Tech Watch: At Clemson, BMW Wants to Assemble Better Workers

Clemson’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR), located in the Greenville Technical College Center for Manufacturing Innovation, will focus on developing new manufacturing solutions and churning out qualified industry technicians capable of executing them.

The lament among policymakers, and not a small number of manufacturers, is the lack of technically advanced labor to operate increasingly sophisticated assembly plants. 

In February, the ribbon was cut on a new kind of automation and education center at Clemson University, one which will put students, researchers and automotive engineers literally on the same line. CU’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR), located in the Greenville Technical College Center for Manufacturing Innovation, will focus on developing new manufacturing solutions and churning out qualified industry technicians capable of executing them.

Included in the 4,000-square-foot facility is a vehicle assembly line, joining lab, a sub-assembly lab, an embedded devices lab and a robotics center. Offshoot centers focusing on advanced robotics and composites research are under development for the same space.

Laine Mears, the center’s director, noted that process automation is driving demand for new workforce skills and experiences, which the center hopes to supply.

“The human element in manufacturing is not going away: It is getting smarter, more agile and increasingly plugged in to this evolving Internet-of-Things,” said Mears, who also holds the title of “BMW SmartState Chair in Automotive Manufacturing” at Clemson.

The sponsors include BMW Manufacturing and Siemens, the latter of which said it provided a $357-million in-kind software grant. BMW’s Spartanburg Plant, its largest in the world, is just 70 miles away.

“To stay competitive, the BMW Group must be involved with technological developments in all regions of the world and quickly adopt innovative solutions,” said Dirk Hilgenberg, senior vice president for Technical Planning at the BMW Group. “The speed of adoption is critically important. The Assembly Center will allow for quicker evaluation and development of new technologies to provide solutions to our global BMW production network.”