Earlier this year it was announced that the Department of Defense awarded Virginia Tech’s Hume Center for National Security and Technology $3.8 million in support of the Office of the Secretary of Defense/Office of Naval Research’s Manufacturing Engineering Education Program.
This award was designed to help train a future engineering and manufacturing workforce of engineers for the national security enterprise. This next generation of DoD employee will be knowledgeable and skilled in the use of new digital design and manufacturing technologies that are capable of helping them identify and analyze new solutions, new concepts and even new materials for overcoming some of the DoD’s largest challenges and problems.
This award is representative of a few trends that are ongoing within the DoD.
It illustrates the power and potential of digital design in helping the military identify and manufacture new solutions for the warfighter more rapidly and effectively. It reflects the military’s need for a new generation of employees with a new set of technical skills as a silver tsunami washes a large part of the aging government and the DoD industrial workforce into retirement. And it also illustrates the important role that partnerships between the national security enterprise, the defense industrial base and academia will play in the DoD keeping its technological superiority over today’s emerging, near-peer adversaries.
To learn more about this exciting award, why Virginia Tech’s Hume Center was the best choice to receive it and what they plan to do with the $3.8 million, I recently sat down with three faculty and staff members at the prestigious university, including:
- Steven McKnight – Vice President for Strategic Alliances
- Bradley Davis – Research Assistant Professor at the Hume Center and the Principal Investigator for the program
- Michael Bortner – Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Co-Principal Investigator for Composite Materials and Processing
Here is what they had to say:
GovDesignHub: Can you give our readers an introduction to the Hume Center?
Steve McKnight: The Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology was enabled by a significant gift by an alumnus named Ted Hume who had a very distinguished government and private sector career working in national security. His gift established the Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security with the goal of cultivating the next generation of national security workforce.
One of the philosophies of the Hume Center is that – to do so effectively – you have to work on relevant problems that are tied to significant challenges facing the national security enterprise. To accomplish that, we integrate research on relevant problems into everything we do at the Hume Center. By developing and executing research and experiential learning opportunities to engage students we believe that we can have a significant impact on the national security talent pipeline. In fact, more than 75 percent of the Hume Center’s students report going into internships or full-time careers in national defense.
At Virginia Tech, the national security enterprise – including government, military and private sector – is among the largest employers of our students. Virginia Tech has always had a significant commitment to national security and the institution is a Senior Military College, with a corps of cadets. These established ties to the national security enterprise are crucial to our success, and the Hume Center serves the entire university as a focal point for many of those efforts – including the one we’re talking about today.
GovDesignHub: What makes this Center unique in Virginia Tech – and academia in general?
Steve McKnight: What makes it unique – in my opinion – is that the Hume Center serves the entire university. It has a focus on education as well as the integration of education with research on relevant problems.
Virginia Tech has a very strong alumni base in the national security enterprise, as you might expect, and they’re very supportive of these programs. They provide us with a unique understanding of what the current needs, trends, challenges and opportunities are across a broad swath of the national security enterprise.
Many universities have programs that prepare their students for national security careers and degrees in national security-related majors with research centers and institutes that support the national security community. What Virginia Tech does uniquely is integrate that research activity into education mission to ensure that our students are prepared to thrive in the kinds of environments and careers that they’ll pursue following their graduation.
GovDesignHub: The DoD recently awarded the Hume Center with funding to, “establish programs to better position the current and next-generation manufacturing workforce to produce military systems and components.” Why is this necessary today? What new advancements in manufacturing are making this necessary?
Steve McKnight: Manufacturing technology is giving the military the ability to rapidly and effectively translate the latest scientific and technological breakthroughs – the things that can be used by the warfighter – into manufactured products that enhance warfighting capabilities.
Bradley Davis: Here’s a great example – antennas that were previously difficult or prohibitive to machine can now be constructed with the new capabilities provided by 3D printing. This game-changing resource also opens up the need for new requirements, skills and techniques to integrate these electromagnetic components into existing structures such as a composite wing or the composite mast of a ship.
These applications require engineers with cross-domain knowledge in electromagnetics, design and manufacturing. Hence, a critical part of the modernization strategy is making sure that the DoD will have the workforce – both in the public and private sector – that is capable of designing, building, and ultimately fielding these capabilities with the appropriate knowledgebase needed for complex applications such as structurally integrated antennas.
Steve McKnight: And it’s not just the contractors in the private sector that need this knowledge. Within the government itself, those that are going to procure products need to be educated on how to translate those technologies all the way through the acquisition cycle – and do so effectively and quickly to ensure that we maintain the superiority of our forces going forward.
