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Advanced Manufacturing Success Builds on Maine’s Historic Textile Expertise

The University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center supports research and development and commercialization programs in an array of advanced manufacturing disciplines.

By Livability.com on January 2, 2014

From a bouncing tennis ball to fabric that can stand up to fire, Maine’s historic expertise in textile manufacturing has led the transition to advanced materials manufacturing.

The state is at the forefront of innovations in advanced materials and composites that are finding their way into everything from cars and construction materials to marinas and energy generation, The next generation of textiles used in everything from flame-retardant materials to rocket engines is being developed in Maine.

Supporting advanced materials innovation in the state are academic research centers such as the University of  Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, a “one-stop shop” for developing a composite product or structure from the conceptual stage through research, manufacturing of prototypes, comprehensive testing and evaluation and commercialization. Over the past five years, the center has partnered with industry clients on more than 300 product development projects, says Elizabeth Viselli, manager of global communications for the center.

“Our mission is economic development corresponding to our industrial test program and some commercialization efforts with program areas,” she says.

Research to Marketplace

Research at the center led to development of the Bridge-in-a-Backpack, a lightweight, corrosion-resistant system for short to medium span bridge construction. The technology has been licensed to Advanced Infrastructure Technologies, a spin-off company.

“Now that company is creating bridges worldwide and has built several in Maine, all competitively bid,” Viselli says.

The center also leads development efforts on wind power, launching the first grid-connected offshore floating wind turbine prototype in the Americas in 2013.

In Bath, Hodgdon Defense Composites developed the MAKO technology demonstrator to show the strength of composites in naval architecture. With advanced manufacturing techniques, HDC produces designs that far surpass the capabilities of traditional aluminum naval boats and mass-produced parts. HDC worked with the Advanced Structures and Composites Center to develop advanced composites for U.S. Defense Department and Homeland Security customers. The center helps companies push the design envelope.

“We want to build things lighter and without compromising overall performance, and UMaine has helped us develop those design standards,” says David N. Packhelm Jr., president and CEO of Hodgdon. “They have a complete testing shop that’s as good as any place in the country.”

A History of Innovation

Maine’s heritage in textiles is leading to new innovations in advanced materials. Auburn Manufacturing in Mechanic Falls, for example, develops fire- and heat-resistant materials used in industries ranging from petroleum and chemicals to power generation and transportation. The company doubled the size of one of its production facilities and won a $2 million government contract for high-temperature silica fabric.

The company recently developed a new translucent fireproof fabric for use in oil refineries, shipbuilding and power generation facilities. The next step is to introduce it to data centers that need heat-resistant barriers to protect computers. Katie Leonard, president and CEO, is planning for additional expansions in the next three to five years as the company expands into new markets.

Founded as a textile mill in 1904, today Tex Tech produces more than 7,000 high-performance engineered woven and needle felt textile products in everything from aerospace to ballistic protection to tennis ball felt. The company’s Technical Center for Innovation and Research & Development is in North Monmouth, as is its 200,000-square-foot flagship manufacturing operation.

Jeff Laniewski, executive director for research and product development, oversees the technical center, which recently added a ballistics laboratory with the help of a Defense Department grant. There, scientists test the latest materials that will protect soldiers in battle.

“The lab allows us to be more streamlined and more flexible in developing alternative materials and to develop material for different applications,” Laniewski says.

The company is also venturing into rapidly biodegradable material for disposable parachutes, and photovoltaic fabric to generate solar power.

Maine’s outdoor lifestyle helps recruit top technical and scientific talent, as does the opportunity to work in a cutting-edge research facility.

“We’ve been successful in recruiting smart technical folks by offering them the use of these facilities and giving them a blank sheet to look at new opportunities,” Laniewski says.

To find more information on Maine’s leading industries, visit the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

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