Faculty Directory
Jian Cao

Cardiss Collins Professor of Mechanical Engineering and (by courtesy) Civil and Environmental Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering

Director, Northwestern Initiative for Manufacturing Science and Innovation (NIMSI)


2145 Sheridan Road
Tech A214
Evanston, IL 60208-3109

847-467-1032Email Jian Cao


Cao Research Group


Mechanical Engineering

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Materials Science and Engineering


Theoretical and Applied Mechanics Graduate Program

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Ph.D. Mechanical Engineering, MIT, Cambridge, MA

M.S. Mechanical Engineering, MIT, Cambridge, MA

B.S. Materials Science and Engineering & Automatic Control, Shanghai JiaoTong University, Shanghai, China

Research Interests

Prof. Cao’s major research interests include innovative manufacturing processes and systems, particularly in the areas of deformation-based processes and laser processes. Her work has made fundamental contributions to the characterization of the effects of material structure on forming behavior of metals and woven composites. Her research has integrated analytical and numerical simulation methods, control and sensors, design methodologies to advance manufacturing processes. Prof. Cao’s research group has designed unique manufacturing equipment for microforming, dieless sheet forming, and additive manufacturing. Current research has direct impacts on energy-efficient manufacturing, surface engineering, and distributed manufacturing. Prof. Cao has published over 300 technical articles, including more than 200 journal articles, 10 book chapters, and 15 patents. She has given over 150 invited talks.

Significant Recognition

  • Member, National Academy of Engineering
  • ASME Milton C. Shaw Manufacturing Research Medal – to recognize significant fundamental contributions to the science and technology of manufacturing processes, 2020
  • SME Gold Medal, to recognize outstanding service to the manufacturing engineering profession in technical communications through published literature, technical writings or lectures, 2020
  • Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellow, US Department of Defense, 2019 – most prestigious and competitive single investigator research award by DoD
  • Distinguished Achievement Team Award, DOE EERE Vehicle Technologies Office, 2019 – to recognize outstanding industry-university-government partnerships, with Ford, Dow Chemical and NIST.
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Charles Russ Richards Memorial Award, ASME and Pi Tau Sigma – to recognize outstanding achievement by an individual who graduated in mechanical engineering more than 20 years ago
  • Frederick W. Taylor Research Medal, Society of Manufacturing Engineers
  • Fellow, The International Academy for Production Engineering (CIRP)
  • Fellow, Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME)

Significant Professional Service

  • Member, Board of Directors, mHub, Chicago, May 2016 - present
  • Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Materials Processing Technology -present
  • Editor, ASME Journal of Micro- and Nano-Manufacturing, 2012–2017
  • Chair, STC-F, The International Academy for Production Engineering (CIRP), 2017 - 2019
  • Past President of NAMRI/SME (North American Manufacturing Research Institution of SME)
  • Past Chair of the Manufacturing Engineering Division of ASME
  • Associate Editor, ASME Journal of Applied Mechanics, 2005-2011
  • Associate Editor, ASME Journal of Manufacturing Science and Engineering, 2003-2010
  • Guest editor, ASME Journal of Engineering Materials and Technology, October, 2001

