Source: UT News | David Goddard | August 25, 2016

More than 100 people were on hand recently for the opening of a new center at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility and Engineering Annex, located on White Avenue, features several laboratories with cutting-edge machines devoted to advanced manufacturing of composites typically containing carbon fiber and plastic resins.

The center’s opening is the latest success for UT’s College of Engineering, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and IACMI—the Composites Institute, which are pushing the frontier of manufacturing capabilities, said Wayne Davis, dean of the College of Engineering.

“About eight-and-a-half years ago I met with ORNL’s Craig Blue, who said that advanced manufacturing would be the next big thing,” said Davis. “We’ve been able to add faculty in that area, particularly with our Governor’s Chair program with ORNL, which has allowed us to be real leaders in this area and an economic strength for the region.”

Officials at the ceremony repeatedly cited the positive effect that UT, ORNL and IACMI have had on Tennessee’s economy. IACMI alone represents a $259 million investment in the local economy. Also, the alliance of UT, ORNL and IACMI has attracted partnerships with a variety of industries, ranging from aerospace and automotive to energy and power, over the past few years.

“The composites manufacturing industry is changing rapidly, and we’re at the epicenter of that change,” said UT Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement Taylor Eighmy. “That’s the truly important thing about having facilities like this one—the impact it has on East Tennessee. The advanced manufacturing ecosystem is growing here, and we look forward to it.”

Governor’s Chair in Advanced Composites Manufacturing Uday Vaidya will oversee most of the research in the newly renovated space, which previously served as a center for nonwoven fibers. He said the center’s state-of-the-art facilities will bring a bonus to students: more hands-on experience with the wave of changes coming to manufacturing.

“Students will be able to get their hands dirty—work their way through the system from concept to manufacturing a final product,” said Vaidya. “We have the chance to be the best place for experiential learning.”

While the bulk of the building will be what Blue, now IACMI CEO, called the “cornerstone of composite manufacturing in the South,” it retains some of its engineering heritage thanks to the EcoCAR team.

UT’s team, which has participated in all but one of the EcoCAR competitions held in the past three decades, has space in the building. The facilities will give the EcoCAR team more open area to run its tests.