NMSU named lead institution for Energy Department consortium

Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering Ehsan Dehghan-Niri is the lead for a $3 million consortium devoted to develop a workforce of under-represented minority students ready for careers to ensure quality control of new generation materials and processes used in advanced manufacturing. (NMSU photo by Vladimir Avina)

The College of Engineering at New Mexico State University has been named the lead institution for a U.S. Department of Energy consortium supported by the Minority-Serving Institution Partnership Program (MSIPP). The goal is to grow a pipeline of underrepresented minority students ready to enter the workforce and ensure quality control in the new generation of materials and processes used in advanced manufacturing.

The $3 million, three-year award will include three minority-serving academic institutions and three national laboratories to serve the needs of the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Agency’s labs and plants. It will operate under the name, QCAM (Consortium Enabling In- and Ex-Situ Quality Control of Additive Manufacturing).

Led by NMSU Assistant Professor Ehsan Dehghan-Niri, civil engineering, the ambitious and successful proposal came together in five months with all of the pieces aligning as if the award was meant to be.

While at a NASA conference in 2019, Dehghan-Niri made the fortuitous acquaintance of Harold Halliday who is the coordinator of Center for Advanced Manufacturing at Navajo Technical University (NTU), and a series of connections followed to form the unique partnership of universities and national laboratories that formed this cross-disciplinary consortium.

Students are the focus for the consortium, chiefly minority students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. The three universities, all in relatively close proximity, include New Mexico State University, Navajo Technical University and Prairie View A&M University, each respectively serving under-represented Hispanic, Native American and African American students.

Dehghan-Niri saw an opportunity to develop the unique focus of the consortium with a focus on quality control that didn’t seem to exist elsewhere. A second feature was that all coursework had to be offered online. Additionally, each component of the program had to include research, education and outreach activities to render the program sustainable.

New manufacturing processes that use innovative technology, such as 3D printing, require specialized analysis techniques and equipment to evaluate the properties of materials, components or systems without causing damage. Polymer- and metallic-based additive manufacturing is emerging in the development of complex components used in the power, automotive, aerospace, oil and gas industries. There is an emerging need to develop new nondestructive testing techniques that can overcome the limitations of traditional methods used for quality control.

The main goal of the academic partners of QCAM is to establish a sustainable pipeline of underrepresented minority students to meet this rising need for the DOE National Nuclear Security Agency laboratory partners to QCAM: Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Kansas City National Security Campus. The national laboratories are key collaborators and will work with

QCAM academic leaders to develop research projects internships and senior research projects for students to gain hands-on experience.

Lead institution NMSU brings the expertise for nondestructive testing, monitoring and inspection of advanced manufactured parts and advanced manufacturing education to the table.

Dehghan-Niri established and runs NMSU’s Intelligent Structures and Nondestructive Evaluation (ISNDE) Laboratory, a 2,300 square-foot facility, which is equipped with precision measurement devices, non-destructive-evaluation equipment, 3D printers and robotic systems.

“If successful, the ISNDE will play a unique role in promoting cross-consortium activities among other NNSA MSIPP consortiums. This will be a unique feature of the QCAM, creating a benchmark to be followed in the future for other such DOE activities and federal agencies.” Said Dehghan-Niri.

Participants will also have access to NMSU’s Aggie Innovation Space, recently equipped with more than $1 million in state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies.

NTU, already a member of several National Nuclear Security Agency consortiums, and has metallic additive manufacturing capabilities. The school, located in Crownpoint, NM, offers an Advanced Manufacturing Engineering Technology bachelor’s degree. Halliday is the NTI principal investigator for QCAM and runs the Center for Advanced Manufacturing that is equipped with state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies and materials for education and research.

Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU), in Prairie View, TX, brings knowledge of polymer-based additive manufacturing and virtual reality to enhance distance education and outreach activities of the group. Mechanical Engineering former Department Head Rambod Rayegan serves as the principal investigator for QCAM at PVAMU. Students and researchers have access to the Virtual Prototyping Research Lab, Manufacturing Processes Lab, Measurement and Instrumentation Lab and Material Processing and Testing lab.

All three schools will begin by leveraging existing successful outreach programs for students and teachers to increase their knowledge of advanced manufacturing and pique their interest in STEM fields of study. Social media will be used to increase visibility.

The partners will develop multi-disciplinary additive manufacturing-focused undergraduate curriculum with courses are offered via distance education. Graduate-level programs will promote research and development on non-destructive testing and advanced manufacturing.

Dehghan-Niri says the partners greeted the project with enthusiasm and all worked diligently to develop the proposal. He also received great support from then Associate Dean of Research, Phillip De Leon (now NMSU vice president of research), and Civil Engineering Department Head David Jauregui.

“The sequence of events was not random, it’s as if it all happened for a reason,” said Dehghan-Niri. “You have to have good intensions. If you approach a project for benefit of the students, it will happen. If you approach it for money, it will not happen. If you approach it for recognition, it will not happen.”


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