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Vanderbilt research will help shape the future of American manufacturing

by | Jan. 9, 2015, 10:03 AM | Want more research news? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter »

Doug Adams’ LASIR lab studies why materials and machines fall apart

A cutting-edge Vanderbilt lab that studies how materials, structures and machines operate under real-world conditions will play a key part in the new multistate, $259 million Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) to be announced today by President Obama. (Watch live at 1:45 p.m. CST:

Doug Adams

Doug Adams (Vanderbilt University)

An application to the Department of Energy, led by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, was selected for negotiation and aims to establish the IACMI – the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation. The IACMI consortium will develop cost- and energy-efficient composite materials and technologies for high-production industries, like automotive manufacturing.

“I’m excited that Vanderbilt is a partner in this game-changing initiative to realize the Department of Energy’s vision for advanced composites technology and a highly trained and skilled workforce,” said Doug Adams, Daniel F. Flowers Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who will lead Vanderbilt’s efforts.

“Our colleagues at the University of Tennessee assembled a tremendously talented team from around the country to develop this proposal, which includes leadership from the state of Tennessee and world-class researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan Wente said. “The team has the creative set of ideas, key infrastructure, and strong relationships with industry that will drive innovation across the entire composites manufacturing supply chain and shine a spotlight on innovation in our state. We are thrilled that Vanderbilt is part of this effort.

Adams will conduct research for IACMI’s Composite Materials and Process Technology focus area. The goal of that focus area is to accelerate the prototyping and scale-up of technologies in carbon fiber production and composites manufacturing, including 3-D printing, composites recycling and nondestructive evaluation of composites.

Much of Vanderbilt’s work will take place at the Laboratory for Systems Integrity and Reliability, which Adams co-directs, and some will be undertaken elsewhere in collaboration with groups such at Oak Ridge. Adams said the research will offer unique training opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. “Our sponsors in industry and research labs across the country are looking for students who can speak the language of composites as they enter the workforce,” he said.

Adams’ research will focus on making the machines that make the composites smarter. “It’s critical that advanced composite materials are of a high quality when they are made and then maintain their quality as they are used,” said Adams. “We are developing the measurement tools that will give intelligence to the machines that make these materials, enabling workers to be able to quickly test and correct material quality on the fly.”

Such advanced composites are already used in aircraft, military vehicles and satellites, but they are very expensive and must undergo years of testing, making them inaccessible to high-production industries like cars, wind turbines and compressed gas storage. “The ability to do this kind of rapid evaluation and correction will help to bring the cost of these high-performance composite materials within reach of a much wider range of industries,” said Adams.

Philippe Fauchet, dean of Vanderbilt University School of Engineering, applauds the new partnership. “The School of Engineering is committed to solving real-world problems that have significant impact,” Fauchet said. “Doug’s contribution to the development of these energy efficient materials and technologies will help advance American manufacturing for years to come.”

Adams is also working with Vanderbilt colleagues on related fundamental research in the area of nano-engineered composites that sense and respond to their environment. “This kind of national initiative in advanced composites manufacturing could offer such technologies a pathway to implementation in the future,” Adams said.

IACMI would be the fifth institute chosen in support of the President’s overall vision for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. The public-private partnership was selected through a competitive process led by the Advanced Manufacturing Office within the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The IACMI team, a 122-member consortium headquartered in Tennessee, plans to launch a new not-for-profit, established by the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, that connects the world’s leading manufacturers across the supply chain with universities and national laboratories pioneering advanced composites technology development and research. For more information, visit

Vanderbilt is one of the institute’s supporting partners, which are selected for their expertise in advanced composite fields relevant to IACMI.

Learn more about the LASiR lab:

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