Selected Publications

  1. Mozaffar, M., Liao, S., Lin, H., Ehmann, K. and Cao, J. (2021) “Geometry-Agnostic Data-Driven Thermal Modeling of Additive Manufacturing Processes using Graph Neural Networks”, Additive Manufacturing, 102449, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addma.2021.102449. 
  2. Webster, S., Lin, H., Carter, F., Ehmann, K. and Cao, J. (2021) “Physical Mechanisms in Hybrid Additive Manufacturing: A Process Design Framework”, J. Materials Processing Technology, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmatprotec.2021.117048.
  3. Glerum, J., Bennett, J., Ehmann, K. and Cao, J. (2021) “Mechanical Properties of Hybrid Additively Manufactured Inconel 718 Parts Created via Thermal Control after Secondary Treatment Processes”, J. Materials Processing Technology, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmatprotec.2021.117047.
  4. Moser, N., Leem, D., Ehmann, K and Cao, J (2021) “A High-Fidelity Finite Element Model for Quantifying the Stress Triaxiality and Lode Angle Parameter in Double-Sided Incremental Forming”, J. Materials Processing Technology, Vol. 295, 117152, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmatprotec.2021.117152
  5. Cao, J. and Banu, M. (2020) “Opportunities and Challenges in Metal Forming for Lightweighting: Review and Future Work”, ASME J. Manufacturing Science and Engineering, Vol. 142, 110813, https://doi.org/10.1115/1.4047732.
  6. Liao, S., Zeng, Q., Ehmann, K. and Cao, J. (2020) “Parameter identification and nonparametric calibration of the Tri-pyramid Robot”, IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics, Vol. 25(5), pp. 2309-2317, https://doi.org/10.1109/TMECH.2020.3001021. 
  7. Gorji, M.B., Mozaffar, M., Heidenreich, J. N., Cao, J. and Mohr, D. (2020) “On the potential of Recurrent Neural Networks for modeling path dependent plasticity”, Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids, Vol. 143, 103972, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmps.2020.103972. 
  8. Wolff, S., Wu, H., Parab, N., Zhao, C., Ehmann, K, Sun, T. and Cao, J. (2019) “In-situ high-speed X-ray imaging of piezo-driven directed energy deposition additive manufacturing”, Scientific Reports, 9:962, DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-36678-5.
  9. Mozaffar, M., Paul, A., Al-Bahrani, R., Wolff, S., Choudhary, A., Agrawal, A., Ehmann, K. and Cao, J. (2019) “Data-Driven Prediction of the High-Dimensional Thermal History in Directed Energy Deposition Processes via Recurrent Neural Networks”, Manufacturing Letter, Vol. 18, pp.35-39, https:// doi.org/10.1016/j.mfglet.2018.10.002.
  10. Zhang, W.*, Bostanabad, R.*, Liang, B., Su, X., Zeng, D., Bessa, M.A., Wang, Y., Chen, W., and Cao, J. (2019) “A Numerical Bayesian-Calibrated Characterization Method for Multiscale Prepreg Preforming Simulations with Tension-Shear Coupling”, Composites Science and Technology, Vol. 170, pp. 15-24, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compscitech.2018.11.019
  11. Ndip-Agbor, E. E., Ehmann, K. and Cao, J. (2018) “Automated flexible forming strategy for geometries with multiple features in double-sided incremental forming”, ASME J. of Manufacturing Science and Engineering, Vol. 140(3), 0310041, DOI: 10.1115/1.4038511.
  12. Ren, H., Li, F., Moser, N., Leem, D., Li, T., Ehmann, K. and Cao, J. (2018) “General contact force control algorithm in double-sided incremental forming”, CIRP Annals, Vol. 67(1), pp. 381-384.
  13. Bennett, J.L.*, Wolff, S.J.*, Hyatt, G., Ehmann, K., and J. Cao, (2017) “Thermal effect on clad dimension for laser deposited Inconel 718”, Journal of Manufacturing Processes, Vol. 28(3), pp. 550-557, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmapro.2017.04.024.
  14. Wolff, S. J., Lin, S., Faierson, E. J., Liu, W.K., Wagner, G. L. and Cao, J. (2017) “A framework to link localized cooling and properties of directed energy deposition (DED)-processed Ti-6Al-4V”, Acta Materialia, Vol. 132, pp.106-117, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.actamat.2017.04.027.
  15. Lee, T.Y., Magargee, J., Ng, M.K. and Cao, J. (2017) “Constitutive analysis of electrically-assisted tensile deformation of CP-Ti based on non-uniform thermal expansion, plastic softening and dynamic strain aging”, Int. J. Plasticity, Vol. 94, pp.44-56, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijplas.2017.02.012.


