Automotive researchers, students and manufacturers will work side by side developing and learning advanced manufacturing techniques at the new Clemson Vehicle Assembly Center that was unveiled Thursday in Greenville.
Part of the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) and located in the Greenville Technical College Center for Manufacturing Innovation, the real-world research space will provide innovative manufacturing solutions and highly trained engineers and technicians for industry.
The Vehicle Assembly Center is a collaboration of CU-ICAR, Greenville Technical College, BMW Manufacturing and Siemens. The 4,000-square-foot center will have a full vehicle assembly line, joining lab, sub-assembly lab, embedded devices lab, collaborative robotics center and autonomous factory vehicles.
A large portion of the research will be done by faculty and students in Clemson’s College of Engineering Computing and Applied Sciences. Greenville Technical College students will be enrolled in manufacturing training programs.
“We are embarking on a new model where academia and industry can drive compelling research while simultaneously defining a new education paradigm as students at the graduate, undergraduate and technical college levels collaborate on full-scale manufacturing projects and fortify each others’ learning,” said Laine Mears, Vehicle Assembly Center director and BMW SmartState Chair in Automotive Manufacturing at Clemson University.
One of the difficulties with manufacturing research is that researchers often need to shut down assembly lines or wait for a pause in work, Mears said. The Vehicle Assembly Center eliminates the problem by giving them their own three-station assembly line to experiment without the pressure of being on a factory floor.
“This new model is a way to address those pressures while creating unique learning experiences,” he said.
Part of Clemson’s recently announced Center for Advanced Manufacturing, the Vehicle Assembly Center is part of the Clemson’s continued commitment to support and improve advanced manufacturing in South Carolina through interdisciplinary education, research, innovation and engagement. Similar centers focusing on advanced robotics and composites research are under development in the same space, growing this comprehensive capability for the future.
James P. Clements, president of Clemson University, said the Vehicle Assembly Center will provide a boost to a crucial part of the economy.
“Today we cut the ribbon not just on a new center, but on a new era of innovation and education,” he said. “Technicians, technical leaders and engineers all come together in advanced manufacturing facilities. The world-class Vehicle Assembly Center will bring manufacturing research and education to the forefront, creating a new model for the nation to follow.”
Knudt Flor, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing, was among the dignitaries at Thursday’s event.
“BMW Plant Spartanburg continues to grow. A highly-skilled, well-educated workforce is essential to meet the challenges of the next generation of vehicles,” Flor said. “The Vehicle Assembly Center and its project-based learning approach promise to prepare a workforce with the skills needed to be successful in the premium automotive industry.”
“To stay competitive, the BMW Group must be involved with technological developments in all regions of the world and quickly adopt innovative solutions,” said Dirk Hilgenberg, senior vice president for Technical Planning at the BMW Group. “The speed of adoption is critically important. The Assembly Center will allow for quicker evaluation and development of new technologies to provide solutions to our global BMW production network. The students trained in the Vehicle Assembly Center will be key enablers to implement the results effectively in real-world production.”
Keith Miller, president of Greenville Technical College, said, “As our advanced manufacturing students work with Clemson’s engineering students on real-world projects, the teams share ideas and collaborate as they will in the workplace. This experience better prepares them for their careers.”
The Vehicle Assembly Center will tackle some of the industry’s most compelling challenges, such as the manufacturing skills gap and effective integration of automation with humans.
“Efforts toward process automation are driving demand for new skills. The industry is looking for a workforce with information and systems integration experience,” Mears said. “The human element in manufacturing is not going away: It is getting smarter, more agile and increasingly plugged in to this evolving Internet-of-Things.”
David Clayton, executive director at the Center for Manufacturing Innovation, noted that education for manufacturing is found at many colleges, but “bringing a technical college, a research university and industry together to solve problems is unique to CMI and gives the Upstate and South Carolina an edge in attracting employers. We look forward to seeing Greenville Tech and Clemson students collaborate with industry on many projects to come.