Army awards Rowan Engineering $14.5M to develop new materials, processes for use in the field

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Rowan University will lead a $14.5 million Department of Defense/Army Research Lab project that has the potential to create new materials – and ways to process those materials – that will help modernize the Army and improve the safety of soldiers in the field and of the nation as a whole.

“This award marks the largest-ever research award made to Rowan University.  Indeed, when we began our research mission a few short years ago, this is what we envisioned. The work being done reflects our commitment to practical research that impacts our neighbors, while serving the common good, and demonstrates the capabilities of our faculty and University community,” said Rowan University President Dr. Ali Houshmand.

Under a U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory (ARL) cooperative agreement, a team led by Rowan will work with collaborators on developing innovative materials through using “cold-spray” advanced manufacturing technologies.

The team’s work will focus on polymers, starting with polystyrene (think of the ubiquitous white foam cups, egg cartons and packing peanuts) to develop basic insights and then move on to more advanced composite materials and systems as designated by the Army.

“Rowan’s lab is the only one with this specialized technology within a four-hour drive of our region, and I’m very impressed that this high-tech research is being conducted in our community,” said Congressman Donald Norcross, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. “This important work will improve our national defense and support our soldiers in the field. I’m glad Rowan is receiving this research grant and that this invaluable, innovative work is being done right here in South Jersey.”

Creating coatings, repairing equipment

The project, titled “Advancing Structural Materials for Army Modernization Priorities via Direct-Write Approaches,” teams Rowan University with PPG, a Fortune 500 company and global supplier of paints, coatings and specialty materials based in Pittsburgh; Drexel University; Northeastern University; and the University of Massachusetts Amherst to create new materials and ways to process them.

According to the ARL, cold-spray processes currently are used to apply powdered metals, to surfaces/substrates. The process is used to create coatings or make repairs to equipment. Robotically manipulated or hand-held spray devices use a high-pressure gas jet to propel the powdered materials, faster than the speed of sound, through a rocket-like nozzle, bonding them upon impact with a receiving surface.

“The high particle velocity of cold spray enables rapid cure and adhesion of polymers.  This should result in fast and efficient production of high performance composite parts or repair of parts, said John La Scala, associate chief the ARL’s Materials and Manufacturing Sciences Division and cooperative agreement manager for the research program, “Additionally, this novel manufacturing methodology is a layer-by layer production of composites, which should reduce void and flaw content.  This should improve strength and durability significantly, thereby opening the potential of using this manufacturing technique to prepare composites for extreme conditions, while replacing the current expensive manufacturing methods with a much more economical methodology.”

Building an expert team

In the Cold-Spray Additive Manufacturing Research Lab at the South Jersey Technology Park (SJTP) at Rowan University – and in other labs in the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering on the Glassboro campus – Dr. Joe Stanzione, associate professor of chemical engineering, will work with the team of Dr. Francis (Mac) Haas, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; Dr. William Riddell, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering; Dr. Ratneshwar Jha, professor and department head of mechanical engineering; a project manager; three post-doctoral researchers; four doctoral students; six master’s students; and close to two dozen funded undergraduate students during the life of the project.

Benefitting the military and industry

Materials developed through the research program may be used for making military equipment stronger and lighter, soldiers more agile and vehicles more durable, with strong potential for dual-use spinoffs into economic sectors such as civil aviation, automobiles, health care and space exploration. “We’re creating a materials science ecosystem here at Rowan,” Haas said.

“We will work to make materials more quickly, to make them better and easier to repair offsite and, importantly, onsite in the field,” Stanzione said. “That includes everything from parts for tanks and jeeps, to usable tools, and helmets.”

Gaining insight, contributing to the field

“Cold-spray additive manufacturing is only about 30 years old,” Haas said.  “As the possibilities of using this technology to advance materials is still considered wide open, this opportunity allows Rowan University and our partners to substantially contribute to the field.”

What they learn from their research may be critical for the Army to develop and apply new knowledge.

“We need to learn more to advance materials and manufacturing and make better parts,” Stanzione said.

The grant announcement was made before a capacity crowd in the lobby of Engineering Hall on Wednesday, August 21. Provost Tony Lowman, former dean of the College, Houshmand, Stanzione, LaScala and Norcross all spoke at the event.

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