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Feds Launch Composites Innovation Center

Feds Launch Composites Innovation Center

A new federally sponsored manufacturing innovation center to strengthen US manufacturing abilities in fiber-reinforced composites has formed. It's the latest in a series of manufacturing innovation institutes started by President Obama nearly three years ago.

The new manufacturing innovation hub in Knoxville, Tenn., will serve as headquarters for the not-for-profit Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), the result of a competition launched a year ago. The winning consortium, led by the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, includes 57 companies, 15 universities and laboratories, and 14 other entities as key partners. These include major names in composite manufacturing and R&D, such as Altair, BASF, Boeing, Dow Automotive Systems' DowAksa, DuPont, Ford Motor Company, Lockheed Martin, Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Oak Ridge Carbon Fiber Composites Consortium, and SABIC Innovative Plastics.

IACMI's main goals are developing "lower-cost, higher-speed, and more efficient manufacturing and recycling processes for advanced composites," according to a fact sheet. It will focus on several types of composites, including carbon fiber, concentrating on getting costs down, cutting the energy required to manufacture them, and boosting their recyclability. Its goals are ambitious: reduce overall manufacturing costs by 50%, reduce the energy used to make them by 75%, and increase their recyclability to over 95% within the next decade. The products that can take advantage of this R&D include lightweight vehicles, lighter and longer wind turbine blades, high-pressure gas tanks for natural gas-fueled cars, and more efficient and lighter weight industrial equipment.

The new institute can be a forum for facilitating the kind of interaction among materials suppliers, automotive OEMs, university R&D labs and national labs needed to produce advanced lightweight materials for use in automotive lightweighting, DuPont's global automotive technology director Jeff Sternberg told Design News. Sternberg recently spoke on the major changes that must be made in both materials, and how suppliers and customers work with them and each other, to enable the car of the future.

Consortium members and the Department of Energy are funding the IACMI with more than $180 million in private funds plus $70 million in federal funds. The manufacturing center for a different, lightweight metals manufacturing innovation institute opened January 15. The pilot institute of the 15 planned National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) centers of excellence was the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII), now called America Makes.

Design engineers and professionals, the West Coast's most important design, innovation, and manufacturing event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing, is taking place in Anaheim, Feb. 10-12, 2015. A Design News event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing is your chance to meet qualified suppliers, get hands-on access to the latest technologies, be informed from a world-class conference program, and expand your network. (You might even meet a Design News editor.) Learn more about Pacific Design & Manufacturing here.

Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 25 years.

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