UConn lands $5.4 million grant through Air Force, will increase over time

The University of Connecticut will be collaborating with local aerospace companies like Pratt & Whitney and UTC Aerospace Systems. (File photo/The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut will be collaborating with local aerospace companies like Pratt & Whitney and UTC Aerospace Systems. (File photo/The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut will be collaborating with local aerospace companies like Pratt & Whitney and UTC Aerospace Systems to test the manufacturing processes involved in aerospace engineering as part of a four-year $5.4 million contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory through the United States government.

The project is led by Dr. Pamir Alpay, general electric professor in advanced manufacturing and executive director of the Innovations Partnership Building (IPB), and Dr. Rainer Hebert, associate professor of materials science and engineering and director of the Pratt & Whitney Additive Manufacturing Center.

The grant allows for the team to understand any “potential sources of variation,” Hebert said, when it comes to the development and production of materials designed for space.

“(We) wanted to provide a way for the Air Force to assess all these uncertainties at each and every step in the manufacturing process that would yield aerospace parts,” Alpay said. “It’s important to understand what can go wrong at each step.” 

A better understanding of this will allow engineers to predict if a certain material will crack under various conditions during both the developmental and implemental stages of its use, Hebert said.

UConn approached the Air Force in September of 2018 with the idea. Phase one of the plan was recently approved and Alpay said he is hoping that phase two will go into effect by the end of this summer. At that point, funding will increase to about $12 million, Alpay said. By January 2020, phase three will be in place.

The funds will be allocated mostly to personnel compensation, with seven faculty members and 10 Ph.D. students focusing on the research. The remaining funds will be spent on materials and supplies, travel expenses to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio and for what Hebert calls “not your hobby” software. 

“(This specialized software is) absolutely critical in measuring uncertainties,” Hebert said. 

The team will focus on 3D printing, metal casting, polymer matrix and flat-metal machining in its research at the newly-opened UConn Tech Park with over $40 million worth of high-tech, state-of-the-art equipment.   

 “In certain cases, we do (make the parts),” Alpay said. “(We) make parts that will stand in for the kind of things they would make. Not exactly that aircraft part.” 

Could pieces made at UConn go to space?

“It’s possible, eventually,” Alpay said. 


Luke Hajdasz is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at luke.hajdasz@uconn.edu.