UT, ORNL Get a LIFT from Manufacturing Innovation Center

UT-ORNL Governor's Chair Suresh Babu, left, and joint UT-ORNL professor William Peter.The role of UT’s College of Engineering as a leader in advanced materials research got yet another boost recently as Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow, or LIFT, officially opened its headquarters.

Part of the American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute that was launched in February 2014, the Michigan-headquartered LIFT will focus on improving the performance, capabilities, and costs associated with materials such as aluminum, advanced steels, magnesium, and titanium.

Led by EWI, an independent research group in Ohio, the consortium includes several academic, research, and corporate partners, with joint UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair in Advanced Manufacturing Suresh Babu’s involvement being a key initial connection to the project.

Babu will now serve as a principal investigator on the project. From his standpoint, the project is one that offers mutually beneficial possibilities.

“The expertise we already have and can bring to the group on certain materials like titanium makes us an attractive partner,” said Babu. “We can offer up our knowledge in areas like that from our end, and at the same time we get the benefit of the various studies and research that other partners have done. By pooling our knowledge and our research we can really make an impact.”

Additionally, William Peter, who serves as a joint faculty member with ORNL and the College of Engineering, has been chosen to lead one of the main thrusts, focusing on powder processing.

Peter, a UT alumnus who, like Babu, works out of UT’s Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering, has extensive knowledge working with and researching titanium. He also serves as the deputy director of science for the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL and is part of the senior research staff in ORNL’s Materials Science and Technology Division, where he performs research in metal 3D printing.

“The joint participation of UT and ORNL in LIFT provides opportunity for the industrial members to collaborate and use the expertise and unique capabilities of these institutes,” said Peter. “Additionally, it allows us to showcase the talent and expertise we have in East Tennessee to address lightweight-metal manufacturing issues, and collaborate with globally recognized experts to solve some of the nation’s critical transportation and defense issues.”

Powder processing is the act of squeezing, sintering, or spraying metal powders into shapes or components. Parts made from powder processing have the potential to improve yield, increase performance, and develop composite or hybrid components.

New tools, advanced manufacturing methodologies, and cost and performance computation models could enable new research to decrease vehicle weight through components made from powder.

“The research we are doing in powder processing can provide high-strength aluminum composites, improve the use of titanium in industrial and transportation applications, and create steels that are incredibly hard and wear-resistant,” Peter said.

While Peter’s interests are in powder metallurgy and additive manufacturing, UT’s membership has in LIFT also will allow for new projects in joining, casting, forming, coating, and other advanced lightweight-metal manufacturing techniques.

Peter’s selection, along with the role UT and ORNL are playing in the group, builds momentum for UT as a center for materials-related research and innovation.

Between the LIFT group and its related entities—the UT-led Institute of Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation recently announced by the White House and the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials—UT and ORNL are involved in millions of dollars of research in manufacturing and lightweight materials.

“We are very fortunate to collaborate so closely with ORNL in advanced manufacturing,” said Taylor Eighmy, UT’s vice chancellor for research and engagement. “Increasingly, the private sector is looking to the Oak Ridge–Knoxville corridor for research and development solutions in both metallic and polymeric advanced manufacturing systems.

“Our deep participation in two national manufacturing institutes―LIFT and IACMI―will further catalyze this interest.”

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)