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The Secret to Advanced Manufacturing Innovation: Tennessee Has It

Discover why Tennessee advanced manufacturing companies such as Vought Aerospace, Eastman Chemical and Beretta are aided by the presence of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

By Gary Wollenhaupt on February 1, 2016

Tennessee Manufacturing
Tennessee / Jeffery S. Otto

There’s more to Tennessee’s advanced manufacturing sector than automotive plants. Today, the Made in Tennessee label is affixed to a dazzling array of products known around the world, from Tennessee whisky to state-of-the-art cooking systems to firearms. The state leverages its location advantages, low business costs and high-quality workforce to create an environment ideally suited for advanced manufacturing companies to locate, expand and create jobs Tennessee’s advanced manufacturing sector benefits from the state’s investment in workforce development and from the presence of key research assets including Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee.

Revving for Growth

The state is leveraging the presence of those research assets to promote advanced manufacturing innovation. Tennessee in 2015 committed $2.5 million to pilot RevV!, the Tennessee Manufacturing Innovation Program, which provides access to ORNL researchers and facilities where companies can get help with product development and process advancements. The program is managed by the University of Tennessee and ORNL, which operates several facilities that are available to Tennessee companies with more than 10 employees, including the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility where two vehicles were built via 3-D printing. The program has helped about 10 companies so far, says Jeff Cornett, program administrator.

“With our nuclear background companies have been interested in learning what happens to things when they’re sterilized through irradiation and additive manufacturing, since we can print large items to help with molds and tooling,” Cornett says. “We’ve had companies that have doing the same thing for more than 60 years ask us to help them figure out new processes and materials.”

The state is a leader in producing chemicals, rubber and plastics products. It is, for example, home to Eastman Chemical, one of the world’s largest chemical companies, as well as Bridgestone Americas, Buckman, Chattem and Bryce Corp. Buckman, a specialty chemical company with headquarters in Memphis, started in 1945, with four employees and one one 50-gallon process vessel. Today, the company employees 1,500 people around the world with core business lines in water technology, leather technology, paper technology and performance chemicals. Tennessee also has a highly developed aerospace cluster that includes Vought Industries and Bell Helicopter, as well as the Arnold Engineering Flight Development Center, the largest flight simulation facility in the country. The state’s superior logistics infrastructure links manufacturers with markets and resources across the country and around the world, with the FedEx World Hub in Memphis and inland waterways that provide access to the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast ports.

Relocating for Success

To be closer to research facilities and assistance, CVMR (short for Chemical Vapor Metal Refining) is moving all of its operations from Toronto to a manufacturing facility located in Oak Ridge, a $313 million investment that will mean 620 new local jobs. The company manufactures high-value metal powders, nano-powders, net shapes and super alloys using proprietary processes and provides feed materials for 2D, 3D and 4D printing. Michael Hargett, president of CVMR (USA) says the company narrowed its search for a new location to four states, and Tennessee won out because of the quality of the workforce. The company will take delivery of powered metal form countries from barges plying the Clinch River. The state has built an impressive cluster in firearms manufacturing that includes Barrett Firearms and Beretta.

In September 2014, historic firearms maker Beretta broke ground on a $45 firearms manufacturing plant in Gallatin that will employ about 300 people. Beretta manufactures firearms for the U.S. military, commercial and law enforcement markets as well as hunting and target weapons. The company’s search included 80 locations in seven states for a place to relocate its entire manufacturing and engineering capability from Maryland. Beretta U.S.A.’s decision to move its entire manufacturing and engineering capability to Gallatin opens up new opportunities for the company.

“This is where we will now perform some of our most critical work for our military, law enforcement and civilian customers, both in the United States and throughout the world,” says Jeff Cooper, chief operation officer and general manager.

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