UMaine research facility saving lives and creating jobs

Published: Jul. 7, 2020 at 4:22 PM EDT
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The University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center is one of the top research facilities in its field across the nation, if not the world.

The work they're doing has not only benefited the U.S. military, it's been an economic driver here in the state.

"I was in my office, and I got a call one day," said Habib Dagher, Director of the Composites Center. "Someone from the Army in Afghanistan that said thank you very much. You've just saved a number of lives. You don't get too many calls like this every day."

A decade in the making, the work has paid off in the form of the Modular Ballistic Protection Systems.

"These ballistic panels turn the tent into a large walking helmet," said Dagher. "That's what we've developed for the U.S. Army."

They've also developed relationships with two Brewer businesses.

"Protection systems for base camps called the expeditionary protection system," said Compotech President and CEO Paul Melrose. "It's a commercial version of what UMaine developed which is the Modular Ballistic Protection System. We also make lightweight portable shelters as well. All of these are military products for the Department of Defense."

Paul Melrose got his Masters from UMaine in 2004 and managed the lab.

"We really struggled with that to find the right match, and then that inspired me to start my own company, Compotech, and we started commercializing some of the technology," he said. "Eventually, we were able to win and get some competitive contracts to be able to produce the ballistic protection systems commercially."

"We build bridge systems," said Ken Sweeney, President and CEO of Advanced Infrastructure Technologies.

The company has two of those systems born at the center - arches made famous with the Bridge in a Backpack program, and 3D printed girders.

Both are going in across the nation, from Rhode Island to Seattle, Washington.

Even one going into Hampden later this year.

"The university isn't short on ideas," he said. "Many companies that are our competitors spend quite a bit of money to have a research and development branch or division to keep them on the leading edge, to keep them innovative. What we have with the university is innovation right here in Maine."

"The goal is to save lives at the end of the day, educate students, and create jobs," said Dagher.