Virginia Tech has been named a managing member of the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CyManII), a $111 million public-private partnership led by the University of Texas at San Antonio.

CyManII will enter into a five-year cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to lead a consortium of 59 proposed member institutions in introducing a cybersecure energy-ROI that drives American manufacturers and supply chains to further adopt secure, energy-efficient approaches, ultimately securing and sustaining the nation’s leadership in global manufacturing competitiveness.

“Virginia Tech's role as a managing partner builds on Virginia Tech’s strengths in cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing,” said Dan Sui, vice president of research and innovation. “As a land-grant university, the membership reaffirms our commitment to serving the Commonwealth of Virginia and beyond to meet digital and technology workforce needs. CyManII demonstrates stakeholder synergy that involves national labs, research universities, and private companies. This new public-private partnership will accelerate Virginia Tech’s research in multiple areas related to cybersecurity, smart/advanced manufacturing, automation, and supply chains.”

Steve McKnight, vice president of strategic alliances, emphasized that partnerships like this one, supported by the federal government, provide opportunities for Virginia Tech research to have significant impacts on a critical national need. McKnight’s office, located in the D.C. metro area, works to expand Virginia Tech’s relationships and opportunities with the federal government and includes the CyManII partnership. 

As part of its national strategy, CyManII will focus on three high-priority areas where collaborative research and development can help U.S. manufacturers: securing automation, securing the supply chain network, and building a national program for education and workforce development. CyManII’s research objectives will focus on understanding the evolving cybersecurity threats to greater energy efficiency in manufacturing industries, developing new cybersecurity technologies and methods, and sharing information and knowledge with the broader community of U.S. manufacturers.

The intersection of manufacturing and cybersecurity at Virginia Tech is illustrated through the work of the Advanced Manufacturing team. This interdisciplinary team of researchers, students, and industry leaders spans five departments in the College of Engineering and has published a dozen papers, including seminal papers in the field on cyber threats to additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing. 

“We have already been working on strategies and technologies for mitigating and detecting the cyberattacks on 3D printing technologies,” said Chris Williams, the L.S. Randolph Professor in Mechanical Engineering and the principal investigator for CyManII at Virginia Tech. 

“Digital manufacturing is an integral part of our economy. There are so many different applications for cybersecurity and so many different threats. We have first laid the groundwork for identifying cyber threats and vulnerabilities,” Williams said. Taking the Advanced Manufacturing team, “with expertise in materials, processes, systems and quality assurance, and mixing them with cyber expertise in the Hume Center,” and the Wireless@VT team, added Williams, shows the interdisciplinary strength that Virginia Tech adds as a managing partner.

Williams has led large federally funded research programs in the area of cyber-physical security for 3D printing technologies. In his role as principal investigator, he will help coordinate and represent Virginia Tech's expertise to CyManII and identify opportunities for Virginia Tech researchers to engage with them to solve critical issues.

A key to Virginia’s investment in cybersecurity and funding for many of the related researchers and projects at Virginia Tech is the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative. Established in the 2018-20 state budget, the CCI is a network of higher education, industry, government, nongovernmental, and economic development organizations with hubs in Central, Eastern, Northern and Southwest Virginia. Virginia Tech leads the CCI Southwest Virginia Node. Approximately $20 million each year will be invested in the CCI.

“The Commonwealth Cyber Initiative focuses the talent in Virginia by bringing together researchers, government, and private industry to collaborate on research of global impact and compete for high-profile projects that they would not win on their own,” said Luiz DaSilva, CCI executive director and Bradley Professor of Cybersecurity in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech.

“It is notable that the three Virginia universities participating in CyManII — Virginia Tech, George Mason University, and Virginia Commonwealth University — are the CCI lead university for their region, DaSilva said. “This focal point of talent makes CCI unique in the industry and will be instrumental in making Virginia a leader in cybersecurity. CCI’s research capabilities, especially its 5G and AI Assurance testbeds, will help develop new applications for manufacturing, among other key industries.”

The CyManII partnership strengthens Virginia Tech’s partner network in the D.C. area and, along with the new Virginia Tech Innovation Campus, bolsters the university’s commitment to create pathways for students to obtain jobs in emerging tech fields.

CyManII is funded by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office and co-managed with the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response.

- Written by Kerone Wetter