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MSU Research to Improve Vehicles

  • Tuesday, 3rd October 2006
  • Reading time: about 4 minutes

MSU will expand its efforts to improve the design and function of military and civilian vehicles with at least $2.25 million in funding from the U.S. Defense Department.

The U.S. Congress approved at least $2.25 million for MSU’s project on advanced composite materials research for air and ground vehicles on Sept. 26. The research will be implemented in the new Composite Vehicle Research Center at MSU. MSU will draw on their experience in research aimed at making vehicles safer, lighter, more durable and more environmentally safe through the use of advanced composite materials and related technologies, with an industrial consortium being an important part of the centre.

“We’ll be looking at long-term solutions, as well as ideas that will help one year down the road,” said Gary Cloud, the centre’s director and an MSU mechanical engineering professor. “It makes sense to do the work in Michigan where we have capability and history in building vehicles. “We foresee expansion of Michigan’s technological capability and improvement of the state’s economic welfare.”

MSU, partnering closely with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center in Warren, will examine problems unique to heavy-duty vehicles, striving for solutions applicable to combat vehicles while also answering design questions with civilian applications.

“Our question is, ‘Why not do it better?’” Cloud said. “This effort is timely, given the need for a mobile army and the state of our auto industry. Because of previous research, we’re able to make immediate contributions to the problem.” Many of the solutions involve composite materials.

The MSU Composite Vehicle Research Center, which will begin work immediately, but eventually occupy a new building on campus, focuses on six areas:

  • Vehicle survivability and occupant safety: Approaching problems crucial in combat environments and in consumer markets, using a multifunctional testing facility, advanced computational programs and novel composite designs. “We will have a strong civilian component,” Cloud said. “We’re defining vehicles in a very broad sense and eventually intend to have an impact on airplanes, watercraft and personal protection devices. Many of the problems are the same, whether in aircraft or cars.”
  • Composite joining: Bolting together of vehicles so they are tolerant of difficult service environments is a tough problem. Military vehicles need to be bolted together quickly on the ground. “One of the nastiest problems in all engineering is fastening things together,” Cloud said. “We’re going to look at better ways to fasten composite components so they can function and survive.”
  • Multifunctional composites: Searching for new composite materials that have mechanical, thermal, electrical, barrier, fire and self-healing properties at low cost. Research includes using nanotechnology in composite products.
  • Self-diagnostic composites: Building technology that can indicate flaws or damage in a structure – such as a crack in a flying airplane or combat damage. Sensors, algorithms and electronics can be used for technology that can help make crucial decisions about continued service, repair or retirement.
  • Structural integrity of composites: Improving the durability of vehicles operated in highly stressed service over long periods. “Conventional design practices for predicting reliability of metal components do not work well for composite materials,” Cloud said. “We must account for uncertainties in service demands and damage for military and civilian vehicles.”
  • Biomimetics: Exploring and exploiting nature’s engineering, especially when it comes to armored vehicles. Cloud pointed out that nature has some of the most ingenious designs – a turtle, an armadillo, a shrimp. Understanding properties of living organisms and living tissue can provide insight.

In addition to Cloud, the founding group includes Lawrence Drzal, University Distinguished Professor and director of the MSU Composite Materials and Structures Center; Dahsin Liu, professor of mechanical engineering; and Eann Patterson, chairperson of mechanical engineering. Several additional researchers will be hired.

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