Making faster, more fuel-efficient cars. Building stronger, safer systems for securing sensitive data. Using artificial intelligence on the assembly line. Advanced sensors. Collaborative robots. These cutting-edge products and processes of the future are being used by some of South Carolina’s most well-known corporations right now.

The reality, however, is that bringing those ideas to life requires a particularly high caliber of engineering talent, one with an expertise focused on advanced manufacturing. Without this brand of new talent, corporate leaders in advanced manufacturing say, they will struggle to advance these innovations to market, leveling a blow both to their competitiveness and the state’s economy.

Clemson University has a formidable solution to the advanced manufacturing talent shortage: the Center for Advanced Manufacturing. By partnering with industry statewide, the Clemson Center provides a sustainable way to foster long-term success for this economically important manufacturing sector, something that bodes well for the state of South Carolina and Clemson graduates.

A place for partnership

The Center for Advanced Manufacturing began hosting students across its engineering activities in 2019. The goal was to first tackle the main challenges facing the state’s manufacturers — by delivering the advanced technologies and world-class talent needed to keep them on the cutting edge of global commerce.

Based on the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) campus in Greenville, the advanced manufacturing Center is a place for industry, higher ed and state leadership to come together and jointly focus on the education, research and corporate engagement that foster and even fast-track innovation. Clemson benefits in the form of added research and lab space, and industry enjoys the wide range of specifically focused technology generated by the on-campus R&D centers.

Engineering student at work on a factory floor

Advanced manufacturers in South Carolina say they need a technology talent pool that is deeper, more highly skilled and better at keeping pace with the world. Clemson’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing launched in 2019 to address this need.

The Clemson Center for Advanced Manufacturing partners on campus include:

Vehicle Assembly Center

Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Center

Clemson Composites Center

Product Life Cycle Management

Clemson University Center for Workforce Development

Center for Aviation and Automotive Technological Education Using Virtual E-Schools

Center for Optical Materials Science and Engineering Technologies

Industrial Assessment Center

“By moving technology from the lab to the marketplace, Clemson works with advanced manufacturers to positively impact the companies and the people of South Carolina,” says Mark Johnson, the Thomas F. Hash Endowed Chair in Sustainable Development and director of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing.

“Manufacturing is an important foundation for South Carolina’s economy, but global competitiveness is a recurring challenge for industry,” Johnson says. “The use of new technology for manufacturers to be as competitive as possible — the definition of advanced manufacturing — has emerged as an ongoing need. Clemson has committed to providing an ongoing answer.”

Engineering better jobs

The Center’s initial focus on human talent through education is not only designed to transform how we manufacture things. It’s designed to transform South Carolina’s economy.

Manufacturing accounts for a sizable slice of South Carolina’s economy — about 17 percent — making a $37 billion impact on the state annually. For manufacturers and for the state’s economy to continue expanding, industry must have access to new technologies and the ability to implement new manufacturing innovations into their production.

Consider that large-scale assembly lines will utilize advanced sensors and robots and employ image-analysis technology — cameras that use artificial intelligence — to review their products and handle quality control. Smaller companies will seek a competitive edge through sustainability efforts in the form of energy efficiency. And across the board, ongoing industrial assessments will be required by most all businesses to make sure manufacturing facilities remain as efficient and effective as possible.

The talent pipeline of technology leaders needed to do this work is what the Center seeks to secure and foster, working alongside the next-generation corporate leadership that will be necessary to continue advancing the technology.

Spartanburg native Lucas Morand is the face of this future talent. A decade ago, Morand was still in elementary school and visiting Europe when he saw an X-class BMW SUV on the street. Realizing the vehicle had been made in his hometown, “blew my 10-year-old mind,” he recalls. “I understood from an early age how important these companies were.”

Now a senior mechanical engineering major at Clemson with several manufacturing internships under his belt and graduate school on his horizon, he has acquired far more than an appreciation for well-engineered cars. He is on his way to securing a Clemson degree and a “hands-on, steel-toes-on-shop-floor position” as an engineer with any number of South Carolina companies.

“The classes and facilities are integrated so that as a project is started in the shop, it aligns with the curriculum of almost every class, allowing us to directly apply theory,” Morand says of his study. “The professional environment mimics industry well, and it helps create valuable connections.”

Students and stakeholders gathered around a Clemson-engineered car in the University's Center for Advanced Manufacturing

Fall 2019 ushered the first students into the pilot year of Clemson’s advanced manufacturing educational track, serving multiple engineering disciplines, including mechanical, computer science and automotive.
Image Credit: Clemson University

In October 2018, Clemson invited corporate leaders to share their insights and expectations about the future of advanced manufacturing at a landmark forum hosted by University President James P. Clements. Almost uniformly, these corporate leaders reiterated their need for more South Carolina advanced manufacturing graduates — graduates like Morand.

That’s why, in partnership with the Center for Advanced Manufacturing, the University has newly focused its educational offerings related to advanced manufacturing — to provide both education and real-world training for engineers in manufacturing fields, as well as the manufacturers who will employ them.

A cutting-edge curriculum

Fall 2019 ushered the first students into the pilot year of Clemson’s advanced manufacturing educational track. Students represent multiple engineering disciplines, including mechanical, computer science and automotive. Undergraduate mechanical engineering classes are held at CU-ICAR, with one day each week held for interaction with manufacturers. This field work and affiliated weekly site visits span South Carolina but are highly concentrated along the Upstate’s I-85 corridor, and they facilitate industry engagement while translating classroom studies into real-life application.

Morand most recently completed an internship with GE Power in Greenville, where he gained experience in everything from redesigning manufacturing processes to creating training programs for assemblers to standardizing quality control. His weekly visits to other industries and tours of plants have also grown his real-world understanding of how a manufacturing “shop” operates across the vastly diverse marketplace.

Undergraduate students are also involved in research on faculty projects and Creative Inquiries, Clemson’s name for hands-on undergraduate research, as well as through Capstone Design Projects. Here, seniors work with various manufacturing partners to provide research and solutions for current challenges within advanced manufacturing. The projects culminate in the students developing prototypes and presenting solutions to the partners.

The first Capstone Design Projects specific to Advanced Manufacturing are in the works for Spring 2020 and beyond with two Clemson industry partners: BMW and GE. The exposure undergraduate students have to research these solutions and work with industry translates to an understanding of current manufacturing environments and challenges.

“The Center for Advanced Manufacturing continues to contribute to innovation for the state economy,” says Johnson. “By blending engineering disciplines and working with industry partners, we can address challenges in today’s technological manufacturing environment and prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.”