South Carolina strengthened its position as a fast-rising force in advanced manufacturing as Xin Zhao became the third Clemson University faculty member in four years to win an award recognizing young engineers who contribute to manufacturing.

Zhao, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is receiving the Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award from the Detroit-based professional organization SME.

Xin Zhao, left, works with a student in his lab in the Fluor Daniel Engineering Innovation Building.

Xin Zhao, left, works with a student in his lab in the Fluor Daniel Engineering Innovation Building.

The award recognizes, “manufacturing engineers, age 35 or younger, who have made exceptional contributions and accomplishments in the manufacturing industry,” according to SME.

“Manufacturing in South Carolina is growing,” Zhao said. “Our capability is stronger and stronger. The work by Clemson is recognized by the whole nation. We are moving toward becoming one of the leading states in advanced manufacturing.”

The award comes as Clemson University expands its ability to support South Carolina advanced-manufacturing companies. The growing industries include automotive, aerospace, home appliances, medical devices and tires.

Zhao is a member of the University’s newly formed Center for Advanced Manufacturing, a coalition of 40 faculty members who are poised to help companies meet their research and workforce needs.

His research is helping expand the use of lasers in manufacturing and could lead to self-cleaning windshields, more efficient solar panels and better ways of joining auto parts that are made of dissimilar materials.

The laser in his lab can heat metal to temperatures hotter than the sun’s surface, Zhao said.

He has worked directly with companies, including Honda. Zhao received an award from the National Science Foundation in 2016 to support his research in laser micromachining of dielectrics.

His top areas of expertise are: advanced laser-based manufacturing and materials processing; laser-matter interaction and laser-induced plasma; and dissimilar material joining.

Richard Figliola, acting chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said the award is a high honor from a leading professional society for manufacturing engineers.

“Dr. Zhao is an exceptional scholar and leader,” Figliola said. “The award is well-deserved and underscores the expertise that Clemson engineers bring to bear on South Carolina’s efforts to become the nation’s leading hub for advanced manufacturing.”

The number of manufacturing jobs in the state has grown 19 percent since 2011, according to the state Department of Commerce. Eleven percent of the state’s total employment in 2016 was in the manufacturing industry.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, congratulated Zhao on the award.

“Dr. Zhao is highly accomplished and has made significant contributions in research, leadership and professional services,” Gramopadhye said. “The award is a testament to his hard work and to Clemson’s leadership in advanced manufacturing, a vital piece of the state’s economy.”

Srikanth Pilla won the award in 2016, and Fadi Abu-Farha received it in 2015. Both are on the faculty in the Department of Automotive Engineering.

Zhao joined Clemson after receiving his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Purdue University in 2014. He has published more than 17 journal papers and five conference papers.

Zhao is a reviewer of 19 journals and conferences. He has co-organized symposiums for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Manufacturing Science and Engineering Conference and SME’s North American Manufacturing Research Conference, where he was among the 2016 Young Reviewer Panel awardees.