No matter where you stand from inside the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) 60,000 square-foot facility, you can see all the way through. From within the glass walls, you might witness equipment being installed, or scientist working in one of 10 research laboratories. Or you could see CCAM members collaborating in the “common space,” or working in the 3-D Visualization Center.
CCAM’s Executive Director David Lohr sees a clear connection between that new facility and what NASA has been doing for many years.
“I think it will also give you a window into the future opportunity that exists in the Commonwealth of Virginia — to leverage what we’re doing to bring technology driven manufacturing back to America, and specifically, back to Virginia,” Lohr said.
At NASA Langley’s November Colloquium titled, “CCAM: A Game-Changing Partnership for Growing Advanced Manufacturing in the USA,” Lohr talked about what CCAM is doing to define advanced technology that companies need in order to remain competitive in an intensely global marketplace.
Current members of CCAM include Newport News Shipbuilding, Canon, Rolls Royce, Siemens, Chromalloy, and Aerojet, along with other industrial companies and universities.
“Our job is to rapidly translate new technologies in advanced manufacturing from the laboratory back to the factory floor,” Lohr said.
CCAM brings different industrial sectors together through a common research theme in two primary areas: surface engineering and manufacturing systems. Although the connection of those primary areas may not be obvious at first, according to Lohr, more than half of the projects crossover.
One crossover example of generic research, when companies pull their financial support and ideas together, is a project that looks at media blasting of a surface to prepare it to receive a coating. On the manufacturing systems side, they seek to understand how to characterize the coating for optimal performance using modeling and simulation and sensor technology.
From that generic research, CCAM develops a research program and projects of interest across the board. CCAM provides the funding, and owns the results.
There is also an option for Directed Research, when a specific company or a collaboration of companies maintains ownership of the results.
CCAM is contemplating adding a third option for a government research organization such as NASA.
The idea is that members come in at an appropriate level for what they can afford with three “tiers” of members to choose from. Minus payment, potential members can provide CCAM with equipment for the facility. They receive a seat at the table with all of the companies who are defining the next generation of products.
Members populate boards and councils that are structured to maximize interaction, define the best projects, and to make sure that CCAM has the appropriate resources to complete them.
According to Lohr, CCAM spreads the cost risk. And with access to the right people and the right technology, they are able to deliver a cost-effective, rapid-to-market model to their partners.
For more than a year, CCAM and NASA Langley have engaged in a conversation that Lohr hopes will lead to a membership.
“My vision is, as I look at the capability that you have here, the facilities, the equipment, and the amazing amount of human talent that is here, and the focus that we both have — so much of that focus in the aerospace sector to start with — it seems logical that you all should be a member of CCAM,” Lohr said. “We would have access to your equipment that we don’t need to invest in, and there are opportunities for you.
“We envision a government entity category that would involve visiting scientists, it might involve us doing work for you, or us outsourcing work to be done by you. It expands us into another dimension.”
Based on several visits that Lohr has made to NASA Langley, he sees a clear fit. NASA Langley has capabilities that CCAM and its partnering universities do not have. In part, his job is to build research capabilities without any gaps, and he sees NASA Langley filling in some of those gaps.
“We have a tremendous opportunity there, and we hope to do something with that,” Lohr said. “We’re advancing the ball as fast as we can.”
David Dress and Ray Turcotte from NASA Langley recently visited CCAM. They were both impressed with the facility and the concept.
“CCAM takes advantage of pooling resources to achieve common goals,” Dress said. “It adds a level of structure to collaboration that leverages skills from industry, academia and government to infuse new or advanced technologies into mainstream manufacturing.”
Dress envisions researchers traveling between the centers, sharing expertise and equipment, and pursuing common aerospace manufacturing goals.
At this point, the center is considering a non-reimbursable Space Act Agreement with CCAM as a starting point in a partnership.
Within five years, Lohr intends to have 50 to 60 scientists working with CCAM, and 30 industrial members from its current 14. He also hopes to grow 30 to 35 internship opportunities from the current four. Within that time, he expects the institution to do $15 to $20 million dollars worth of specialized research in advanced manufacturing.
Currently, CCAM has 12 areas in which they focus their investments. Some of those areas include surface characterization, machining, additive manufacturing and non-destructive evaluation.
With an increase in membership, which could introduce new industry sectors, Lohr expects that list of areas will grow to 15 to 18 areas, with the depth of those areas also expanding.
And one day, Lohr hopes to look out through the CCAM facility to a complete research campus that bridges the gap between fundamental research typically performed at universities and product development routinely performed by companies.