A native of Turkey, scientist Zafer Gurdal specializes in developing research to optimize the production of composite materials used in building airplanes, such as Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner that’s being produced in North Charleston.
By Chuck Crumbo
Published Oct. 26, 2012
“This is one of the reasons why I’m moving here,” said Gurdal, who was introduced Thursday as the new technical director for USC’s McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research. “This is an area that’s going to be booming in the next 10 years.”
|Scientist Zafer Gurdal will serve as the new technical director of USC’s McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research.|
In the Dreamliner’s case, Gurdal will be interested in developing the technology to automate the manufacturing process so that Boeing can increase production of its Dreamliners, which feature fuselages made of composite materials.
“They have such a huge backlog of planes that something has to be done — it’s ridiculous,” Gurdal said. “I cannot image how Boeing will continue produce 3.5 planes a month” at its North Charleston plant. “They certainly need to improve that number substantially to meet their demands.”
Boeing also produces another version of the 787 at its Everett, Wash., assembly facility. Together, the facilities are producing monthly about 10 planes.
Back in June, the aerospace giant reported a backlog of 843 unfilled orders for the Dreamliner, which sells for about $228 million.
Gurdal, who expects to be on the Columbia campus around the first of January, said he’ll continue to work part time for the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.
Gurdal added that he believes the two schools would benefit and he still has some unfinished work in The Netherlands. “I have 25 Ph.D. students who’ll be graduating in the next two to three years,” he said.
Since 2004, Gurdal has headed an effort at Delft to better align the aerospace program with what students need to succeed, both in academia and industry.
A native of Ankara, Turkey, Gurdal served about 20 years on the faculty of Virginia Tech developing a research program with expertise in designing and optimizing composite materials. He still holds the title of professor emeritus at the Blacksburg, Va., university.
Gurdal said he believes a university should use its knowledge and research to drive economic development.
“If we can create technologies that can be transferred to industrial applications, then you’ve made it,” Gurdal said. “We certainly would like to educate students, we’d like to educate engineers that go to companies, but I think it is rather important that we also push the technology transfer.”
At Delft, professors are measured by how many startup companies they created with their students and how many patents they achieved, as well as the quality of their academic research and teaching, Gurdal said.
“I think that it’s rather important that we do that, otherwise we’ll always be accused of being in our ivory towers and doing research that nothing comes out of it,” he said.
One of the challenges for the McNair Center, Gurdal said, will be attracting investment.
The center was established in 2011 through a $5 million pledge from USC alumna Darla Moore in honor of Ronald McNair, a fellow Lake City native who died in the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.
On Thursday, the university announced that Anita Zucker, chairwoman and CEO of North Charleston-based The InterTech Group, pledged $5 million to the center to support innovation in aerospace education and workforce development.
Zucker’s gift will endow the Zucker Institute for Aerospace Innovation and the McNair Chair, a new professorship in USC’s McNair Center, the university said.
“This is an area that really requires large investments by the state, by private institutions, and by universities,” Gurdal said. “These things don’t happen automatically.”