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Productive Partnerships


One of Ames Laboratory’s missions is to transfer technologies to the private sector and to other federal agencies.  The Ames Laboratory has a long tradition of moving technologies into the economy and in working with partners to help solve materials issues.  Ames Lab does this by licensing intellectual property developed with DOE funds, educating tomorrow’s scientific workforce, publishing research findings, and entering into research or technical assistance agreements.
Research agreements with non-DOE entities advance or tailor Ames Lab-developed technologies, or create new materials with specific properties. All work for non-DOE organizations must meet the missions of DOE and the Ames Laboratory, must not compete with U.S. private industry, must be fully funded, and is performed on a best effort basis.  
Read on for several industrial partners’ perspectives on the benefits of the unique expertise available at the Ames Laboratory.


What are the nation’s most critical manufacturing challenges?

Joel Rieken, co-founder, Iowa Powder Atomization Technologies: When we look to the future, whether it’s in the aerospace, automotive, military or energy sectors, everything is moving toward advanced materials. In many cases, those will be advanced metals.

Andy Heidloff, co-founder, Iowa Powder Atomization Technologies: We’ll need to make these metals with two things in mind. They’ll need higher performance, and we’ll need to do that more economically.

Jason Goldsmith, materials research scientist, Greenleaf: Industry is always striving for the competitive edge, and that means in price, but also in performance and quality. That’s true for cutting tools and fine ceramic products like those made by Greenleaf. Demands for finish machined goods are rising along with globally competitive operating and energy costs. One way to counter this is to increase productivity using the same given equipment and resources. Often the limitation of machining is with the tools. The ability to operate faster or cut deeper results in more components produced per given time using the same resources. With a better performing tool, this output demand can be satisfied in the long term.

Heidloff: And many, many tools or components that are needed for advanced manufacturing are made from metals. Metals processing is so important for improving materials, whether that means making them work at higher temperatures or for longer durations.

George Byers, vice president for government and community relations, Rare Element Resources Inc.: And part of the challenge of making better materials is convincing policy makers of the fast-growing needs in manufacturing that materials science can help address, and that the regrowth of the United States’ intellectual infrastructure is too slow to catch up to other countries. We need policy makers to act to encourage materials research at universities, national laboratories and corporations that already have the capabilities to do this work.

So, how does materials research at Ames Laboratory help address these challenges?

Jon Snodgrass, president and chief operating officer, Etrema Products Inc.: In the case of rebuilding certain key areas of materials research, the people and experience at Ames Lab will help solve that challenge. Scientists at Ames Laboratory have decades of experience in a vast array of areas. We like to say that Ames Lab materials scientists have forgotten more about materials science than most people would ever hope to know!

Rieken: And, in particular, the areas of rare earths and powder metallurgy are incredibly important to the future of American manufacturing. Rare earths are required for so many electronics and green products, and powder metallurgy can be used to reduce waste and improve importance in aerospace components, among others. Both of those fields are Ames Laboratory’s strong suits.

Ames Lab is a multifaceted lab, so you can get a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to solving materials challenges. If you have a materials problem for a part you’re making, you can come to Ames Laboratory and you’ll not only come up with an alloy to solve that problem, but you can also come up with a process to make that alloy and a process to make the part. The scientists can help put together the entire “supply chain” to help meet your overall goals.
Heidloff: From idea to part to everything in between, Ames Lab has the capabilities. And that’s pretty unique.

Goldsmith: In our case at Greenleaf, innovative materials research concepts and developments by Ames Laboratory scientists advanced our understanding of fundamental issues with cutting tools in aerospace applications. This, in turn, led to successful developments in high-temperature, metal-alloy machining.

Eric Summers: vice president and chief materials engineer, Etrema Products Inc: At Etrema, we feel fortunate that we’re only across town from Ames Laboratory so we can really take advantage of all it has to offer: skill sets, people, and equipment. Ames Lab has researchers who have so much experience, and Ames Lab’s equipment is on the scale that it’s large enough to get meaningful work done and at a price that’s accessible for small businesses. You don’t see a lot of other facilities like Ames Lab.

Snodgrass: I don’t think we’ve ever come across a materials research challenge that Ames Lab hasn’t been able to do. If we need to process a material for experimentation, there’s a pretty good shot someone at Ames Lab has done it before or is willing to try to figure out how to do it.

Rieken: It’s no secret that industry is driven by revenue and profit, and that’s something Ames Laboratory takes very seriously. Ames Lab scientists know they have to show the clear cost benefit of the research when collaborating with business partners. And Ames Lab scientists excel at that, doing advanced metal research and applying that research to the marketplace through licensing patents. And Ames Lab doesn’t just hand over a patent, it also has the capability to actually teach industry collaborators, students and other scientists how to use the patented technology.


