The Factory

Since the 1950s, a 24,000-square-foot, off-campus research facility, located in the Fort Collins foothills, has endured dozens of renovations; the latest renovation transformed the facility into “The Factory.” Its diverse history has made it one of CSU’s most unique facilities, and its new name offers a glimpse into its inception in 1958.

The most recent renovations were initiated to provide research spaces for two new faculty members, Drs. Kaka Ma and Chris Weinberger, and as part of the development for the University’s newest interdisciplinary program, The School of Advanced Materials Discovery.

An image of the Factory today.

From 2002-2017, the facility was known as the Motorsport Engineering Research Center, or “The MERC,” to the CSU community. The center’s initial goal was to accommodate faculty and students involved in motorsport-related research, design, and development; however, with the economic downturn, the demand for motorsport engineering diminished, so the department diversified the facility in 2014.

Since 2004, the facility has also been home to the Composite Materials, Manufacture, and Structures research lab run by Dr. Donald Radford, and, more recently, the Advanced Materials Processing and Testing Lab, both of which continue to operate today. For many years, the Formula SAE Ram Racing team used the MERC to develop their racecars. Past FSAE president, and now ME alumnus and advisory board member, Adam Grabish, ’15, remembers his experiences there.

“The MERC was my home away from home for three years. FSAE was as much as part of the MERC as the MERC was a part of FSAE. I am the engineer I am today because of my time spent on the team, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.” When Dr. Thomas Bradley joined the department in the fall of 2008, the EcoCAR program also operated at the MERC for a short time, along with other senior design activity from 2004-2014.

Dr. Kaka Ma’s new lab space.

The center also housed an assortment of state-of-the-art computational and advanced manufacturing equipment, and a wireless network that covered the majority of the 10- acre site – optimizing data transfer from racecars to laboratories. In addition to research, the adjoining MERC Annex included a conference and education center allowing for courses and training to take place.

In the 1960s, the 14,000-square-foot site was acquired by CSU, and, until 2002, was used for agricultural engineering research. Extensive renovations that took place during this time included the development of the annex, the building of a Food Extrusion Laboratory, the addition of meeting rooms and offices, the building of a machine shop, and, finally, the introduction of an indoor crop research lab. The AERC moved to the Agricultural Research, Development, and Education Center in 2002.

In 1958, the Silvaire Aircraft Factory built this facility to assemble 80 Luscombe Silvaire aircraft. At the time, this area of Fort Collins was envisioned as a technology park by J.D. Forney, a local businessman, who persuaded the Silvaire Company to locate in Fort Collins. This site was appealing for aircraft development due to its proximity to Christman Field, which allowed completed aircraft to be moved directly to the airport.

The Factory is an ever-changing piece of Fort Collins’ history that has made an impact at each stage of its existence. Its longevity has given it character and importance in the community, and we look forward to what the future holds for this research facility that has provided academic enrichment to engineering students for decades. If you are interested in touring this new space, contact Sona Srinarayana – – for more information.

Process Induced Distortion in Composite Materials

Composite materials often show distortion during processing. Research investigates mechanisms for the generation of these distortions and approaches to reducing the degree of distortion during manufacture. The majority of this research, worldwide, has focused on traditional aerospace style composites manufacture. Current research activities expand this activity to fiber reinforced composites produced by processes that promise to reduce manufacturing costs and increase production volumes. Further, the current activities investigate composite materials which expand the performance envelop of composite materials, specifically investigating residual stresses developed in composites targeted for much higher application temperatures. The reduction of residual stresses during manufacture is a key element in advancing the effectiveness of the composites manufacturing sector.


Professor D.W. Radford

Composite Materials, Manufacture and Structures Laboratory (

U.S. Department of Energy Selects a Multi-Partner Team, Including CSU for Advanced Manufacturing Technology Research and Development

Last year, the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, a prestigious, federally backed program, initiated by the White House’s National Science and Technology Council, selected the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation to conduct manufacturing innovation research and development related to fiber reinforced polymer matrix composites. The IACMI, a wholly owned subsidiary of the University of Tennessee Research Foundation is directing this effort and will work with a variety of organizations and universities across the country to carry out this research. Among those involved is CSU’s Dr. Don Radford, who is conducting wind turbine blade research.

NNMI has a multilayered mission; however, overall, the purpose is to enhance the U.S.’s competitiveness in the field of advanced manufacturing technology processes along with promoting job growth and economic development.

The IACMI team includes states, companies, universities, and national labs. There are five application areas that fall within the scope of IACMI, and shared research, development, and demonstration facilities will support each industry:

  1. Composites manufacturing for the wind turbine blade segment; Colorado: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Colorado State University, Colorado School of Mines, University of Colorado Boulder
  2. Composites manufacturing for the automotive segment; Michigan: Michigan State University
  3. Composites manufacturing for the mobile pressure vessel segment; Ohio: University of Dayton Research Institute
  4. Design, modeling, and simulation; Indiana: Purdue University
  5. Composite materials and process; Tennessee: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, The University of Tennessee, University of Kentucky

The goal of each area is to boost the development of manufacturing of affordable, advanced fiber-reinforced polymer composites. IACMI members will work to develop low-cost, high-rate production, energy-efficient manufacturing, and recycling processes for composites applications. The group of states involved in this project matched the $70 million that was federally funded. The state of Colorado’s contribution was $7 million. In addition, industry and academia have provided about $70 million of in-kind cost share.

Colorado was strategically chosen to carry out wind turbine research because it has more blade facilities than any other state: 22 wind industry manufacturing plants, 29 operating wind farms, and three wind research and workforce development institutions (Reilly). In 2014, wind energy provided 13.6 percent of all of Colorado’s in-state electricity production. The wind industry in Colorado has created between 6,000 and 7,000 jobs as of 2014, which is nearly 10 percent of the nation’s wind industry workforce (Reilly). NREL is the lead in Colorado and supporting partner institutions include CSU, Colorado School of Mines, Colorado University Boulder, and Iowa State University.

More specifically, the goals of Dr. Radford’s wind turbine research include:

  1. Improving the manufacturing quality of structural composite components
  2. Decreasing embodied energy of manufacturing process for blades, towers, nacelles, and nose cones
  3. Reducing the production cycle time of turbine composite components
  4. Enhancing the lifetime reliability of composite parts

Dr. Radford’s team has not been announced yet, however, it will include faculty, research scientists, and graduate students from departments across campus. For more information on IACMI, visit:


Reilly, Susan. “E2@15: WINDS OF CHANGE.” Winds of Change 15th Anniversary Event. Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). The Alliance Center, Denver. 2 July 2015. Lecture.