A new composites lab at Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) is enabling students address real world problems for Maine composite companies that are developing new products or seeking to expand their reach into existing markets. The Composites Engineering Research Laboratory at SMCC’s Brunswick campus teaches students research skills using precision tools that analyze the performance properties of polymer-based materials and composites. Through the lab, students have the opportunity to help Maine’s composites businesses better compete by offering comprehensive materials analysis and engineering services for production.

Just two years ago, the Maine Composites Alliance (MCA) and SMCC formed a new composites technology degree program to better address work force training issues. The Composites Engineering Research Laboratory is an integral part of that program and is equipped with more than a dozen precision analytic instruments that provide training for students and research for companies involved in composites testing. Funded by a three-year Maine Technology Institute grant, and owned and managed by MCA and its industry partners, the $1.25 million lab has already been tapped by a number of Maine-based composite companies that are developing new products or seeking to expand their reach into existing markets. These companies pay fees based on the details of each project and these revenues are intended to help make the lab a self-sustaining operation.

Training students for careers in composites is vital to manufacturers whose growth depends on composite materials. The four-semester program can accommodate 20-25 new students per year; graduates are in such demand that according to the managing director of the MCA, students are hired before they receive their degrees.