Newsletter

MSU Brings Lightweight Composite Manufacturing to Detroit

A collaboration of universities, government entities, and the private sector, the new composite manufacturing scale-up facility, part of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), brings cutting-edge, lightweight automotive material development to Detroit. MSU is leading the light-and-heavy-duty vehicle component of the institute, a 122-member consortium funded by a more than $250 million in private and public commitment over five years, with $70 million of that total coming from the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Our facility will be unique in the United States because it will provide industry, government, and academia access to production-scale equipment for collaborative composite development programs of real vehicle components. We don’t intend to produce parts, but the facility will provide the opportunity to demonstrate technology innovations at production cycle times,” said Dr. Lawrence Drzal, director of the IACMI Vehicles Technology Application Area and an MSU University Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering and materials science.

Prior to the institute’s launch, companies needed to travel internationally to reach a comparable facility. Now, companies from around the globe can travel to Detroit to develop and demonstrate new materials and manufacturing processes for their commercial potential.

“It is the missing piece of the puzzle in the development of high volume, low cost, advanced composite manufacturing,” said Jan Sawgle, composite program manager for DuPont Performance Materials. “We couldn’t do this type of work in the U.S. before—we were playing catch-up. This facility will help us remain relevant and competitive while bringing more talent into the region.”

IACMI officials are meeting with companies to identify the automotive industry’s greatest needs, like balancing fuel efficiency and style. “Automakers need to solve a lot of challenges in order to build fuel efficient, yet stylish vehicles,” says Gina Oliver, senior director in the Automotive Stories Plastics Division at the American Chemistry Council. “This [Center] is absolutely essential to making that happen.”

Capitalizing on the region’s automotive cluster, the 100,000-square-foot facility co-located with Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT), in Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, will be an innovative space where the future of fiber-reinforced polymer composite for automotive manufacturing will be developed and tested for full-scale production.

“The scale-up facility in Corktown will be very important to Dow and DowAksa (our carbon fiber joint venture),” stated Dan Beattie, Business Director for Government Markets and Lightweight Materials. “It will allow us and our partners to collaborate in better defining, testing and resolving questions about manufacturing processes, materials and their integration.”

The advancement of composite-material research is crucial to the auto industry the state of Michigan. Already more than 100 companies have signed on, and proposals for testing are flowing in from across the country. DuPont has one project approved, and plans to submit additional proposals.

“The institute is going to be another jewel for the city,” says Oliver. “It gives Detroit another opportunity to bring businesses into the city.”