BizVoice -- January / February 2018

74 BizVoice/Indiana Chamber – January/February 2018 By Tom Schuman R. Byron Pipes, Ph.D., points to two shelves on the bookcase in his office. They contain dissertations from students while he was at the University of Delaware (1976-1993). A third shelf features similar work from students since he has been in his current role (starting in 2004). “The goal is to make that one bigger than those two,” emphasizes the 76-year-old Pipes, the John L. Bray Distinguished Professor of Engineering and executive director of the Composites Manufacturing & Simulation Center (CMSC) at Purdue University. “I’m at the same level of productivity as I was in my 40s. If you have money and good people, you can do amazing things. And we do.” The office where this interview takes place and the accompanying CMSC space total 32,000 square feet of the Indiana Manufacturing Institute (IMI). The building, completed in 2016, is part of the expansive Purdue Research Park that is located a few miles north of the main West Lafayette campus. “This is owned by the Purdue Research Foundation. It’s not on the campus, yet I am a campus entity,” Pipes explains. “I like to think of it as the first time we put an academic unit out in a building where you can’t tell whether they’re industry or academic.” Below are insights from Pipes, who proudly notes his 50th year of working in the composites space will be 2019. “There are others who have been at it longer, but not too many,” he proclaims. BizVoice®: When has the greatest progress been made in the area of composites (most simply defined as a material made from two or more different materials that, when combined, is stronger, lighter weight and/or possesses other advantages than the individual elements)? Byron Pipes: “There have really been three eras. First, the Air Force decided it needed to make high-performance systems out of something other than aluminum. Carbon fiber was invented, in the 1960s, in Japan. It was half the cost, much more durable and easier to use. For U.S. weapons systems, there is a huge investment in carbon fiber systems today. That’s the first era – 1965 to 1985. “The next step was commercial aviation – small planes at first. Then Boeing developed the 787, the Dreamliner. Its wings, fuselage, tail were all composites. There was very little metal in those airplanes. The commercial era was primarily 1985 to 2005 and it’s still ongoing. “In 2005, as a country, we realized we needed less weight in automobiles for fuel savings and electrification. Aluminum was a first choice; you can buy a (Ford) F150 today that is all aluminum. Carbon fiber and glass fiber are right in the mix and they’re coming next. From 2005 to today, it’s been the automotive era. The electric vehicle, for range, has to weigh less. It has to. “Here (at the CMSC) today, we do aerospace but we do mostly automotive.” BV: What does this new facility allow you to do? BP: “One thing was clear to me; If you brought a visitor to campus and he said, ‘I’d like to see what you do in manufacturing,’ you would go: ‘Where do I go?’ You would go everywhere. There were probably 20 sites you’d have to take someone to. I said, the stake in Purdue Institute Leading the Way ALL ABOUT COMPOSITES Manufacturing: Tomorrow R. Byron Pipes has spent the last 14 years of his 48-year career working in composites at Purdue. Students are able to engage in hands-on learning at the Indiana Manufacturing Institute (IMI).