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Material wealth

The Materials KTN connects UK business with academia to translate innovation into wealth creation

?Around 70% of all product innovation is enabled by developments in materials technology. Couple this with the strong UK capability in product design and the resulting connection is a powerful mechanism for increased innovation. This is why the support of the Materials KTN is so vital to UK industry.?

Dr Robert Quarshie, Director of the Materials KTN

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 polymer composites in racing cars to reduce weight, and the use of advanced high-strength steels and aluminium in family cars to reduce emissions and lower fuel bills.

The UK has developed new ways of designing lighterweight and reusable materials for packaging with smart choices of materials. Their increasing use 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 innovations in materials continue to translate into wealth creation by UK businesses. Climate change, cleaner energy sources, waste reuse and recycling are all at the forefront of most nations? strategic plans. These present many opportunities for materials knowledge to be integrated with sustainable design concepts to meet the 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.

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, all require the early engagement of the materials industry. 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.

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.

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.

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 has about 9,000 members from across a wide range of industry sectors and academic specialism. The KTN has brought together under one umbrella materials-related knowledge networks covering a wide range of materials, such as polymers, advanced composites, ceramics, technical textiles, natural materials and metals. It also covers materials-related technologies, such as rapid manufacturing, near net shape and powder processing, surface engineering and smart materials and structures.

The KTN has wide coverage of sustainable materials for applications in transport, packaging and energy generation, storage and supply. In partnership with key design organisations, the Materials KTN has developed comprehensive support for product designers to learn more about materials. The result so far is an active interaction with more than 1,200 individual product designers. Dr Quarshie is convinced that the creative use of advanced materials by product designers, manufacturing engineers and technologists is the key to innovations in fields ranging from low-carbon developments to healthcare.

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Added the 05 October 2009 in category Innovation UK Vol5-2

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