The Department of Defense is in the midst of a big modernization push and is enlisting an interdisciplinary faculty team from UM-Dearborn to reimagine how it designs, tests and manufactures new systems. Led by Mechanical Engineering Professor Pravansu Mohanty, the 18-month, $3.5 million project will focus on helping the DoD adopt the iterative design-build strategies and secure cloud technologies that have become the gold standard in modern manufacturing. “The key challenge is that a lot of things at the DoD still happen in silos,” Mohanty explains. “But in today’s manufacturing environment, you want the design teams, and the testing and validation people and the people working in the field to be communicating with each other and sharing information so they can make continuous improvements.”
At the heart of the UM-Dearborn team’s reimagined DoD engineering ecosystem is an integrated approach to design, testing and manufacturing. We often imagine the process of creating something as progressing sequentially from an initial concept stage to a final building stage. But Mohanty says in a modern manufacturing environment, information is continuously flowing in many directions. For example, after an initial design for a physical component is created, that design can be subjected, through simulation, to various technical and material analyses. If any issues are discovered, the design team can make improvements before moving on to the next stage. Similarly, manufacturing processes, like 3D printing, can utilize sensors and machine learning algorithms, giving testing and validation teams opportunities to identify issues long before parts are ever tested in the field. Mohanty says manufacturing strategies like this yield time and cost savings, as well as higher quality products.
Security is the other major focus for the UM-Dearborn team. Anytime you’re allowing information to flow more freely amongst people, especially if that involves cloud-based sharing and outside contractors, you’re introducing potential security risks. For the DoD, these are also national security risks. To protect against cybersecurity threats, Mohanty’s team and their collaborators are building the information-sharing ecosystems around secure cloud technologies.
In a design challenge model that will be familiar to many engineering students, the DoD initiative will be centered around a surrogate project: creating an optionally manned fighting vehicle. The UM-Dearborn team won’t actually be creating anything quite so flashy, but Mohanty says they will be working with real designs and manufacturing and testing actual components to ensure their design-build system can stand up to the rigors of the real world.
In addition to Mohanty, UM-Dearborn faculty involved in the project include:
- Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Chris Pannier
- Associate Professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Georges Ayoub
- Associate Professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Zhen Hu
- Associate Professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Abdallah Chehade
- Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Xuan (Joe) Zhou
- Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Lei Chen
Additional industry and academic partners include the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technologies, the University of Maryland and the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences.
Story by Lou Blouin