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CONCEPT: Innovation Center for Open Manufacturing (InnoCOM)


Dec. 21, 2010 – Manufacturing for decades has relied on the traditional approach of professional engineers designing products and manufacturing engineers and staff converting those into real products. What would happen if the design was opened up to the public and manufacturing capabilities leveraged across a large network of producers to arrive at the most economical design/manufacturing combination for mass customization? Going a step further, what if a market for user-created designs existed (similar to the App Store from Apple) and individuals could pick and choose popular design or submit their own ideas. How do you get the product? Pick it up from your local open manufacturing center or use your 3D printer at home! This may sound like something far into the future, but so was the idea of a centralized shipping hub (FedEx) for postal packages or DVD rentals by mail (Netflix). The goal of the Center for Innovation-based Manufacturing is to look into these potential new models for manufacturing and color outside the lines.

Even though this new way of manufacturing faces many obstacles, the concept of an Innovation Center for Open Manufacturing (InnoCOM) is given some serious thought at Virginia Tech. While a feasible framework for open innovation will be investigated, InnoCOM’s second focus area would relate to technology scale-up and technology development to help Virginia Tech accelerate its commercialization process. Since emerging technologies are often restrained by adequate processes to allow for effective and cost-efficient manufacture, most research never leaves the laboratory shelves.

    InnoCOM Concept

InnoCOM will become a home for several organizations to encourage collaboration and bring in experts under one roof. The above figure displays the core concept of the center for technology development, where projects will enter the building on one side and leave on the other. The goal is to bring in research projects from the university into the InnoCOM technology development process and guide them through various stages that are supported by dedicated groups (see figure below). Once sufficiently scaled and developed, projects are spun off into companies at the Corporate Research Center or licensed to industry. At the same time, training & workforce development will be another critical area addressed by InnoCOM. The following list provides additional information about each organization:

Institute for Critical Technology and Applies Science (ICTAS):  ICTAS supports and promotes cutting edge research at the intersection of engineering, science and medicine.

Center for High-Performance Manufacturing (CHPM): The CHPM works to help manufacturing firms research, develop, and implement new processes, methods, and technologies in order to stay competitive in today's dynamic manufacturing environment. Work is performed in a wide variety of areas, ranging from supply chain design and flexible automation to rapid prototyping and low-cost composite manufacturing.

Center for Innovation-based Manufacturing (CIbM): The CIbM is a multi-disciplinary center formed to solve current manufacturing issues and help the university commercialize new technologies.

Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties (VTIP): VTIP facilitates the licensing of technology to companies, encourages new faculty startup ventures, works with publishers and distributors of software, and supports the transfer of research and knowledge to other universities, research institutes and companies.

Corporate Research Center (CRC): The Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center is a research park located adjacent to the Virginia Tech Campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. The research park houses over 140 high-tech companies and research centers that employ over 2,200 people in 27 buildings totaling 956,000 square feet on 120 acres of land.


While the realization of the InnoCOM concept is currently undergoing discussions at Virginia Tech and would be a huge success for the region, smaller scale capabilities are currently being pursued to lead up to this project.  The following three phases outline these ongoing activities.

Phase I: Innovation & Brainstorming Room

As part of a new initiative to provide students with a new educational approach to problem solving and innovative thinking, Dr. Jaime Camelio organizes one-day problem solving sessions called Deep Dives. The goal of these sessions is to provide student with an opportunity to solve problems in an unfamiliar field quickly by leveraging public information on the Internet and arrive at a functional prototype within 8-12 hours. A large focus is placed on collaboration and communication between group members that are divided into subgroups, each working on a piece of the final solution.


In order to support the brainstorming and developing stages of the Deep Dives, a special innovation and brainstorming room is provided to the students. The majority of walls are covered with whiteboards and corkboards thereby helping the group to organize and expand upon ideas throughout the day. In addition, tables on casters and movable file cabinets allow for flexible room layouts thereby easily accommodating group work or other setups. Finally, warm colors and a cozy atmosphere invite for creative thinking.

In the near future, these Deep Dives will be opened to students in other universities to build a network of open innovation teams and explore the benefits of a decentralized approach to problem solving.

Phase II: Center for Innovation-based Manufacturing

In order to develop the framework for technology scale-up and explore new approaches to manufacturing, a Center for Innovation-based Manufacturing was launched in 2010. The Center’s main goal is to bridge the gap between basic research conducted at the university and new technology spin-offs offering emerging technologies to the market.

    Workshop Picture

The center is made up of 13 interdisciplinary faculty members at Virginia Tech, and is quickly gaining attention. A workshop held in October 2010 exposed participants to the idea of Innovation-based Manufacturing, which places high emphasis on the accelerated development of new and advanced manufacturing processes and systems in order to help the United States remain competitive in an increasingly competitive global environment.

The Center will play a key role in the building of a new foundation for innovation in manufacturing and is partnering with various organizations to leverage its outreach and impact.

Phase III: Facility for Open Manufacturing

InnoCOM would fit into the third phase towards the goal of defining the manufacturing of the future by providing a full Open Manufacturing environment and expand upon the CIbM framework for technology scale-up and pre-commercialization activities.

A major benefit of a standalone facility would be the co-location of various groups to support the Center's activities. By expanding on the CIbM framework for technology development, progression stages for commercialization would now be feasible with dedicated support available. In addition, bulky equipment and material would be easier to accommodate in a dedicated space.

In order to explore the concept of Open Manufacturing, CIbM will investigate various models for this decentralized approach for manufacturing. Conclusions from recent development in Open (or Crowd-Sourced) Design will help with the understanding of the front-end process (design), while various models for the back-end (manufacturing) will be investigated. Building a network of critical manufacturing centers will be a key to leverage expertise in areas outside InnoCOM’s own capabilities.


To request additional information, please follow our newsfeed or contact Dr. Jaime Camelio, Director for Center for Innovation-based Manufacturing.