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University Awarded NIST Advanced Manufacturing Technology Planning Grant

$496K Funding to Help Develop Road Map, Advance Composites Manufacturing in U.S.

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UMass Lowell will lead a new, NIST-funded consortium that will help advance and strengthen polymer composites manufacturing in the United States.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

A new industry-driven consortium led by UMass Lowell is one of 19 partnerships from across the country that have recently been awarded advanced manufacturing technology planning grants by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The grants, which are part of NIST’s new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) Program, will support efforts by universities and nonprofit organizations in developing technology road maps aimed at strengthening the nation’s manufacturing and innovation performance across a wide range of industries and processes.

For its part, the UMass Lowell-led initiative — called Facilitating Industry By Engineering, Roadmapping and Science (FIBERS) Consortium — will receive $496,000 over a period of 24 months to help advance the manufacturing of polymer-matrix composite materials in the United States.

Composite materials, such as fiber-reinforced polymers, can be found everywhere — from cars, airplanes, boats, appliances and sports equipment to roads, bridges, wind turbine blades, swimming pools and body armor. They are strong, durable and lightweight, and can be easily molded into various shapes. Now a $20 billion global industry, composites manufacturing is expected to continue to grow over the next decade.

With commitments from 44 companies, five universities and eight other organizations, FIBERS will develop a detailed technology road map that identifies shared technical obstacles and defines pathways toward manufacturing advances that will enable scale-up of cost-effective, high-volume production processes.

“The NIST AMTech award is recognition of the impact that composites research being conducted here at UMass Lowell along with our partner universities is having on the advancement of the industry,” says mechanical engineering Prof. James Sherwood, associate dean of graduate studies in the Francis College of Engineering and co-director of the Advanced Composite Materials and Textile Research Laboratory.

“UMass Lowell has an international reputation in the characterization of textile reinforcements and for the simulation of composites manufacturing using these textile reinforcements,” says Sherwood, who also directs UMass Lowell’s Baseball Research Center.

This research builds upon the rich textile history of the university, which was best known for educating engineers for the local textile industry, notes Sherwood.

“The next generation of cars and trucks will need to take advantage of composites to give the weight reductions needed to reduce fuel consumption, and our research team has expertise that can assist in meeting that goal through the design of cost-effective composites manufacturing,” he says.

The NIST funds will be used to support consortium activities, including conducting workshops at national, regional and local levels, personnel exchanges (graduate students/postdoctoral fellows interning in industry and industrial researchers embedding in universities), industry site visits and surveys and the benchmarking of international competitors.

“Our faculty and students will benefit from this project through increased networking with members of the composites manufacturing industry and from the opportunity to help define future research topics associated with composites manufacturing,” says Sherwood. “These interactions will lead to increased university/industry research collaborations.”

NSF WindSTAR Award

The NIST project will intersect very well with the recent National Science Foundation (NSF) I/UCRC WindSTAR award, adds Sherwood.

“The philosophy of an I/UCRC is to have good interactions between industry partners and universities such that the research efforts pursued be the I/UCRC sites are industry relevant,” explains Sherwood. “WindSTAR has a strong composite wind-turbine blade component wherein research on that award will study the life of the blade from manufacturing through installation and its durability in the field.”

The FIBERS and WindSTAR projects will include contributions from across the Francis College of Engineering. Sherwood will be joined by Profs. Christopher Hansen, Emmanuelle Reynaud, Alireza Amirkhizi, Julie Chen, Christopher Niezrecki and Peter Avitabile for composites manufacturing and structural analysis and by Patrick Drane for the organization of the consortium activities.