  1. Cao, J. and Kinsey, B., ‘Adaptive Method and Apparatus for Forming Tailor Welded Blank’,U.S. Patent No. 5,941,110, August 24, 1999.
  2. Cao, J., Lee, J.H. and Peshkin, M., ‘Real-time Draw-in Sensors and Methods ofFabrication’, U.S. Patent No. 6,769,280, August 3, 2004.
  3. Cao, J., Swanson, A. and Davis, T. “Microforming Method and Apparatus,” US Patent No 8,408,039 B2, April 2, 2013.
  4. Smith, K. S., Woody, B., Ziegert, J. and Cao, J. ‘Deformation Machining – A Hybrid Process’, US Patent No. 8,545,142, Oct. 1, 2013.
  5. Roth, J. and Cao, J. “Electrical-assisted Double Side Incremental Forming and Processes Thereof”, US Patent No. 8,741,079 B2, June 3, 2014.
  6. Cao, J., Zhou, R. and Ehmann, K “Desktop deformation-based micro surface texturing system”, US Patent No. 8,905,748 B2, December 9, 2014.
  7. Grzina, D. Rajesh, T., Cao, J., Wang, Q., Xia, Z. C., Ling, T.D., Liu, P. “Cutting Tools with Textured Surfaces,” US Patent No. 9,144,845, September 29, 2015.
  8. Malhotra, R. and Cao, J. “System and Method for Accumulative Double Sided Incremental Forming”, US Patent No. 9,168,580, October 27, 2015.
  9. Beltran, M., Cao, J. and Roth, J. “System and Method for Incremental Forming”, US Patent No. 9,221,091 B2, Dec. 29, 2015; US Patent No. 10,913,100, February 9, 2021.
  10. Zeng, Q., Ehmann, K.F. and Cao, J. “Tri-pyramid Robot: a novel 3-DOF translational parallel manipulator”, No. 9,283,671 B2, March 15, 2016; US Patent No. 10,583,552, March 10, 2020.
  11. Xia, Z. C., Cao, J., Wang, Q., Rajesh, T., Grzina, D., Ling, T.D., Liu, P. “Forming Tool having Textured Surfaces”, US Patent No. 9,321,090 B2, April 26, 2016.
  12. Pallav, K., Malhotra, R., Saxena, I. Ehmann, K.F. and Cao, J “Laser Induced Plasma Micromachining (LIPMM)”, US Patent No. 9,455,127 B2, Sept. 27, 2016; US Patent No. 10,692,700, June 23, 2020.
  13. Gao, R.X., Fan, Z. and Cao, J. “Methods and Apparatus for Monitoring Microrolling Processes Using Embedded Sensing”, US Patent No. 9,500,540, November 22, 2016.
  14. Cao, J., Zhou, R. and Ehmann, K “Desktop deformation-based micro surface texturing system”, US Patent No. 9,688,015 B2, June 27, 2017, division of 8,905,748.
  15. Yao, Y.W., Wang, X., Ulmer, M. and Cao, J. “Stress manipulated coating for figure reshape of optical substrates”, US Patent No. 9,864,105 B2, Jan. 9, 2018; Divisional US Patent No. 10,274,644 B2, April 30, 2019.
  16. Cao, J. and Roth, J. “Apparatus for Electrical-Assisted Incremental Forming and Process Thereof”, US Patent No. 9,951,397, April 24, 2018.
  17. Ndip-Agbor, E. E. and Cao, J. “An Automated Toolpath Generation Method for Double Sided Incremental forming of Three Dimensional Freeform Shapes from Sheets”, Patent No. 10,162,329, December 25, 2018.
  18. Zeng, Q., Ehmann, K., Ng, M.K. and Cao, J. “Incremental rotary rolling mill and method’, US Patent No. 11,077,477 B2, August 3, 2021.

In the Classroom

The Internet has made significant impacts on education. Vast information can now be much more easily obtained from the web compared to earlier years. To make the classroom experience unique, Professor Cao integrates recent developments in manufacturing research and development into the classroom, including review of the state-of-the-art new process innovations developed around the world, and invites external speakers from academia and industry to address the class. The integration of mechanics with manufacturing is also a must in her instruction. 

Professional Service

Prof. Cao has been active at the national and international stages. She served as the program director of the Materials Processing and Manufacturing (MPM) program at NSF from 2003 to 2005. During that short two-year period, under her leadership, the World Technology Evaluation Study on Micromanufacturing was conducted and co-sponsored by four government agencies and more than ten NSF programs. She co-initiated the joint-funding between NSF and DOE for her MPM program, which has been continued strongly after her departure. She is one of the main driving forces behind the well-received NSF workshops on CAREER development. Dr. Cao is active in professional societies, served as president of North American Manufacturing Research Institute of Society of Manufacturing Engineers, chair of ASME Manufacturing Engineering Division, chair of Scientific and Technical Committee on Forming of International Academy of Production Engineering (CIRP), and vice-chair of Additive Manufacturing Working group of CIRP.