Author’s Update: President Barack Obama touted the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, a private-partnership between Rolls Royce North America and Virginia Tech and other leading Virginia universities during his March 9 visit to the Rolls–Royce Crosspointe plant in Prince George County, Va.

Obama likened the center as a blueprint for his proposed, new National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. Budgeted at $1 billion, the network will consist of more than a dozen Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation around the nation, each serving as a regional manufacturing hub designed to increase manufacturer competition and encourage U.S. investment,” according to the White House.

“It’s a partnership between manufacturers – including this one – U.Va., Virginia Tech, Virginia State University … the Commonwealth and the federal government,” Obama said of the center. “So think of this as a place where companies can share access to cutting-edge capabilities. At the same time, students and workers are picking up new skills. They’re training on state-of-the-art equipment; they’re solving some of the most important challenges facing our manufacturers.”

A White House memo stated, “[The center] bridges the gap from basic research to product development and supports the skills needed for an advanced manufacturing workforce. Additionally, Obama announced a $45 million pilot institute for manufacturing innovation as part of its We Can’t Wait efforts.

In attendance at the speech were Richard C. Benson, dean of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering; Bev Watford, associate dean for academic affairs; Don Leo, vice president and executive director of Virginia Tech’s National Capital Region Operations; and Melissa Hughes of Blacksburg, Va., a mechanical engineering major and the first undergraduate from the university to intern with Rolls-Royce.

Obama to speak at Rolls-Royce plant, expected to touch on Virginia Tech initiative

RICHMOND, Va., March 9, 2012--President Barack Obama will discuss the economy and public-private research partnerships in a Friday afternoon speech at the Rolls–Royce Crosspointe plant in Prince George County, Va. Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering already is part of two such collaborative efforts with Rolls-Royce with the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing and the Commonwealth Center for Aerospace Propulsion Systems.

In attendance at the speech will be Richard C. Benson, dean of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering; Bev Watford, associate dean for academic affairs; and Don Leo, vice president and executive director of the college’s National Capital Region Operations, based in Arlington. Melissa Hughes of Blacksburg, Va., a mechanical engineering major and the first undergraduate from the university to intern with Rolls-Royce under a new partnership between the company and Virginia, also will attend. During the summer of 2011, Hughes worked at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Center in Sheffield, United Kingdom.

The Prince George County Rolls-Royce facility manufactures precision-engineered engine discs and other components for aircraft, according to the company’s website. It now employs 150 people at an 18,000-square-foot facility, and hundreds more are expected to be employed as the company expands operations. The President also is expected to tour the facility before giving his speech.

Roughly a mile from the plant, on land donated by Rolls-Royce, is the under-construction, 60,000-square-foot, $13 million Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing building. It will house a research center dedicated to forging new paths in manufacturing technologies, surface engineering, and other areas in aerospace shipbuilding, automotive, energy, and transportation industries, with Virginia Tech College of Engineering faculty and graduate students heading those efforts, in conjunction with center partners from the University of Virginia and Virginia State University, along with a number of corporate partners, including Rolls-Royce, of course, and Cannon, Siemens, Sandvik and Newport News Shipbuilding, among others.

Virginia Tech personnel will be based at the facility at least part of the year after it opens, expected in fall 2012, said Leo. Many more will be employed there as well. Work already is underway at the nonprofit consortium in temporary offices near both the Crosspointe facility and the center construction site.

“The Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing epitomizes the economic gains that can be achieved when technological leaders from industry partner with great universities, all supported by state government,” Benson said. “Our students will see many benefits, including exposure to cutting-edge technologies, enhanced internship opportunities, and opportunities to work with practicing engineers all around the world. I am delighted that President Obama has taken notice of this exemplary partnership, and I hope that our model of collaboration will inspire other industry-university-government partnerships elsewhere in the country.”

“Our business model indicates that after a 10-year period, (the center) itself might employ a total of 50 full-time employees, with an additional 50 to 100 part-time employees,” said Leo in fall 2010, when he was associate dean of research and graduate studies for the College of Engineering. “In addition, we want (the center) to be viewed as a competitive advantage for other companies to locate in Virginia and to locate in the Petersburg area.”

The Commonwealth Center for Aerospace Propulsion Systems, the second collaborative research effort between Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, and Rolls-Royce, is a more traditional research entity, with faculty, graduate students working on designated projects at their home-base universities. Faculty already are researching power electronics, the effect of sand and dust sucked into jet engines, and jet afterburners, said Leo. A jet propulsion lab has been proposed for Virginia Tech’s Corporate Research Center.

Virginia faced stiff competition as one of eight states vying to land the Rolls-Royce North America plant in 2007. The company was lured to the commonwealth in no small by the combined efforts of the three universities offering the company the benefits of faculty research expertise and the ability to educate a skilled workforce. Rolls-Royce has since forged a strong bond with Virginia Community College System, particularly John Tyler Community College in Prince George, to provide worker training.

The past week has been big for Rolls-Royce and Virginia. On March 6, Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office announced the company was considering a new 90,000-square-foot, advanced manufacturing facility at the Crosspointe location. The new factory would be an advanced blade manufacturing capability involving high-precision turbine blades for some of the world's most sophisticated aircraft engines built by the company.  

An in-depth story on how Virginia landed Rolls-Royce and potential economic impacts Virginia Tech will have with plant’s opening and planned expansions can be found here.

Denise Young of Virginia Tech’s University Relations contributed to this story.