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Lightweight packs heavy punch

Research collaboration between LIFT and IACMI elevates auto industry competitiveness 

Innovation never sleeps.

In the ongoing challenge for Michigan-based automakers and manufacturers to find ways to build high-tech, safer, and cost-and-fuel efficient vehicles, a new research center provides a major boost to address engineering and manufacturing issues while improving competitiveness. 

With a U.S. Department of Defense grant last year to the Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (a.k.a. LIFT and formerly known as American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute), the state is strategically positioned to become a leader in developing multi-materials to be used in leading-edge manufacturing processes. Applications for these materials can be used in defense, energy and transportation.

LIFT is a nonprofit founded by the University of Michigan, Ohio State University and Ohio-based engineering and technology organization EWI. The institute is supported by a $10 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation over the next five years. LIFT shares a 100,000-square-foot innovation acceleration center in Detroit's Corktown district with the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), a recipient of a $70 million grant last year from the U.S. Department of Energy to fund composites manufacturing research. Its mission is to develop and deply advanced lighweight materials manufacturing technologies, and implement education and training programs to prepare the workforce. MEDC has pledged $15 million to support IACMI activities in Michigan for the next five years.

Working collaboratively, LIFT and IACMI engage in research on metals and composites research. No other state has under one roof the capability to research metals and composites while exploring the applications for mixed materials expected to be used in vehicles over the next decade. A specific research focus is on advanced fiber-enhanced polymer composites that combine strong fibers with rigorous plastics to produce a lightweight material stronger than steel.

“The potential for the IACMI and LIFT  collaboration has wide and positive implications,” said Kevin Kerrigan, senior vice president, Automotive Office at MEDC. “These research centers provide significant examples of how Michigan is working to maintain its global automotive industry leadership by anticipating consumer trends and the direction of automotive engineering."

Michigan is strategically positioned to become a leader in developing multi-materials to be used in leading-edge manufacturing processes.

Research and development of lightweight and other types of materials for use in the auto industry is an integral part of Gov. Rick Snyder’s Automotive Office Strategic Plan. 

The transportation applications center at IACMI is run by Michigan State University. Further, the utilization of these materials will likely be critical as automakers aim to meet federally mandated fuel requirements of 54.5 mpg by 2025. Research and development of advanced materials will focus on greater mobility and durability, an essential feature in equipment for military, planes and cargo ships.

Headquartered in Tennessee, IACMI is part of the federal government’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation initiative, a network of national institutes aimed at providing an infrastructure for industry and academia to work together on solving industry problems. 

Bob Metzger is marketing director at Michigan Economic Development Corporation. 

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