Targeting the needs of industry creates opportunities for emerging engineers, and Saeed Farahani is one of them.

The motivated grad student relocated to Greenville from Tehran Polytechnic in Iran so that he could work under Pilla as a Ph.D. student at CU-ICAR. Together, they developed the hybrid single-shot manufacturing technology.

“My academic background is in metal forming, but my experience is mostly on composites and plastic tool design. So, with this subject, I can combine these two together,” Farahani says.

Farahani secured his doctorate in automotive engineering under Pilla’s mentorship, and he is now continuing this work as a postdoctoral researcher at the Clemson Composites Center to further refine a “concept design tool” as well as “digital twin” technology, both of which are taking composites research to the next level.

By using artificial intelligence to refine the manufacturing process, researchers and industry leaders are able to learn about and refine the machine’s capabilities without the expense of costly experiments. Instead, they do this through physics-based models that help the machine understand its limitations, the researchers explain.

Next steps coming out of the Clemson Composites Center are for researchers to continue testing the new hybrid single-shot technology and other innovations like it.

The end goal is simple, even if the technology is not: making real components that industry can use.

Srikanth the boy

Growing up in India, young Srikanth would be the first in his immediate family to attend college. But he had an extended family that included several mathematicians. He recalls knowing from an early age that his mindset was less mathematical and more engineering oriented.

“I was in fourth or fifth grade, and I remember our TV was broken. My dad called a technician to come and fix it, but when he arrived, my parents weren’t home,” Pilla recalls. “He opened the back side of it and pressed a small button, and our television started working. He said the cost was $10. In the 1980s, that was a lot of money in India.”

He didn’t have the money to pay him on hand, so the technician turned the TV back off and said he would come back later if his parents still wanted it fixed.

“Once he went away, I took a screwdriver and opened up everything,” Pilla recalls. “I stood the same way he did, in the exact same position. I know he did something. I thought, ‘There was some button that had to be pressable.’ And then it clicked. I figured it out, turned on the television and it started again.”

When his parents came home from work, they asked how much the repair was going to be.

“I said, ‘zero dollars.’” He turned the TV on, and the public-access government programming they were accustomed to watching appeared on the screen. The television was in working order. Says Pilla, grinning at the memory: “That was the first thing I fixed in my home.”

Decades later, he still embraces the ideas of innate curiosity and bold work ethic in his engineering students, saying he’s more excited to promote a young researcher’s accomplishments than he is to announce a million-dollar grant.

“I always wanted to be in academia because working with students and developing students to create new technology is my passion,” Pilla says. “That’s what’s exciting. If someone offers a million-dollar research award, then I am happy, but if they offer my student a job, then I am excited, and excitement is a bigger emotion than happiness. Students do the real work, and working with them has been a big motivation.”

He recalls one young undergrad who started out with him as a volunteer researcher just out of high school and who then went on to spend four years in his lab, ultimately publishing with Pilla on more than one occasion.

“The kind of experience he got in my lab impacted him positively,” Pilla recalls. “It made his career path. When he left, he called me and said, ‘Dr. Pilla, I didn’t know where to go, what to do four years ago, but your lab helped me see the next 30 to 40 years in composites and plastics.’

“He’s 21 or 22 years old, and he’s going to spend his life doing something that he learned in my lab.”