Supporting and Expanding the Advanced Composites Manufacturing Ecosystem

The University of Tennessee’s Uday Vaidya is a researcher, mentor, and director who serves as the Governor’s Chair in Advanced Composites Manufacturing, the Director of the Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility (FCMF), and the Chief Technology Officer at the Institute for Advanced Composites and Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI).

Throughout his illustrious career, Uday’s work has greatly contributed to research and development of engineered polymers, fibers, and composites. He is an expert on the manufacturing and use of fiber reinforced thermoplastic composites for a range of applications, including defense, transportation, and industry. In 2016, he was named SPE’s Composites Person of the Year.

Originally from South India, Uday came to the United States in 1988 to pursue his PhD in mechanical engineering at Auburn University. Though his research and career interests have evolved over time, Uday revealed that the central theme of his work has always been composites and using advanced materials for value and innovation.

Dr. Uday Vaidya

“At the end of the day, the core of what you do is the technology that drives your passion,” remarked Uday. “Over the years, I found the right space in advanced composites as it applies to manufacturing. Every day is like a new day, continuously innovating and creating new applications that didn’t exist before. The diversity of the overall technology is what is exciting to me.”

Prior to arriving in Knoxville, Uday taught at Tuskegee University, North Dakota State University, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). At UAB, Uday served as the Department Chair for Materials Science and Engineering and the Center Director for the Materials Processing and Applications Development Center.

“Over the past two decades, I have kept a good balance in both applied and traditional research,” said Uday. “I kept my research grounded in basic science, but a lot of the excitement was in the real-world applications of my research.”

This balancing technique has come in handy in helping him move between his many roles. In his Governor’s Chair position, Uday serves as a bridge in his area of expertise between ORNL, the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility, the University, and other entities to facilitate joint innovations that benefit the entire manufacturing ecosystem.

Dr. Vaidya with composite materials at FCMF. Photo courtesy of Tickle College of Engineering.

Students participate in a Pathways to Employment workshop at the FCMF.

Students participate in a Pathways to Employment workshop at the FCMF.

When Uday arrived at UT in 2015, there was very limited composite manufacturing activity at the FCMF. He has spent the past few years revamping the entire program to involve the greater Tennessee manufacturing community and serve as a continuous place for students to learn, engage, and collaborate.

At IACMI, Uday described himself as just one piece of the puzzle who helps make connections, contribute technology, bring in high-value projects to the institute, and shape the future direction of the organization. “As a founding member of IACMI, UTRF plays a very central role in helping bring in research opportunities to the organization,” remarked Uday.

“Uday is a wonderful asset to the manufacturing community and beyond,” said UTRF Licensing Associate Andreana Leskovjan. “UTRF is proud to support visionaries like Uday whose work and dedicated mentorship has long-lasting impact for the field of advanced composites. He’s also fun to work with on his many technologies!”

Announcement ceremony of  research partnership between the University of Tennessee and Volkswagen  on January 17, 2020. Photo courtesy of the University of Tennessee System.

In addition to his existing responsibilities, Uday will also help lead some of the research and development efforts at Volkswagen’s new Innovation Hub, located in Knoxville and the first of its kind in North America. “With this new hub,” Uday stated, “Volkwagen is becoming closely aligned with UT and ORNL and developing opportunities in the region.”

“The Tennessee manufacturing ecosystem is well established and supportive of missions to bring about positive outcomes for the community,” he continued. “Ecosystems like this must help and encourage researcher and stakeholder missions. UT fosters the environment we need, while being so close to ORNL and the greater Oak Ridge community makes a huge difference. For joint appointments like mine, both organizations have been phenomenal in their support. I am very grateful for that.”