The University Record, June 11, 1996

$12 million from NSF, $10 million from industry will establish new manufacturing research center at College of Engineering


By Sally Pobojewski
News and Information Services

An auto body in the S.M. Wu Manufacturing Research Center laboratory.

Photo by Paul Jaronski

The University will receive $12 million in federal funding from the National Science Foundation to create the Center for Reconfigurable Machining Systems, where researchers will develop a new type of manufacturing system with the flexibility, adaptability and productivity U.S. firms must have to compete in today's technology-driven global economy.

In addition to $12 million in NSF funding, the center will receive $10 million in cash and in-kind support from 31 industrial partners and $6.2 million from the College of Engineering and Office of the Vice President for Research.

With $28.2 million in total cash and in-kind contributions over the first five years, the new manufacturing research center represents one of the largest packages of federal and private funding received for a single research program in the University's history.

"New research advances and educational programs developed at U-M will help U.S. manufacturing firms maintain and increase their margin of technological advantage over international competitors," says President James J. Duderstadt. "In addition, the center will have a strong positive impact on our state's economy by enhancing the ability of Michigan's manufacturing industry to compete in the world marketplace."

"The successful initiation of this Engineering Research Center is the result of an unusual level of collaboration between industry, federal government and universities," says Homer A. Neal, vice president for research. "The ERC represents a bold approach to industry-university collaboration, intended to meet the challenge of bringing knowledge from 'science' to 'market.' This NSF award and extensive industry participation will make this center a leader in extending our knowledge in engineering, business and basic science and applying it to the manufacturing process."

The center will be the only one of its kind in the country and is one of 25 NSF engineering research centers nationwide. Approximately 30 faculty members and 50 graduate and undergraduate students affiliated with the center will develop the science behind a new concept in manufacturing called reconfigurable manufacturing systems (RMS), which is based on modular, integrated process technology.

Reconfigurable manufacturing systems are designed with hardware and software modules that can be rearranged and upgraded quickly and easily to reduce new product development time and changeover time between products, according to Yoram Koren, the Paul G. Goebel Professor of Engineering. Koren will direct U-M researchers as they "develop RMS methodologies to quickly configure new automated production plants and reconfigure them to adapt to new manufacturing technologies and new products."

"Traditional manufacturing systems incorporate new technology and new products by periodically building new production systems and discarding the old," Koren adds. "The vision of a reconfigurable system is a living factory that evolves over time as new technology and products are introduced."

"Initial work at the center will focus on machining processes for use in automotive, aerospace and heavy equipment manufacturing," says A. Galip Ulsoy, the William Clay Ford Professor of Manufacturing and center deputy director. "In later research, we will expand RMS principles to other manufacturing processes, such as assembly and welding."

To teach a new generation of manufacturing engineers, plant managers and machine operators how to use reconfigurable machining systems, a modular educational program will be jointly developed and tested by the Greenfield Educational Coalition in Manufacturing Engineering, the College of Engineering's Program in Manufacturing and the Tauber Manufacturing Institute a joint program of the Business School and the College of Engineering.

"The new Center for Reconfigurable Machining Systems will build on the College's proven expertise in manufacturing," says Glenn F. Knoll, interim dean of the College of Engineering. "We have active research programs, which are advancing state-of-the-art manufacturing in a number of critical areas, plus established programs for manufacturing-related graduate degrees. The Center will complement and expand these efforts, which are crucial to the future prosperity of American manufacturing-based industries."

Additional College of Engineering faculty who will play key roles in the center include James C. Bean, the Ford Motor Company co-director of the Tauber Manufacturing Institute; Elijah Kannatey-Asibu Jr., professor of mechanical engineering; Jun Ni, associate professor of mechanical engineering; Panos Y. Papalambros, professor of mechanical engineering; Zbigniew J. Pasek, research fellow; Kang Geun Shin, professor of electrical engineering and computer science; and Chelsea C. White III, professor of industrial and operations engineering. James C. MacBain, director of research relations and technology transfer, will manage the center's industrial liaison program.

Other universities affiliated with the Center for Reconfigurable Machining Centers include the University of Illinois, Wayne State University, Michigan Technological University, and the University of California, San Diego. Non-profit organization affiliates include the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, Focus: HOPE and the Midwest Manufacturing Technology Center.