An Overview   

Virginia's Manufacturing Innovation Center (VMIC) is sponsored by James Madison University (JMU) and the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT).  The mission of VMIC is to enhance the competitiveness of Virginiaís smaller manufacturers and to help them build a strong economic foundation through a well-trained workforce, accessible advanced information technology and modern production management practices.  
 

Introduction 

Manufacturing companies today operate in a world of dynamic competition in which technology, products, processes, customer needs, regulations, and market opportunities are constantly changing. Further, the pace of change is likely to accelerate. To compete in this environment, therefore, firms must constantly find innovative solutions to meet competitive and regulatory challenges. For Virginia to create, enhance, and attract manufacturing jobs, it must develop the skills of its workforce, improve quality of business services and open access to advanced manufacturing technology resources. 

To answer the needs for an educated, skilled and adaptable workforce and expanded access to advanced manufacturing technology resources, Virginia's Manufacturing Innovation Center (VMIC) was recently established by the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT). Sponsored by James Madison University (JMU), the center will serve traditional collegiate groups, community colleges, K-12 schools, and industrial partners of the center. One of the key strategic goals of the center will be providing access to existing and new advanced manufacturing technology for small manufacturers in Virginia. The Center will provide technical service to existing small manufacturing companies throughout the state and particularly in the western region surrounding JMU. The center will help the region build strong economic foundations with a high-quality, well-trained workforce, accessible technology and modern business practices, and forward-looking infrastructure, while improving the quality of life and maintaining strong economic development programs 

Strategic Partnership 

The Center draws upon the diverse and rich expertise of JMUís faculty in many disciplines, such as the unique and innovative Integrated Science and Technology program, Computer Science, and Operations Management in the College of Business. The center has formed a strategic partnership with government agencies, corporations and educational institutions. Among the public partners of the VMIC are the National Alliance of Business, Valley of Virginia Partnership, and Virginiaís Philpott Manufacturing Extension Partnership. The educational partners include Blue Ridge Community College, Valley of Virginia Partnership for Education, Piedmont Community College, and Dabney Lancaster Community College. The initial set of partners from industry includes R.R. Donnelley and Sons Company, Merck and Company, Inc., Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and Specialty Blades Inc. The breadth of this partnership, and the association with the Community Colleges in particular, will provide an opportunity to serve groups typically underrepresented in such significant initiatives. 

Strategic Mission and Goals 

The Center will enhance competitiveness of regional and Commonwealth-wide manufacturing industry through the development, transfer and deployment of advanced manufacturing technologies. A typical Virginia manufacturer (over 90%) employs fewer than 250 workers which earns the classification of "small" business. Almost all of these manufacturers fabricate discrete parts, ranging from simple consumer-oriented products to the more sophisticated computer-based machinery. This type of product is much more prevalent than continuous manufacturing, which produces commodities, such as petrochemicals, flour and steel. For that reason, the center will focus on the needs of small- to medium-sized manufacturers of discrete parts. With this focus, the strategic mission of the center is to serve as 

  • a catalyst for promoting the creation of high-paying manufacturing jobs, 
  • a vehicle for developing workforce skills required for 21st century manufacturing, 
  • a means of imparting "real-world" experience to students, 
  • an incubator of innovative solutions for improving manufacturing processes and production operations, 
  • a mechanism for transferring advanced manufacturing technology, and 
  • a forum for professional development, exchange of ideas and sharing of best practices among manufacturing management.
Program Overview 

Virginia's most significant emerging growth opportunity appears to be in "information age" electronics manufacturing. However, the vast majority of Virginia's citizens and communities will not benefit from "high technology" but from the use of commercially proven technologies to increase productivity and competitiveness. Virginia's smaller manufacturers, 94 percent of all manufacturing firms, too often lack access to objective, high quality resources to support efforts to modernize and adopt state-of-the-market technology and best manufacturing practices. 

Thus, the Center will be a leader in the development, application and transfer of computer-based automation and integration in manufacturing. Such technologies, will enable small Virginia manufacturers to enhance productivity and competitiveness, improve the quality of products, reduce the environmental impact of waste streams, and improve the general working environment of their employees. Areas of interest and application shall evolve over time to meet the needs of the Centerís clients and shall include at least the following methods and applications: 

  • new manufacturing methods required to produce the new and emerging high technology products and/or services that fall into the category of "high-technology," such as information technology, biotechnology, semiconductors and intelligent systems 
  • application of those "high-tech" products/materials/services/support to improve operations in traditional manufacturing 
  • application of technology, both current, as well as that yet to be developed, for application in manufacturing of products 
  • transfer of new technology gained from sources world-wide to small manufacturers 
  • application of new methods of managing production operations which will improve throughput, increase productivity and reduce cost or otherwise benefit the enterprise 
  • become a manufacturing technology resource to the region, utilizing partners to bring these resources to companies throughout the Commonwealth and beyond.
Operational Strategies and Facilities 

Toward the achievement of its vision as a leader in the development, application and transfer of integrated manufacturing methods, the Center will employ the following operational strategies: 

  • technology development & research 
  • innovative partnerships 
  • workforce skill development 
  • technology transfer to industry
  • professional outreach service

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As shown in Fig. 1, the operational strategies will be selectively applied to technology sectors in which the center has, or can quickly develop, significant competence. 

The Center will establish and maintain several workforce development and laboratory facilities. Among these are 

  • The Integrated Learning Factory. This "factory" is envisioned to be a modern production facility which will demonstrate to both students and industry partners how computer-based automation and integration technologies can be deployed to help Virginia manufacturers maintain competitiveness in the 21st Century. 
  • Biomanufacturing Training Facility. The state-of-the-art facility will focus on workforce skills required for the design and management of present and future biopharmaceutical manufacturing. 
  • Microfabrication Laboratory. This clean-room facility will enable the fabrication of integrated microelectronic device, sensor, and micro-electromechanical systems. 
  • Manufacturing Management Laboratory. This laboratory will provide a hands-on learning experience on the dynamic and integrative nature of managing production operations. 
The education and outreach component of the center will be designed to support the high technology applications targeted by the Centerís operational strategies. The program will utilize an innovative partnership with affiliated educational institutions and industrial partners. Customized and innovative educational materials and delivery systems will be the hallmark of training seminars delivered via distance learning and other state-of-the-art systems. 

In order to determine what technologies are most in demand by Virginia companies, the Center will conduct annual surveys of manufacturing technology. In addition, the Center will host an annual roundtable or conference, which will provide an opportunity for managers from around the Commonwealth and the region to network and exchange ideas on improving manufacturing operations and management. 

 


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Last update: July 14, 2000.