CLEMSON — Mark Johnson is joining Clemson University as the founding director of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and the Thomas F. Hash ‘69 SmartState Endowed Chair in Sustainable Development.

The center, which is just starting to take shape, is envisioned as a “one-stop shop” for research and education programs in advanced manufacturing. The ultimate goal is economic growth and job creation, Johnson said.

Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson

“This is a race,” he said. “Every other state in the union is also going in this direction, and every nation in the world would love to have the land-grant universities that we have in the United States. We’ll have some ups and downs, but at the end of the day, how do you end up making sure the whole I-85 corridor region becomes the go-to place for manufacturing?”

Clemson officials said the Center for Advanced Manufacturing will fuel growth not only in South Carolina but across the nation. They are working closely with industry leaders to develop the center’s programs, which could revolve around a variety of topics from robotics and virtual reality to artificial intelligence and lightweight materials.

Johnson, who leads that effort, is using his deep experience as a former government official, entrepreneur and university professor to act as a conduit that connects manufacturers, faculty, students and other resources.

Among those welcoming Johnson to Clemson is President James P. Clements.

“Dr. Johnson has impeccable credentials and a strong history of leadership and entrepreneurship,” Clements said. “He has deep advanced-manufacturing experience in both the public and private sectors, and is uniquely positioned to lead the Center for Advanced Manufacturing to success.”

One of the key advantages for South Carolina is that its Upstate is in the middle of the Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion, an area that roughly follows Interstate 85 from Alabama to North Carolina and loops in the Nashville area. The megaregion is an emerging national leader in manufacturing, Johnson said.

“Clemson is at the heart of that and technology innovation is the heart of leadership in that area,” he said. “So Clemson plays a key role in making sure that manufacturing has leadership in not only the state but also in the region, nation and the world.”

Among the goals of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing is to help develop new technology that will give manufacturers a competitive edge, making them more profitable, while helping create more manufacturing jobs, Johnson said.

“There will be individual jobs that will be replaced by robots, but we’ll have a lot more jobs as a result,” he said. “It’s not just people building the robots. We’ll have jobs you haven’t even thought of yet. When the steam engine replaced the water wheel and the horse cart, yes, some people who were tending the horses lost their jobs. They could have never envisioned people running CNC mills, but that’s a direct outcome of technological advancement.”

The creation of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing was announced last December, and Johnson’s arrival in mid May is helping kick start its activities.

The Center for Advanced Manufacturing is an umbrella organization that brings together several Clemson initiatives that are focused on research and education important to advanced manufacturers. Those initiatives include the Vehicle Assembly Center, the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Center, the Clemson Composites Center, Product Life Cycle Management, the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development and the Center for Aviation and Automotive Technological Education Using Virtual E-Schools.

“We are going to make sure all the resources of Clemson are available to the manufacturing community,” Johnson said.

Johnson is the former director of the Advanced Manufacturing Office in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

In that role, he oversaw a program aimed at making the United States more competitive through support of research and development of new technologies. The program was also focused on building partnerships with the private sector to ensure technologies get out of the lab and into manufacturing.

Prior to that, Johnson was the longest-serving director in the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. His most recent job prior to joining Clemson was as associate professor of materials science and engineering at North Carolina State University.

Johnson is also an entrepreneur and was early-stage leader in Quantum Epitaxial Designs (now International Quantum Epitaxy), EPI Systems (now Veeco) and Nitronex (now GaAs Labs).

Johnson’s primary role at Clemson will be to serve as the Thomas F. Hash ‘69 SmartState Endowed Chair in Sustainable Development. Hash created the endowment in 2010, two years after he retired from Bechtel Corp. as a senior executive.

“Dr. Johnson has the vision, knowledge and experience to promote sustainable development in South Carolina and around the world,” Hash said. “He is uniquely positioned to bring together various stakeholders to address the complex issues surrounding sustainability of our natural resources.”

Johnson has a bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. from North Carolina State University, both in materials science and engineering.

Robert Jones, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at Clemson, said that Johnson is well-positioned to lead the creation of new research and educational programs in advanced manufacturing.

“With Dr. Johnson, Clemson is gaining a leader with experience, talent and vision,” Jones said. “We are confident that he is the best person to lead us into the future as we build the programs that will take advanced manufacturing to the next level not only in the state but around the world.”

Tanju Karanfil, vice president for research, said that Johnson has a proven track record of leadership in advanced manufacturing research.

“Dr. Johnson is the right person to identify the nation’s challenges and then to work collaboratively with stakeholders in the public and private sectors to find solutions,” Karanfil said. “He is a leader and innovator and Clemson is fortunate to have him.”

Among those who expect to work closely with Johnson is Nikolaos “Nick” Rigas, associate vice president for Strategic Initiatives and executive director of the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.

“Mark has a strong background in advanced manufacturing through his leadership at the U.S. Department of Energy,” Rigas said. “His experience and knowledge will be instrumental to the success of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing.”

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The Thomas F. Hash ‘69 SmartState Endowed Chair in Sustainable Development was the first such position in Clemson’s Center of Economic Excellence in Sustainable Development, created in 2010 to develop new technologies to foster sustainability, protect the state’s natural resources and encourage smart growth. You can learn more about Hash at http://www.clemson.edu/cecas/about/about-the-donor.html or read about his induction into the Thomas Green Clemson Academy of Engineers and Scientists at http://newsstand.clemson.edu/four-inducted-into-thomas-green-clemson-academy/.