UK, UT-Knoxville, Army Collaborating on $50 Million Project to Advance US Manufacturing

Photo of Professor I.S. Jawahir conducting an experiment.
Photo of graduate research assistants doing an experiment.
Photo of faculty, staff and students in the ISM Sustainable Machining Research Lab.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 26, 2021)  The University of Kentucky, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT) and the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory (DEVCOM ARL) have announced a five-year, $50 million collaboration directed toward improving manufacturing capabilities in the United States.

Under this three-way partnership, UK’s project, “Next Generation Materials and Processing Technologies” (NextGen MatProTech), will receive approximately $23.8 million from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

"We are always more powerful when we come together in uncommon ways to achieve a common good. This partnership will enable us to take our best minds and translate research into practical solutions — accomplishing more and doing more than we would on our own," UK President Eli Capilouto said. "As a university driven by discovery and innovation to serve our community and beyond, that is who we are and what we are called to do. We are deeply grateful to our members of Congress for their continued support in making Kentucky a leader in this space."

UK researchers’ overarching vision is to develop novel materials processing and manufacturing technologies to produce superior products and components for the DOD, as well as civilian use. In addition to increasing intellectual capital, generating new discoveries and identifying high-potential technological innovations, the project will also strive to meet the country’s strategic research needs in materials and processes as identified by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine.

“Kentucky has always played a vital role in our national security, and with this project, the Commonwealth’s contributions will only grow. I applaud President Capilouto and the University of Kentucky community for leveraging their institution’s advanced manufacturing expertise to help the Army fulfill its modernization strategy,” U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said. “Throughout my time in the Senate, I have been proud to deliver the resources needed to secure Kentucky’s prominent place in our nation’s defense infrastructure. This new program will not only add to those capabilities, but also provide a strong source of regional economic development.”

I.S. Jawahir, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, James F. Hardymon Chair in Manufacturing Systems and director of UK’s Institute for Sustainable Manufacturing (ISM), will serve as the principal investigator (PI) and project director for UK.

“We intend to meet the challenges of the strategic initiatives within the U.S. Army’s modernization priorities. To accomplish these goals, a state-of-the-art additive manufacturing research laboratory will be established within the Institute for Sustainable Manufacturing in the College of Engineering at UK," Jawahir explained. "It will offer several unique and modern additive and hybrid manufacturing machines, material characterization equipment and systems that will facilitate this groundbreaking collaborative research among the three partners: UK, UT and DEVCOM ARL.”

Raymond Brennan from DEVCOM ARL, who will serve as the cooperative agreement manager for the UK portion of the program, stated, “This exciting collaboration will pave the way for breakthroughs in discovery and advancement of new materials, as well as groundbreaking advanced manufacturing processes, helping shape future innovations to support Army needs.”

Research advances and discoveries hold promise to address the DOD’s strategic and growing needs to maintain global technological superiority by developing higher-performing materials and manufacturing processes through a combination of additive and subtractive manufacturing.

Working with Army engineers and scientists, UK researchers will pursue new nano-structured metal alloys, and advanced composite materials, using novel manufacturing methods such as smart, sustainable and hybrid manufacturing processes. The UK team has identified four primary research areas: engineered high-temperature materials; advanced additive manufacturing; novel manufacturing processes; and predictive modeling and performance assessment.

Thirteen UK researchers — seven PIs and six co-investigators — will participate in initiatives identified as relevant to the four research areas in seven project topics. Jawahir will serve as a topic leader and PI. The other six topic leaders and PIs are:

  • Fazleena Badurdeen, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and ISM faculty;
  • John Balk, professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering and associate dean for research and graduate studies;
  • James Caudill, ISM research scientist;
  • John Craddock, research program manager at the UK Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER);
  • Haluk Karaca, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering; and
  • Julius Schoop, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and ISM faculty.

“The breadth and depth of research excellence and professional influence in the UK College of Engineering related to advanced manufacturing is truly impressive,” Rudy Buchheit, Dr. Rebecca Burchett Liebert Dean of the College of Engineering, said. “Dr. Jawahir and his colleagues have made the college a leader in this vital area.”

Jawahir sees UK’s project, NextGen MatProTech, as a way to not only make substantial investments in the national economy, but also the regional economy. UK will work closely with Flash Steelworks, a new multimillion-dollar plant in Bell County, Kentucky, dedicated to a novel material processing method called flash processing. This plant is funded through a 2021 Congressional appropriation through the Department of Defense Office of Industrial Policy Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment Program and administered by the Cornerstone Other Transaction Authority with Army Research Laboratory subject matter experts.

“Our new UK project will provide tremendous opportunities for the state of Kentucky and the surrounding region with advanced education and training through new curricula for undergraduate and graduate studies and professional development programs aimed at workforce development for next-generation manufacturing,” Jawahir said.

“By building a team that encompasses university experts having expertise in the fundamental materials science partnered with cutting-edge industry partners manufacturing the latest advancements in high-strength materials, along with defense original equipment manufacturers who want to pull the new advancements forward is the template to accelerate innovation and rapidly transition technology advancements for the warfighter, and this is what DEVCOM ARL strives to do,” Bryan Cheeseman, team leader of the Rapid Technology Transition Team of DEVCOM ARL, said.

This material is based upon work supported by, or in part by, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the U.S. Army Research Office under award number W911NF2120075. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Army Research Office.  

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