November 28, 2017

Purdue Profiles: Jan-Anders Mansson

Jan-Anders Mansson Jan-Anders Mansson, Distinguished Professor of Materials and Chemical Engineering and director of the Composites Manufacturing and Simulation Center at the Indiana Manufacturing Institute. (Purdue University photo/John Underwood) Download image

As a teenager in Sweden, Jan-Anders Mansson quit school to become a toolmaker, working in his parents' manufacturing company, but his interests and questions led him back to education. Now, several decades later, he is in his second year at Purdue researching composites as part of the College of Engineering’s Advanced Composites Manufacturing preeminent team. He is a Distinguished Professor of Materials and Chemical Engineering and director of the Composites Manufacturing and Simulation Center at the Indiana Manufacturing Institute.

What does your research at the CMSC involve?

Composites such as carbon fiber have been something highly oriented toward aerospace, the military and extreme sport equipment. But in the last five or 10 years there has been an increase in interest on how we can make transportation and energy generation more cost-effective through composites. Part of that includes how can we make cars lighter. If they’re lighter, there is less carbon dioxide produced. That is one of the main areas driving automotives today.

My job here looks at how can we manufacture composites in a much lighter way and still be more cost-effective than today’s solutions using metal. It’s not enough to be lighter. You have to be lighter and safe. And this comes down to the manufacturing techniques that we can use. How can we have a fast manufacturing rate of the composite material with high performance? We can’t spend one hour making a car door; we have to spend one minute.

We’re working with Dallara, an Italian company responsible for building Indy racing cars. We want to take some of this chassis technology down to the level of normal cars, autonomous cars or electrical cars. It’s exciting because we are on the forefront of automotives. And as that industry changes, we have to be part of that. Don’t forget Indiana is the second-biggest state in the U.S. in the automotive industry, not to mention we are at the mecca of racing.

Are you surprised by the direction of your career?

It surprises me a lot. I never thought about being in academia. I didn’t even have any family background in academics. My direction in life came though my manufacturing experience and practical insight. If I hadn’t found my experience as a toolmaker when I was 16 and 17 years old, I probably would not have gotten those ideas in my head that became the life route for me.

My parents bought a manufacturing company when I was born so I grew up in that environment of manufacturing of composites. I was practically born on the manufacturing floor. After I got a doctorate in Gothenburg, Sweden, I came back and got more industrial experience at my parents’ company.

I managed to integrate my huge interest in sports into my career. After time at the University of Washington in Seattle, I got offers in Switzerland to build a lab for the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne as a professor and director of polymer and composite technology at the Institute of Materials. I looked at how we can take aerospace technology down and be cost-effective in sports equipment.

Before coming here, I was starting to work more and more with the Olympic committee on new technology and implications on safety and leveling the playing field.

What interested you in bringing your research to Purdue?

First of all, it’s important to realize that Purdue has a fantastic reputation in Europe. I think it’s considered one of the top engineering schools in the United States, so of course that was one of the reasons. Secondly, Purdue was putting together a program with Professor Byron Pipes, who is the team leader, that had exactly the profile I believed in. I said, “This is what is needed right now to take the next step in composites.” And that was a combination of manufacturing and simulation.

When I was asked if I was interested in coming, I had several thoughts. My last thought was at Purdue I can join with both my head and my heart because I believe in what is taking place.

Writer: Brian L. Huchel, 765-494-2084,

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