How do you think Ames Laboratory can help train the next generation of
materials scientists and advanced manufacturing workers?

Heidloff: Finding trained metals processing engineers and scientists is a real problem, from what we hear from our industrial collaborators, and what’s advantageous about Ames Laboratory is that it’s colocated with Iowa State University so there’s a steady supply of potential workforce. Those students can be trained at Ames Lab in cutting-edge materials science and technologies and then be placed in industry to help solve the expertise gap.

Rieken: Ames Laboratory, with its partnership with ISU, is a great place to “seed” technology in students, our potential workforce, so they can see the potential of advanced research and technology. And they may just be encouraged enough to even start their own technology companies. That’s where Andy and I got our start with IPAT. We saw the work being done at Ames Lab and decided to take it a step further ourselves. Since Ames Laboratory’s work is scalable, we could turn it into a business.

Ames Lab already helps train many materials science engineers, and it’s ready to take on a bigger role, where it both develops new technology – like advances in metal injection molding with metal powders, for example – and trains student engineers in the skills it takes to further improve designs and processes, and trains technicians to run the equipment.

Summers: Ames Lab already has great, experienced technicians and there’s a lot of hands-on knowledge there that can be shared with students.

Snodgrass: And it’s hard to find qualified technicians. It’s highly skilled work, and Ames Lab is in a unique position to give the next generation of technicians experience working in their labs, since Ames Lab has such a wide range of equipment and projects.

Byers: I agree. Our company and others can really benefit from the research talent being developed at Ames Laboratory. We’ll need people to meet our research needs at our mine sites and metallurgy plant.


What other unique capabilities come to mind when you think of Ames Laboratory?

Goldsmith: I think of Ames Laboratory’s understanding of manufacturing needs and their innovative materials solutions to problems. Greenleaf’s cutting tool material properties have to meet high demands since the high-temperature wear properties and chemical resistance is more demanding than other components. And Ames Lab is able to help us solve those challenging materials problems that lead to better machining performance, saving both time and energy.

Heidloff:  Ames Lab is unique because of the large number of different capabilities they have right here. They’re rolling, extruding, casting and forming. It’s all the equipment that’s necessary to make metal-based parts. I don’t know of many other labs that have the suite of technologies and facilities for advanced metals processing, from milling all the way to powder metal processing. And what’s better is that Ames Lab actually has commercially viable-scale manufacturing equipment that you can use to scale up new processes and technologies.

Rieken: Theoretical solutions to materials processing problems may be found in many places, but Ames Laboratory is one of the few labs that can actually come up with a materials-science solution and test it and help a business put it into practice. All the equipment at Ames Lab is built to be scalable. So, for example, if Ames Lab helps you solve a powder-metallurgy problem, you can extrapolate that easily to the commercial scale.

Byers: What comes to mind for me is that Ames Lab has a high level of understanding of the capabilities of rare-earth materials and a real awareness of the exponential growth in the application of rare earths into technologies, from use in agriculture, to stealth technology and magnetic refrigeration.

Rieken: In addition to rare earths, Ames Lab has really unique expertise in powder-metal processing. IPAT is given a lot of credit for developing our titanium powder atomizer, but the nuts and bolts of the atomizer were really designed at Ames Laboratory. So, that’s the technology we’re bringing to industry. And if we have a problem with our atomizer, Ames Laboratory would be the first place we would come for help because of Ames Lab scientists’ expertise, experience and knowledge.

~ by Breehan Gerleman Lucchesi

Image Joel Rieken (left) and Andy Heidloff are cofounders of Iowa Powder Atomization Technologies, a startup company that uses gas atomization technology developed at Ames Laboratory to make titanium powder with processes that will significantly reduce the cost to manufacturers. Rieken and Heidloff earned Ph.D.s in materials science and engineering from Iowa State University and are postdoctoral researchers at Ames Laboratory.
Jason Goldsmith is a materials research scientist at Greenleaf, a leading developer of cutting tool technology. Greenleaf worked with Ames Laboratory on improved materials for cutting tools. Image
Image George Byers is vice president for government and community relations for Rare Element Resources Inc., which is exploring rare-earth deposits in its Bear Lodge Project in northeast Wyoming.
Jon Snodgrass (left) is president and chief operating officer at Etrema Products Inc, and Eric Summers is vice president and chief materials engineer at Etrema Products Inc. Etrema makes Terfenol-D, a product based on processing technology developed at Ames Laboratory. Image