A new lab will be launched to study how the latest artificial intelligence tools and technologies can boost advanced manufacturing in northern New England with a $6 million award from the National Science Foundation to the University of Maine.

UMaine will collaborate with the University of New Hampshire, the University of Vermont, Southern Maine Community College, Dartmouth College and Vermont College of Technology to create the Northeastern Integrated Intelligent Manufacturing Laboratory (NIIM), funded by EPSCoR Collaboration Track II Award for Research Infrastructure Improvement.

The lab, based in UMaine, will be used to explore new technologies to increase advanced manufacturing efficiency, scalability, capacity, and safety by integrating artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D metal printing.

The research team behind the lab will explore the effectiveness of various AI technologies for advanced manufacturing, including interpretable machine learning models, physics-guided learning and multi-task learning, and unsupervised field adaptation. Together with industry partners, the researchers plan to develop new AI models for advanced manufacturing that are more interpretable and adaptable, AI-guided design for additive metal manufacturing that reduces unnecessary trial and error, computer numerical control machines for subtractive manufacturing and industrial robots to support cellular manufacturing.

Through these studies, the lab and its scientists aim to help Northern New England manufacturers develop their businesses by providing research, education, and workforce development. For example, researchers can devise educational techniques that factory workers can use to teach robots new skills.

“This is an example of the interdisciplinary innovation and partnership that R1 Research University provides,” says UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy. “UMaine has long led advanced research and development in manufacturing that helps impact economic development. This award builds on those efforts to support manufacturing in transition to the future and continues UMaine’s nationally recognized leadership in innovation.”

Yifeng Zhou, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UMaine Libbey, is leading the project along with co-principal investigator Chaofan Chen, UMaine associate professor of computer science. Brett Ellis, UMaine Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology; Si Young Yun, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the United Nations; and Nick Cheney, assistant professor of computer science at UVM.

Other UMaine researchers involved in the project include Liping Yu, associate professor of physics. Vikas Demann, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; John Belding, Director of Advanced Manufacturing Center; Bruce Seige, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Todd Gabe, Professor of Economics; Andrew Crowley Assistant Professor of Regional Economic Development; Rebecca Colanino, Upward Bound Manager; and Matthew Dobby, Aspirations Instructor and Research Instructor at UMaine’s Upward Bound and Assistant Professor of Computer Information Systems appointed at the University of Maine in Augusta.

“The University of Maine’s incredible faculty and students are conducting cutting-edge research and making promising discoveries in a variety of fields,” Senators Susan Collins and Angus King said in a joint statement. This funding will help UMaine continue to build on its groundbreaking achievements that support our economy today and into the future. We welcome this investment that will support Maine’s business, help create good jobs in our state, and strengthen UMaine’s leadership in advanced manufacturing research. “

Zhou says infusing AI into manufacturing can bring a lot of benefits to businesses. “We will actively work with local manufacturers to build prototype test beds to evaluate and deploy our AI-powered technologies.”

Building says Maine industry is very keen to be able to use advanced Industry 4.0 technologies to improve manufacturing productivity. “All of the work that AMC completes with Maine companies includes automation, robotics, multi-axis processing, laser manufacturing, and metal additive manufacturing. Having AI as another tool in the toolbox allows us to cover more of the industry needs in Maine,” he says.

John Murray, Director of Business Development at Progress Engineering, says his company based in Manchester, Maine is “excited about the possibility of working with the University of Maine on using AI software in many well-known applications in the forest products industry here in our state.”

“We congratulate UMaine on receiving this AI development grant,” Murray says. “Progress Engineering envisions this as a significant benefit to the wood products industry as it applies to the development of cost-effective, automated wood grading systems for our small businesses.”

“Yale Cordage needs to ensure the consistently high quality we are known for in every cord we produce,” says Glenn Jameson, director of design and development at Yale Cordage in Saco, Maine. “We would like to make this inspection process even more robust. We believe advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and cameras can help us achieve this goal of adding ground-breaking production and jobs to our growth in Maine.”

NIIM will use research infrastructure, community partnerships, faculty expertise, and other existing investments across participating institutions to support the project, including UMaine Advanced Research Computing, Security, Information Management (ARCSIM). The team at ARCSIM will work with Segee to launch unified supercomputing resources in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

“For this project, UMaine ARCSIM empowers senior research personnel by ensuring adequate access to high-performance computational resources,” says Shane Moikins, Director of ARCSIM and Maine EPSCoR. ARCSIM supports the research computing needs of the undergraduate research community and its collaborators, and is associated with the Coordinating Operational Research Entities (CORE), which are overseen by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School.

To ensure that the lab provides the tools and knowledge relevant to Northern New England’s manufacturing sector priorities, the team will collaborate with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership Programs (MEPs) in the three states, an industry advisory board, industry partners, and the United States. Department of Economic Development at the University Center for Economic Development.

Funding from the award will allow the team to recruit a Postdoctoral Fellow and other graduate and undergraduate professionals and researchers; and purchasing a collaborative robot, 3D metal printing, and other advanced manufacturing materials.

The lab and research it generates will also produce new learning materials for UMaine’s Upward Bound Program, which provides opportunities for low-income high school students that help prepare them for college; The UN Northeast Corridor, which supports students and workers with disabilities in community and technical colleges; and community colleges across the three northern New England states.

Contact: Marcus Wolf, 207.581.3721; marcus.wolf@main.edu