Dr Robert Quarshie, looks at the latest advanced materials strategy by the Technology Strategy Board and its own innovative initiatives are helping to connect the innovation process.
The UK is the home for a number of world-class companies whose success depends on their development and use of advanced materials. Just as well the UK is recognised for its world-class understanding of materials and when this is combined with the country?s excellent design capability, these world-class companies would agree that the UK is the best place to do business in advanced materials. Materials technologies underpin manufacturing and contribute to innovation in automotive, aerospace, power generation, construction, security, healthcare, electronics, consumer goods and retail.
Examples of advancement in materials technology include the use of advanced composites in aircraft and racing cars to reduce weight, reduce emissions and lower fuel bills. The UK has developed new ways of designing lighter-weight power modules through smart choices of materials. The increasing use of smart materials for healthcare applications and by the fashion industry is proving to be a testimony of the work of the Materials KTN in combining smart materials technology with technical textiles and engaging widely with product designers.
A major challenge for the UK is to ensure that the ongoing investment in materials science and technology continues to translate into innovation and wealth creation by UK businesses. Making choices between different technologies is both challenging and complex. The Technology Strategy Board recently launched its Advanced Materials Strategy, at Innovate ?08, to help UK plc decide which priority areas to invest in over the next three years or so.
In the strategy?s Foreword, Iain Gray, chief executive of the Technology Strategy Board, welcomes its technologyinspired approach, achieved through priority challenge areas, and its emphasis on the development of high valueadded products and processes, which will lead to wealth creation by exploiting market sectors where the UK has recognised strengths. According to Dr Alan Hooper, lead technologist for advanced materials, ?The Advanced Materials Strategy complements the Technology Strategy Board?s High-Value Manufacturing Strategy and will provide the foundations for its investment in advanced materials from 2008 to 2011, working in partnership with key players in innovative materials businesses.?
The Advanced Materials Strategy considers the technology and application areas in which a focus of industrial collaboration, catalysed by public funding, could accelerate significant returns for the UK within a five to seven-year timeframe. Initial areas of direct relevance are materials for energy generation, supply and use, sustainable transport, construction, packaging and textiles. It also includes the development of materials for high-value markets such as healthcare, the creative industries and security and defence.
Climate change, energy sources, waste reuse and recycling are all at the forefront of most nations? strategic plans ? and increasingly of consumers? minds. Regulation and taxation, as well as public procurement initiatives, are also contributing to this drive for sustainable development innovation. There are clearly opportunities for materials knowledge to be integrated with sustainable design concepts to meet this growing demand. Materials advances will be at the heart of solutions enabling, for example, the effective end-of-life deconstruction of structures and the recycling and reuse of product waste.
Additionally, the Materials KTN is also on the look out for emerging technologies, such as improved nanoscale technologies and emerging application areas such as space, where the sector is becoming a growing success for the UK. The total turnover in 2006/7 was £5.8 billion, continuing a trend of steady growth shown in previous years (2008 Report by the British National Space Centre). Materials for space applications have to endure the harsh environment of vacuum, day and night thermal cycling of between -25ºC to 125ºC, vibration, monatomic oxygen attack, radiation, debris impacts and other severe environmental conditions. A whole range of modern technologies such as telecommunications, navigation, monitoring global climate change and the internet depend on materials that can endure such conditions. Few people realise the essential role developments for space applications plays in all of our daily lives. For example, people, too often, take for granted the satellite technology that helps to provide many of the services on which modern lives rely.
Space is a high cost but high-value economic activity, which relies on international co-operation. That is why the UK and other EU member states target the majority of their space spending through the European Space Agency (ESA) ? an organisation of which the UK was a founding member. The Materials Knowledge Transfer Network was proud to welcome the ESA to the KTN?s annual meeting last year. Presenters at the meeting told of the importance of high-temperature materials, smart materials, optical and electronic materials and technical textiles to the European space agenda. Exciting materials developments are being advanced in the UK to produce the next stage of technological breakthroughs such as the newly proposed re-entry module, the development of which would allow two-hour flights from Europe to Australia.
CONNECTING WITH DESIGN
Product design and material innovation activities based in the UK are both seen as world class, but for many years these communities have seldom found an effective basis for interaction. Such a situation is not unique and it can be argued that the achievements of the Materials KTN, through its Materials and Design Exchange activities are now seen as best practice both within the UK, Europe and in the broader international sense. According to Dr Bernie Rickinson, who looks after MADE within the KTN, ?within the design community, the selection of materials not only provides functionality of purpose, but critically contributes to the differentiation of one design to another. Notwithstanding this, the design community communicates in a language and with needs which traditional material providers find difficult to understand.?
Dr Rickinson went on to confirm, ?The Materials and Design Exchange (MADE) effectively provided a revolution to the understanding of needs between both communities and this engagement process has developed information exchange initiatives which would not have emerged without this group.? The product design community with its close links to retail and manufacturing business has the ability to articulate societal need. This powerful understanding can be quickly communicated directly to materials R&D to enable a more rapid and effective take up of materials innovation. Similarly, the knowledge of societal preference can define short-term winners for business growth. The ability therefore to capture design plus materials innovation within one market has enormous potential for inward investment and export trade.
SKILLS AND ATTITUDES
Innovation goes much further than supporting and strengthening scientific research and development, a fact demonstrated by the activities of the Materials KTN. Through its initiatives, designed to help accelerate the rate of industrial innovation, the KTN is also helping to equip young people with many vital skills and attitudes for innovation, including problem-solving, curiosity, interrogation skills and multi-disciplinary teamwork. The KTN has shown, on many occasions, that when multidisciplinary teams from across materials science, technology, design and the arts tackle a problem together, the solutions they come up with are very different to those that emerge from groups of experts in the same field.
Perhaps, with the help of the Materials KTN, the next step-change product such as the iPod, a creation that combined the talents of information technologists, scientists, designers and entertainment industry specialists, is just round the corner. The Materials KTN is committed to building on its successes in connecting UK business and academia and helping to catalyse their efforts to accelerate innovation with materials.
The Materials KTN is an overarching network of networks in materials, set up to bring together the views of all in business, design, research and technology organisations, trade associations, the financial market, academia and others in the value network across the materials community. The KTN provides a range of activities and initiatives to enable the exchange of knowledge and the stimulation of business innovation.
Added the 26 August 2009 in category Innovation UK Vol5-1