Wabash, formerly known as Wabash National, is headquartered in Lafayette.

Lafayette-based manufacturer Wabash (NYSE: WNC) has inked a five-year research and development partnership with Purdue University. The company, which produces a variety of trailers, truck bodies and related components, says the goal to accelerate efforts to bring innovative products to market. Chief Strategy Officer Dustin Smith says the partnership will focus on several areas including material science and electric vehicles.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Smith said the partnership is a natural fit.

“As we continued to pursue growing in certain areas around advanced technologies, that’s what really advanced the conversations we had with Purdue that led to the agreement,” said Smith. “The sheer fact that we’re neighbors with one another is not to be underestimated in terms of its impact. We can literally be face to face with their best leadership and their best academics in a matter of 10 minutes.”

Smith says the agreement also fits into Purdue’s goal of growing collaboration with large employers both locally and globally. He said the early conversations led to both entities sharing their strategies, which led to the conclusion that both could benefit from such an agreement.

Wabash says material science is among the main areas of focus for the partnership. Smith says the company continues to put more composite materials into its products instead of the traditional steel or aluminum.

He says composite materials bring numerous benefits, including making products lighter, which allows customers to haul more freight and save fuel, as well as creating a longer life span and thermal efficiency for the products.

“As we partner Purdue, we’re looking at certain technologies clearly around composite materials, material science, understanding how those composites perform on a highway in a heavy, high-duty cycle environment,” said Smith. “Purdue’s been doing a lot of research in that same arena. We have a lot of on-the-road expertise and combining those two is a big advantage.”

Smith says the electric vehicle space is another major focus for the partners.

“Purdue’s done an incredible amount of research in this area. We have access to the biggest customers in the world, so there’s really a great opportunity for us to bring even potential customers into these conversations, to partner with a lot of the research Purdue is doing.”

Smith says the partnership could lead to the development of new technologies and new products. He says the partners are currently working to narrow down the specific projects that will be work on through the agreement.