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Construction underway on the three-story facility

Center for Manufacturing Excellence to boost industry

On June, 23, 2008, Gov. Haley Barbour held a press conference to announce some good news for North Mississippi, particularly manufacturers. Barbour officially unveiled plans for the Center for Manufacturing Excellence (CME) at the University of Mississippi (UM). The CME broke ground last month.

“This center will be a perfect blend of the academic and real-world focus so essential today for success in the multifaceted global manufacturing sector,” Barbour said. “Under terms of the enabling legislation, the center will work closely with the state’s manufacturing companies to improve their competitiveness in all areas of manufacturing. My expectation is that students who complete this intensive program will become industry leaders in every phase of many different businesses.”

The CME is a joint venture of UM and Toyota Motor Corporation, which is building a manufacturing plant in North Mississippi at Blue Springs. Toyota has indefinitely delayed the opening of the massive, $1.3-billion Blue Springs facility, but work on the CME is forging ahead.

In fact, the delay has been a plus in a way, according to CME’s interim director Dr. James G. Vaughan, F.A.P., a Barnard Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UM.

“The CME was supposed to open in the fall of this year to coincide with the plant’s completion,” Vaughan said. “The delay has given us more time to plan. We are still developing the curriculum, and we still have to hire faculty.”

The CME, $22-million center funded through part of the state’s incentive package that helped attract Toyota to Blue Springs, will definitely change UM’s skyline. To be housed in a new building located between two of the buildings of the School of Engineering (Carrier Hall and Old Chemistry) on the Lyceum Circle, the 47,000-square-foot building will have three floors. The first floor will house a 12,000-square-foot “factory floor,” along with three classrooms. The factory floor will have a central assembly area and a final finishing area in addition to three main manufacturing lines: wood, plastic and metal.

The other two floors will include office and meeting space for faculty and students.

That space will be needed as CME is planned to be much more than a manufacturing “test bed.” UM will offer several cross-disciplinary academic programs slanted toward lean manufacturing that provide students with the skills they need to be effective engineers and managers in the manufacturing industry.

The School of Engineering plans to offer a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with an emphasis in manufacturing. In addition, the School of Business Administration and the School of Accountancy will offer a minor in engineering, through the School of Engineering, that will provide students with fundamental lean manufacturing and production techniques.

In addition, the center will serve as a resource for manufacturing-related research support and collaboration, industrial extension services to train the Mississippi manufacturing community in modern manufacturing philosophies, executive-in-residence and visiting faculty fellowship programs.

Vaughan pointed out that CME will cater to all manufacturers, not just automakers. Aerospace, shipbuilding and other sectors will find beneficial services at the CME.

“People here will be able to go out to a plant, hear about any problems or issues they may have, and offer solutions at the site or bring it back here to find a solution,” he said.

The CME is planned to benefit more than just college students. Programs are being developed by building partnerships with K-12 and community colleges, as well as study abroad programs. The purpose of these far-reaching programs is to involve students from the time they start school in Mississippi until they reach enrollment age for the CME. Once enrolled at the university, students will have access to programs that involve them in manufacturing industries and prepare them for employment. Follow-up programs also are being developed to continue training and provide new skills sets to the workforce. Through these programs, the CME hopes to influence manufacturing from the start of person’s work in school to the end of their employment in the industry by providing training and education at all levels promoting continuous improvement.

Just a few weeks after Barbour’s press conference, Vaughan was named interim director of the CME. However, Vaughan’s involvement in the CME goes back well before his appointment.

Vaughan has been working on the CME since February 2007 when Toyota announced it had chosen Blue Springs for its manufacturing plant. He has helped plan the facilities and building layout, academic programs and the numerous outreach activities to be associated with CME. So, for him seeing the CME come out of the ground is especially rewarding.

“As part of the team that has envisioned this center, I look forward to continuing the development of this unique center into the great potential that it has for the university and state,” he said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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