Collaboration is the watchword at innovative research facility CCAM
Want to glimpse the future of U.S. manufacturing? Then take a peek inside the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, an applied research facility that officially opened this year in Prince George County.
Known as CCAM, the public-private partnership is rewriting the guidebook for how companies should manage their intellectual property, or IP. Companies typically guard their secrets, but collaboration is the watchword at CCAM. Its members — more than a dozen companies, along with the University of Virginia, Virginia State University and Virginia Tech — share in, and financially support, research that has the potential to provide mutual benefits across a spectrum of manufacturing processes.
“The way we manage IP is being adopted as the model by other collaborative research facilities. It’s the future of advanced manufacturing,” says Michael Beffel, CCAM’s president and executive director. Beffel is a vice president at Chromalloy, one of CCAM’s originating members.
CCAM’s symbiotic environment should help bridge the gap between academic research and commercial product development, Beffel says. The collaborative lab specializes in two types of research projects.
Here’s how the process works. Generic research — that which is “precompetitive” and has broad industry application — is shared by all CCAM members, who also share in the development costs. For instance, “a company puts $1 in and gets $5 worth of return,” Beffel says.
Direct research, on the other hand, refers to proprietary work that is owned by a single company (or a consortium) that solely funds its development. An example: Chromalloy and three other companies at CCAM jointly are investing in an undisclosed research project “because we all believe it will help us in a way that is noncompetitive,” Beffel says, although he declined to disclose the nature of the initiative or Chromalloy’s partners.
CCAM is housed in the Crosspointe Centre business park in Prince George County, which was spawned by the arrival of Rolls-Royce North America in 2010. The British-based aerospace giant located an airplane engine components factory at Crosspointe and has announced plans to expand operations there. Chromalloy and Rolls-Royce are among seven original members of CCAM, along with Canon Virginia Inc., Newport News Shipbuilding, Sandvik Coromant, Siemens and Sulzer Metco.
CCAM also is rapidly becoming a magnet for high-paid research jobs — a welcome and hard-won development for Virginia. Within five years, CCAM’s member companies expect to add up to 70 full-time researchers, most of whom will possess a master’s degree or a doctorate, and nearly as many graduate and undergrad interns. “The pure brainpower will be absolutely amazing,” Beffel says.