing processes," he said. "While it may not create jobs as you might have had in a classic factory, what it is creating is a very high-value job."

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Online:

CCAM: http://www.ccam-va.com/

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Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum