Advanced Casting Research Center relocates to UCI

The Advanced Casting Research Center (ACRC) has moved to the University of California, Irvine (UCI) from its 30-year home base at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Massachusetts. A research arm for the metalcasting industry, ACRC complements the work of AFS by (1) educating and reproducing new leaders and (2) acting as a source of knowledge creation to benefit the entire industry.

UCI is investing $2 million to renovate space for a new state-of-the-art metal processing facility and $2 million for equipment including a modern foundry (ferrous and nonferrous), vacuum arc melting, atomization unit, a complete Buehler Center for metallography, an Olympus microscopy suite, mechanical testing facilities, and NDE.

Under the personal supervision of ACRC Founding Director Diran Apelian, construction at UCI is expected to be completed by the end of November, and the new facility will be operational by January 2021. ACRC, an industry consortium supported by about 35 U.S. foundries, is now part of the UCI Institute for Design and Manufacturing Innovation in the Samueli School of Engineering. Serving one of the largest manufacturing states in the country, UCI conducted an approximately $40 million installation for microscopy in February and also houses a digital manufacturing center replete with the latest additive manufacturing equipment.

“The university leadership realizes that metal processing and materials processing is an important industry for this nation,” said Apelian. “There's nothing like this within the University of California system ... and the consortium really was the tipping point,” he added. “Just when the university was saying, ‘Let's start investing in manufacturing,’ here comes ACRC with the backing of all our members. That got their attention. And when they found out that most of the companies have been with us for more than 30 years, they said, ‘You're kidding, really?’”

Apelian is widely recognized for his innovative work in metal processing and for his leadership as a researcher and educator. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Inventors, European Academy of Sciences, and the Armenian Academy of Sciences.

UCI began recruiting Apelian about five years ago, and he has been dividing his time between the two campuses––winters in SoCal near Laguna Beach as a visiting professor at UCI, and the remaining time at his residence outside of Boston. He officially retired in July from his position as Alcoa-Howmet Professor of Mechanical Engineering at WPI after 30 years. Apelian has joined the faculty as distinguished professor of the Materials Science and Engineering department at UCI, where he also serves as chief strategy officer in the school of engineering.

Meanwhile, for the last two years, ACRC’s board of directors has been exploring with Apelian how to sustain the consortium into the future. His own activities at UCI and the ACRC’s board decision-making dovetailed in a way he says he could not have orchestrated on his own. Board members visited UCI during the San Diego-based TMS meeting in February to meet with UCI’s chancellor and deans––and quickly recognized the commitment and the infrastructural support of the university. The result was a unanimous board decision to relocate the consortium’s headquarters to UCI.

“I'm full of gratitude,” said Apelian. “I can't be thankful enough to the powers that be––these two things happened sort of independently of each other. If UCI didn't come through and WPI had said they couldn’t support [ACRC], we would have ended. So, I feel incredible gratitude and contentment for the industry because we're going to be able to sustain and continue the consortium.” Presently, he’s focused on projects that will be on the front burner in 2021, all of which are driven and voted upon by the members of ACRC.

“One of the big projects we're going to be pursuing is big data, machine learning and the foundry 4.0,” said Apelian. “Another one is the measurement of heat transfer coefficients in metal casting, which are so important for the models that we're developing––a lot of the models have heat transfer coefficient numbers and we don't really know where they came from, so we're actually getting some real data. Also, we also have another project that's very exciting, which is an innovative heat treating process––we're looking at cryogenic treatments of cast parts after making them.”

Randy Beals of Magna Intl., chairman of the ACRC board, said, “There has never been a more exciting time to be a part of the metalcasting industry, even though the demands on the business have never been greater. Customer expectations of higher quality are at an all-time high while simultaneously, there is pressure to reduce cost. An important result of the market forces taking shape is an increased focus within the casting industry on R&D knowledge generation. The new UCI-ACRC research programs serve as an engine of innovation in order to achieve these business goals. It is the collaboration between the brightest minds in Industry and academia that allows the ACRC consortium to have breakthrough ideas and develop cutting edge technology that will have a lasting impact on the metalcasting community.”

Emphasizing the sharing of knowledge even among competitors, Apelian says ACRC began with and fundamentally remains simply an idea, one which the industry rallies around and embraces.

“It’s been a very successful experiment over the last three decades,” he said. “It’s a platform where people come together to learn from one another for the benefit of the industry, a rising tide that raises all the sailboats and causes everybody to win.

“The consortium really is holistic, not just a transactional consortium where you give us money and you get some data at the end of the year,” he continued. “It’s about how can the university and how can this consortium help the industry to be better and to advance not just people and knowledge, but also management and human resources issues.