Clemson’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing names founding director

Mark Johnson. Photo provided by Clemson University.

A former government official with more than a decade of research experience will lead Clemson University’s effort to become a statewide hub for advanced manufacturing.

The university has named Dr. Mark Johnson as the founding director of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and the Thomas F. Hash ’69 SmartState Endowed Chair in Sustainable Development.

Johnson previously served as associate professor of materials science and engineering at North Carolina State University.

“With Dr. Johnson, Clemson is gaining a leader with experience, talent, and vision,” said Robert Jones, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at Clemson, in a statement. “We are confident that he is the best person to lead us into the future as we build the programs that will take advanced manufacturing to the next level not only in the state but around the world.”

Clemson announced the creation of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing last December. The center is envisioned as a “one-stop shop” for the university’s research and education programs in advanced manufacturing, according to Johnson.

Among the goals of the center is to help develop new technology that will give manufacturers a competitive edge, making them more profitable, while helping create more manufacturing jobs, he said. “We are going to make sure all the resources of Clemson are available to the manufacturing community.”

Johnson and other university officials are working with industry leaders to develop the center’s programs, including the Vehicle Assembly Center in Greenville.

The 4,000-square-foot research and development space, which is part of the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research and located at Greenville Technical College’s Center for Manufacturing Innovation, will enable faculty, students, and local companies to collaborate in learning and developing advanced manufacturing techniques and technologies, including robotics.

“There will be individual jobs that will be replaced by robots, but we’ll have a lot more jobs as a result,” Johnson said. “It’s not just people building the robots. We’ll have jobs you haven’t even thought of yet. When the steam engine replaced the water wheel and the horse cart, yes, some people who were tending the horses lost their jobs. They could have never envisioned people running CNC mills, but that’s a direct outcome of technological advancement.”

Johnson added that he plans to use his experience as a former government official, entrepreneur, and university professor to act as a conduit that connects manufacturers, faculty, students, and other resources.

As director of the Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Johnson oversaw a program aimed at making the United States more competitive through the support of research and development of new technologies, according to a news release.

The program also focused on building partnerships with the private sector to ensure technologies get out of the lab and into manufacturing, the release said.

During his tenure with the AMO, Johnson managed more than $250 million annually, supporting universities, national laboratories, companies, and nonprofits.

Prior to that, Johnson had the longest-serving tenure as director in the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, where he managed more than $150 million in research projects from 2010 to mid-2013. He joined North Carolina State University in November 2017.

Johnson, who has a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. from North Carolina State University, has also been an entrepreneur in the startup phase of three semiconductor companies that ultimately had successful exits at QED, EPI Systems and Nitronex.

Johnson’s primary role at Clemson will be to serve as the Thomas F. Hash ’69 SmartState Endowed Chair in Sustainable Development. Hash created the endowment in 2010, two years after he retired from Bechtel Corp. as a senior executive.

“Dr. Johnson has the vision, knowledge, and experience to promote sustainable development in South Carolina and around the world,” Hash said. “He is uniquely positioned to bring together various stakeholders to address the complex issues surrounding sustainability of our natural resources.”

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