This recent award recognizes that need within the Department of Defense. It also demonstrates their confidence in Virginia Tech and its long-standing history of being able to work across the university in multiple disciplines on relevant problems that integrate curricular advances with real world problem sets in a unique way. That’s something that we do very well at Virginia Tech and is aligned with the needs of DoD and its industrial base.
GovDesignHub: We often hear the advancement of digital design applications credited for spearheading this revolution in manufacturing. What is possible in 3d and digital design that wasn’t possible in the past? What role do these applications play in enabling next generation manufacturing processes?
Steve McKnight: If you look at digital design and those tools – having a workforce that can take full advantage of those tools provides a pathway towards identifying and evaluating innovative solutions more quickly. They can enable the military to make more informed decisions that can help increase and maintain our military superiority.
Bradley Davis: Designing, fabricating and testing multifunctional solutions is a complex undertaking where the solution for an electromagnetic application relies on the integrated materials, structure and manufacturing. Use of multiphysics simulation tools and model-based design allow for rapid development. New manufacturing and prototyping tools allow for reduced design cycle, rapid acceptance testing and greater efficiency.
Steve McKnight: Exactly, and with the programs that we run here at Virginia Tech, when our students graduate, they’re going to be completely familiar with these applications and tools and be ready to hit the ground running. And these new tools really are a game changer.
For example, let’s say you’re designing a radome that involves analyzing the electromagnetic, and structural performance with available materials. These often have competing performance requirements. You can use the digital design tools to optimize materials – including new materials, performance and geometry. The design tools also integrate manufacturing considerations and help optimize producible and testable solutions.
That radome has to have structural integrity, it has to have a certain level of electromagnetic transparency in the frequency bands of interest, it has to be durable, and it has to be affordable. How can you integrate all of those considerations and manufacture it through using the advanced manufacturing processes that are available today? That’s what these digital design and prototyping solutions enable the military to do.
GovDesignHub: What types of applications and technologies will the Hume Center be acquiring with the $3.8M from the DoD? What exciting new technologies will this make available to students?
Steve McKnight: This is really an award to support education and workforce development. We have many of the tools available already to us – from digital design solutions, radio frequency design and test equipment to 3D printers and advanced composites manufacturing equipment.
This award will enable us to develop a curriculum at the undergraduate and graduate level that will be integrated across multiple academic fields and disciplines – for example, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, aerospace and ocean engineering and materials science. This transdisciplinary approach enables students to better comprehend the complex aspects of the problem and more rapidly contribute to solutions in the national security enterprise.
Bradley Davis: The curriculum that we’re developing will give students access to those tools that we already possess, but in a unique and integrative way. This access will help them to develop the skills that they need in the workplace.
It will also generate interest and skills across the engineering disciplines where engineers in the workplace must understand the constraints in design and manufacturing that lay outside their particular job function.
Steve McKnight: Ultimately, what we’ve heard from our sponsors and partners on this project is that the current U.S. workforce in applied electromagnetics and composites is understaffed and graying and there will be a large number of skilled people retiring in the coming years. Furthermore, the nationwide university pipelines producing their replacements has significantly slowed. Thus, there is a strong need to develop and produce a multi-disciplinary workforce that knows how to produce in this environment.
Michael Bortner: To meet that need, we’re approaching workforce development through two pathways. At Virginia Tech, new coursework is being designed to engage students in an interdisciplinary learning environment, from materials and processing to manufacturing and electromagnetic performance.
Outside of Virginia Tech, we are engaging in outreach and distance learning through short courses with our partners and future consortium members, educating the new and existing workforce that is not a direct product of our new offerings.
GovDesignHub: Will this relationship with the DoD result in students working directly on DoD programs and projects? If so, what will they be working on?
Steve McKnight: A key part of this program is to develop a consortium of DoD industry and DoD laboratory partners – and we’re actively doing that right now. We’re anticipating that the students’ design projects will be selected in partnership with these collaborators.
Our plan is to create a steering committee comprised of subject matter experts from across the DoD laboratories and their industrial base that will help to shape the relevant problems – even if they’re notional in concept. They’ll identify the challenges that will be best to demonstrate the skills, knowledge and abilities needed by our students.
Bradley Davis: We’re looking to have student teams interact directly with the government labs and the DoD industrial base through educational projects as well as specific sponsored research. A primary goal will be to place students into relevant internships and eventually into the workforce.
To learn more about the Hume Center and its recent $3.8 million award from the DoD, click HERE.