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New UNM/AFRL NM $6.7 million agreement to focus on manufacturing techniques of the future

May 31, 2018 - By Kim Delker

The University of New Mexico and the Air Force Research Laboratory are partnering on a major new project that focuses on agile manufacturing for cost-effective and efficient production of small spacecraft and integrated directed-energy systems.

The $6.7 million cooperative agreement is aligned along four research areas: multi-material additive manufacturing; machine learning and transfer learning; machine vision and scene decomposition; and advanced manufacturing concepts.

“This agreement will enable the School of Engineering to not only conduct research in advanced 3D printing but also become a national leader in agile manufacturing, which will attract more manufacturing companies to the state,” said Christos Christodoulou, Jim and Ellen King Dean of Engineering and Computing.

The work will be performed at the UNM/AFRL agile manufacturing high-bay facility located on UNM’s south campus. High-performance servers and computers and graphic processing units will be located in the departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science, which will support research in machine learning and machine vision. The project will create a strategic relationship between UNM and AFRL New Mexico’s directed energy and space vehicles directorates in the areas of small satellite technologies and directed-energy systems with a focus on advanced manufacturing concepts.

“This partnership demonstrates the importance of collaboration within our science and technology community,” said Matt Fetrow, director of AFRL New Mexico. “Our business community, our education community and our state as a whole will benefit if we all continue to find innovative ways to help one another advance STEM in New Mexico.”

AFRL New Mexico has been active in STEM education for more than 20 years and regularly collaborates with other groups to further STEM throughout state.

“Our team of AFRL researchers and UNM faculty has the complementary expertise needed to develop novel analytical and computational tools to make agile manufacturing a reality,” said Rafael Fierro, UNM principal investigator of the project and a professor of electrical and computer engineering. “This cooperative agreement will have a profound effect on training the new generations of New Mexico scientists and engineers. The research results, the software tools, and the robotic testbeds will be integrated with graduate and undergraduate curricula at UNM.”

Several UNM faculty members from various areas in the School of Engineering are involved in the effort:

  • Rafael Fierro (principal investigator), a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Christos Christodoulou, Jim and Ellen King Dean of Engineering and Computing at UNM and a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Ron Lumia, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering
  • Asal Naseri, a lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering
  • Meeko Oishi, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Mahmoud Taha, a professor and chair of the Department of Civil, Construction & Environmental Engineering
  • Lydia Tapia, an associate professor of computer science
  • Mehran Tehrani, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering
  • John Wood, a professor of mechanical engineering
  • Yin Yang, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The five-year grant will also enable the expansion of research in the areas of additive manufacturing, machine learning, intelligent robot assembly, and advanced manufacturing, which will be used to develop new graduate and undergraduate courses in the School of Engineering. As part of a capstone senior design project, students will be tasked with designing missions, determining satellite payloads, and building satellite components and subsystems in multi-disciplinary teams. Courses on small satellite design for manufacturability will also be developed.

UNM and AFRL will also collaborate on a robotics challenge, which will introduce students to the theme of agile manufacturing.