Detroit — Two institutes celebrated the next generation of innovators as well as the grand opening of a joint facility housing research and development for advanced composites and lightweight metals during Manufacturing Day.
The 100,000-square-foot facility serves as the headquarters for Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT), a public-private partnership operated by the American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute. The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), based in Knoxville, Tenn., is using the space for its vehicles scale-up facility, which is run by Michigan State University.
Both institutes are part of the Manufacturing USA network and are funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, respectively. LIFT is also support by a $10 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. over the next five years. MEDC has pledged $15 million to support IACMI’s projects in Michigan for the next five years as well.
More than 160 Detroit-area students attended the Oct. 6 event, which included activities such as creating an automobile out of varied materials and testing its capabilities through virtual reality. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was also held, bringing together representatives from state and local government as well as public and private organizations, and culminating a nearly $50 million investment in manufacturing equipment and site improvements at the facility.
The institutes first announced the combined investment and joint facility during last year’s Manufacturing Day.
“It was through great teamwork with our federal partners, our educational partners, our private employers, the city. All of us worked together to say some element of these institutes needs to be in Michigan,” Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said during the event. “And what’s the most common sense answer? Lightweight metals, composites.”
Through the investment, several new pieces of equipment were added to the facility that are designed to assist with research and development in lightweight metals and advanced composites.
Newly installed equipment includes a Milacron injection molding press, Daniela extrusion press, flexible robotic welding machines and a linear friction welder as well as a compression molding press from Schuler Group. The 4,000-ton hydraulic compression molding press has a clamping surface of 142-by-94 inches and will enable the facility to manufacture thin parts for lightweight construction.
“There’s a lot of opportunity when you’re working with composites, and you need to take advantage of that to save as much weight while also saving cost,” Raymond Boeman, associate director of IACMI’s vehicles technology area, told Plastics News during a previous site visit in September.
“These manufacturers are providing these [pieces of] equipment at significant cost share because they see the value proposition of being a partner, getting exposure and supporting projects,” he added.
The joint facility, which is in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, was previously an abandoned warehouse covered in graffiti and surrounded by weeds, explained Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, but is now a center for companies to test out their ideas for lightweight metals and the next generation of composites.
Attendees also heard remarks from stakeholder leadership, including Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Rep. Brenda Lawrence, Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon, LIFT Executive Director Lawrence Brown and IACMI CEO John Hopkins, among others.
“This manufacturing innovation facility will better allow IACMI, the composites institute, to support the research and development needs of our industry members as we focus on reducing production costs of manufacturing advanced composites, developing technologies that reduce carbon footprint and creating jobs and capital investment in manufacturing communities across the United States,” Hopkins said.
“Lightweighting with advanced carbon fiber composites and other materials is the key to vehicle efficiency and future growth of the automotive industry,” he added.