A new center at Clemson is bringing together researchers from across the country to develop a transformational method for creating composite materials that could save manufacturers time, money and energy while leaving less of an environmental footprint.

Srikanth Pilla, the Robert Jenkins Endowed Professor of Automotive Engineering, is the principal investigator on the new center, called Artificially Intelligent Manufacturing Paradigm for Composites (AIM for Composites). The center will receive $10.35 million in support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

Partners include Brown University, Ohio State University, University of Florida, South Carolina State University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Savannah River National Laboratory.

Manufacturers use composite materials because they can be created to perform better than standard materials. Some automotive components, for example, are made from composite materials because they are lighter yet stronger than steel.

The center’s researchers are working to flip the process for making composite materials: Composite materials are usually developed through trial and error, which can be expensive and time consuming. Researchers combine two or more materials to create the material and then test it for properties such as weight, strength and stiffness.

Instead, AIM for Composites is developing a system that would allow manufacturers to tell a computer what performance their product must meet. Then, through artificial intelligence and a technique called inverse engineering, the computer would identify how to make the composite material, including which feedstock and manufacturing processes would create the desired properties.

Artificial intelligence will be trained to factor in energy use, economic considerations and environmental impact, an approach researchers are calling E3.

Pilla said AIM for Composites underscores the University’s major breakthroughs in fundamental composite-materials research and sets the stage for an even bigger impact.

“For manufacturers, this is going to provide a great resource,” he said. “It will likely disrupt how the development of new materials is seen in the composites community.”

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