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CAVS research reach expands beyond automotive

Even though the Bagley College of Engineering’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems (CAVS), located in the Mississippi State University (MSU) Research Park in Starkville, and its extension center in Canton would not exist if Nissan North America had not opened an automotive assembly plant in Canton in May 2003, now only 2% of its work is for the Japanese automaker.

“The existence of this center helps bring other companies to the region,” said Randall M. German, Ph.D., CAVS chair professor of mechanical engineering and CAVS director.
CAVS has three major research areas — alternative power systems, computational manufacturing and design, and human and systems engineering — and is broadly focused on team-based projects that involve advanced technologies and require skilled technologists. They represent typically complex problems such as those encountered in automotive projects, said German.

“Some are related to aircraft materials, others on wireless tracking of vehicles, and others on under the hood alternative power,” he said. “Today, that means hybrid vehicles, but there are many other options. As part of the effort, we have research on lightweight materials — how to sustain performance with better fuel economy — and even inventions of new materials and processes. Much of this is underpinned by sound computer modeling skills.”

Most advanced academic research centers seek to balance student participation with expert guidance, and in the case of CAVS, that means a blend of 25% undergraduates, 15% to 20% graduate students, 12% staff and administrative personnel, and research professionals who teach about 30% of the time, said German.

“The balance are teaching faculty, who of course have many other duties besides supervision of research projects,” he explained.

CAVS provides engineering students with hands-on professional experience, including project management, presentation skills, and working in teams. All are valuable complements to classroom studies, said German.

“Indeed, historically students with this experience are much easier to place than just your ‘A’ students, since employers recognize the advantage of the experience,” he said. “Also, our undergraduates are paid for their efforts so they carry less economic cost for their education.”

CAVS-to-market technology transfer includes the center’s participation in efforts with SemiSouth, a silicon carbide-based semiconductor company, and another company recently formed but still not out of the CAVS building yet, said German.

“I’m aware of another group that’s organizing a commercial venture and I suspect the first successes will seed a couple per year from now on,” he said.

German, an award-winning mechanical engineer and materials scientist at Pennsylvania State University, took over as CAVS director July 1 after J. Donald Trotter retired June 30.

Now that he’s fully acclimated to the center, German said his priorities include recruiting researchers — faculty, staff and guests — that are highly skilled, good communicators who can write proposals and research reports.

“We have stumbled into massive opportunity and are now only limited by finding people who buy into our model,” he said. “My job will be to grow, foster and provide resources to see many more successes.”

On Thursday, March 9, MSU will host the CAVS Showcase, where business and industry can learn more about how CAVS could benefit their companies, ongoing research and development activities and potential commercialization opportunities and company participation in research projects.

Keynote speaker Rupy Sawhney, director of the Center for Productivity Innovation (CPI) at the University of Tennessee, will discuss survival tactics for U.S. manufacturers. The CPI serves as a premier research center to provide high-quality training and assessment tools in the field of lean manufacturing and simulation modeling. Sawhney is known for his visionary outlook on industry trends and how they impact small, mid-size and world-class manufacturers.

CAVS was designed to research and develop manufacturing and design methods for producing vehicles of superior quality with advanced features and functions at reduced costs and shorter product development times, exploiting the underlying technologies for broader industrial use.

The $6-million, 23,500-square-foot CAVS extension center in Canton focuses on direct engineering support, on-site education programs and on-site workforce development and features a laboratory, classrooms and conference rooms, office suites featuring technical support and $1.2 million in equipment.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.


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