A Clemson University assistant professor won an award that recognizes the nation’s outstanding manufacturing engineer who is 35 years old or younger and who has made exceptional contributions and accomplishments in the manufacturing industry.

Srikanth Pilla, assistant professor of automotive engineering, won the 2016 Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award from SME, a nonprofit student and professional organization that was founded in 1932 for advancing and educating the manufacturing industry.

Srikanth Pilla works in his lab.

Srikanth Pilla works in his lab.

“To be honored by the scientific community is very exciting and very interesting,” Pilla said. “While manufacturing innovations happen in the U.S., the actual production is happening outside. One of my goals is to bring that back to the country with low-cost manufacturing.”

Pilla’s expertise is in lightweight materials and manufacturing, specifically innovating advanced and functional composites and their manufacturing, cost-effectively.

“My work focuses on innovating new materials, fiber architectures and manufacturing processes and translating their application into advanced engineering sectors, including automotive, aerospace, energy, defense, space, etc.,” Pilla said.

“I purposefully focus on developing cost-effective and efficient yet sustainable technologies that benefit the four key sectors in human habitat, i.e. education, industry, society and environment,” Pilla said. “My philosophy is simple, anything I develop has to benefit them.”

“The manufacturing piece of my research is critical in taking me closer to the industry,” Pilla said. “It involves both experimental and simulation studies.”

Earlier this year, Pilla’s lab received $1.625 million gift from CoreTech Systems Co. to support his research and educational activities in composites manufacturing process simulation specifically using its software, Moldex3D.

Pilla’s award is the latest in a string of honors for the Department of Automotive Engineering. The department’s faculty is part of the College of Engineering and Science and provides the brainpower behind the research and academic programs at the Clemson University-International Center for Automotive Research in Greenville.

Zoran Filipi, the chairman of the department, said Clemson is becoming the go-to place for automotive engineering research and education not just in the Southeast, but across the nation.

“It’s a great team effort, and the faculty in the Department of Automotive Engineering is a key player,” he said. “Congratulations to Srikanth. His SME award is the latest affirmation that some of the best engineers and scientists in the world are here at Clemson.

Charles Lu, H.E. Katterjohn Professor at the University of Kentucky, helped nominate Pilla for the award, calling him an outstanding leader and educator.

“At such a young age, Dr. Pilla is already an established scholar and leader in the field of manufacturing engineering,” Lu wrote in a nomination letter. “He has made numerous technical breakthroughs in the manufacturing of polymers and composites, which have far-reaching impacts to the industry.

“He is a proliferate author. All his published work are at the highest quality and have been highly cited. His leadership is broad and significant. Dr. Pilla well deserves the SME Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award.”

Faculty members who are based at CU-ICAR or are closely aligned announced more than $7.2 million in research grants in September alone. Pilla is the principal investigator on the largest, a $5.81 million research project aimed at developing an ultra-lightweight vehicle door.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering and Science, congratulated Pilla on his SME award and said that the award underscores Clemson’s growing influence in manufacturing.

“Pilla is doing cutting-edge research in composites and this award is a testimony of his successful innovations,” he said. “He and his colleagues are helping the state to enhance its already strong automotive industry. This is a great time to be a Tiger.”

Pilla received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee with postdoctoral training at Stanford University and worked at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery at UW-Madison for 3 years before taking the job at Clemson in 2013.

Among Pilla’s accomplishments are:

  • Developing a unique methodology to integrate thermoforming and cold stamping with injection molding for manufacturing high-strength continuous carbon fiber composites
  • Innovating a supercritical fluid-assisted, energy-efficient technology for manufacturing lightweight structural foams and thermally sensitive biopolymers and renewable composites
  • Initiating low-temperature, energy-efficient manufacturing of thermoelectric materials and many more.

Shaoqin “Sarah” Gong, a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, also helped nominate Pilla, calling him “outstanding young researcher,” who she has known as an advisee and colleague for nine years.

“His past and current research has tremendously influenced science and technology, specifically the manufacturing sector, which needs a new haul for making affordable products,” she wrote.

Congratulations on the award also came from Tanju Karanfil, associate dean for research and graduate studies at Clemson.

“Srikanth’s work is helping shine a light on the strong research and graduate programs in the Department of Automotive Engineering,” he said. “Clemson is fortunate to have him.”

During his career, Pilla published over 70 peer-reviewed research papers, is an author of 8 book chapters, edited the world’s leading handbook in bioplastics and biocomposites and three Society of Automotive Engineers-Progress in Technology Series books.