ERDC partnership with University of Maine delivers innovative military engineering technology

Published May 18, 2021
Shown is University of Maine’s full-scale structural testing of a composite material bridge girder system used for rapid construction of lightweight bridge structures.

Shown is University of Maine’s full-scale structural testing of a composite material bridge girder system used for rapid construction of lightweight bridge structures.

For researchers at the U.S. Army Research and Development Center (ERDC), long-term strategic partnerships with industry and academia are essential in executing ERDC’s mission in support of Army modernization and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works, as well as the needs of other sponsors and stakeholders.

One of those longstanding partnerships is with the University of Maine (UMaine), which has lasted for more than a decade as part of ERDC’s military engineering research and development area. The first official research agreement and contract began in 2012 with the University's Advanced Structures and Composites Center (ASCC), which provides research, education and economic development encompassing material sciences, manufacturing and engineering of composites and structures. 

“Our longstanding partnership with the ERDC has enabled numerous student successes and supported the development of many exciting new technologies, ranging from blast-resistant structures to new materials and methods for bridge construction,” said Dr. Bill Davids, department chair of civil and environmental engineering at UMaine. “A critical element has been the active engagement of ERDC engineers and scientists with the UMaine Advanced Structures and Composites Center and the encouragement from ERDC to push boundaries and take on big challenges.”

“They have warmly welcomed our graduate students to their labs, providing the students with opportunities to use advanced instrumentation and work with some leading experts,” added Dr. Eric Landis, a professor at the university. “The relationship has been a win for all involved.” 

Development of novel military engineering technologies, which are of high interest to the Army and Department of Defense, are the current technical focus for collaboration. These technologies include expeditionary force projection systems, such as the bridge-in-a-backpack and the composite bridge girder. 

The bridge-in-a-backpack technology is a rapidly deployable low-logistic bridging, which has been used in more than 20 projects constructed in the U.S. and Caribbean from Maine to Trinidad and Tobago, with potential near-term demonstrations at Army installations. 

The composite bridge girder is a lightweight, low-logistic burden bridging system. Prototype systems will be delivered to the ERDC for full-scale testing later this year.

Other technologies include innovative materials, mechanics and design approaches for force protection and force projection. For example, new composite sandwich panel casts, which are currently awaiting testing for blast/ballistic effects, are expected to double the improvement in ballistic resistance at no cost increase when compared to conventional composites, novel fiber manufacturing and composition and expeditionary construction materials. This new technology will result in updates to the current ERDC wave/wind/vessel and wave/wind/shore modeling capabilities.

“This research work at the University of Maine, which is sponsored by the ERDC, has advanced the field of non-corrosive composite materials for infrastructure applications,” added Dr. Roberto Lopez-Anido, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the university.

This collaboration has involved more than 50 undergraduate students and seven graduate students. Additionally, more than 10 journal articles on these transitioning products have been published, and this work has encouraged joint activities between UMaine and industry partners in the areas of coastal engineering, military bridging and force protection materials.

UMaine engineering graduate student Cody Sheltra is currently collaborating with ERDC on the development and manufacturing of thermoplastic composites with large-scale structural applications.

“The relationship between the ERDC and UMaine has not only allowed me to grow professionally as an engineer in the composites industry, but also to assist in the professional development of numerous undergraduate researchers as they prepare to start their careers themselves,” said Sheltra, who also works at UMaine as a staff engineer.

“The ERDC’s longstanding partnership with UMaine continues to yield innovative technologies to address military engineering challenges in support of Army modernization,” said Dr. Robert Moser, senior scientific technical manager in the ERDC Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory. “Their unique and multi-disciplinary approach at the nexus of materials science, manufacturing science and design continues to provide novel solutions to challenges across an array of military engineering applications.”

Future areas of collaboration will expand on prior force protection and force projection work to develop new capabilities and models for near-shore wave mechanics studies, further prototyping of force protection materials and developing new approaches to understand material behavior under extreme pressures and strain rates to support advancement of weapons effects models.