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UMass Lowell heading composites consortium

By: Frank Antosiewicz

May 9, 2014

The University of Massachusetts Lowell is heading a consortium to develop a technology roadmap to accelerate the rise of the U.S. polymer composites manufacturing industry.

UML used a commitment from 44 companies, 5 universities and eight other organizations to gain a $496,439 grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology for an 18-month project entitled FIBERS. It stands for Facilitating Industry by Engineering, Roadmapping and Science.

“At UMass Lowell we’ve been working in the area of composites for many years. The new grant will help build a consortium using the universities, industry, nonprofits and national labs to roadmap the industry,” said Patrick Drane, an assistant director of operations at UML, in a phone interview.

He said UML has worked on composites for wind energy and automotive uses, as well as for coating and in nano-composites.

UML is also working with the University of New Hampshire, Durham, N.H.; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y.; University of Delaware, Newark, Del.; and Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

Drane said the program starts June 1 and will continue talking with the industry and stakeholders, do surveys and set up regional and national workshops.

He said they already know that some of the concerns are with modeling, material costs and in building the workforce.

Among the goals are to improve the functionality and reliability of composites, introduce automation to enable high-volume production and reduce material costs. Composites are a $20 billion global industry worldwide and are expected to grow quickly in the next decade.

FIBERS has four co-directors, one from each discipline: John Sherwood, a mechanical engineering professor at UML; John Dignam of Mentis Sciences Inc., of Manchester, N.H.; Raymond Boeman, of Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and Gregory King, of the Mass Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

The project is part of NIST’s 19 advanced manufacturing planning grants totaling $9 million announced May 8 that it hopes will strengthen U.S. manufacturing and innovation. The projects range from flexible electronics manufacturing to bio-manufacturing.