Manufacturing 2075: The discovery of new materials

Posted on 19 Dec 2017 by Jonny Williamson

At the one-day symposium at Cranfield University, manufacturing thought leaders and technology innovators discussed the possibilities new materials can offer to the future of manufacturing.

Philip Withers spoke about ‘Keeping an eye on advanced materials’.

The speakers at the symposium Manufacturing 2075 were representing Cranfield University, Cranfield Manufacturing, Airbus, Manchester University, European Space Agency, National Composites Centre.

Coming mainly from an academic background, the experts provided insight into the growth of UK industrial output by enabling design and manufacturing enterprises to deliver winning solutions in the application of ‘composites’.

Philip Withers, Professor of Materials and chief scientist at the Henry Royce Institute, spoke about ‘Keeping an eye on advanced materials’.

We all take the terms ‘Stone Age’, ‘Iron Age’, ‘Copper Age’ for granted. But, Withers said, with good reason ages in the past were named after the type of material which determined the peoples’ life most.

The discovery of new materials has always been a game changer; therefore, manufacturers respectively engineers constantly need new forms of matter to create sustainable products the future demands.

To accelerate the development of new materials, the Henry Royce Institute aims to exceed the traditional borders between universities, industry and the Catapult centres in the UK.

Withers said that new manufacturing resources can be created only through new working concepts. Furthermore, inventing new materials is only the first step to make money.

New created materials must be used within manufacturing processes, by incorporating them; this is when the innovation of new materials turns into gold.

Withers explained: “You don’t make money by mining copper but by turning the copper into a mechanical systems, motors and circuits.

“Cranfield is just the start”, he said, ” it is not about making graphene, it is about incorporating graphene into new devices, screens, that go in your mobile and in seals that are working in demanding conditions.

“There is a lot more money being made in material systems than in materials, you double your profit. So, it is about to develop materials systems.”

Research supply chain

Moreover, the Institute develops a well-engineered research supply chain, linking people together and getting academics more confident for working in sectors of industry.

Withers said: “One example is a supply chain for biomedical materials. The aim is to make things quicker. We design the material in computers, find raw materials, fabricate, sample, evaluate the material.

“And, we need to link them together and characterise them, see what we made, and we need to model things to work out what is and what is not possible.”

The supply chain the Royce Institutes creates, consists rather of research products than real products.

Withers: “When we create an implant, we put the powder in a shape, that could be printed by additive manufacturing, and then it gets implanted into the body, where through biocorrosion, the metal after a certain time disappears.”

TRL levels

The Institute aims to bridge the gap between universities and industry, by focussing on the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) methods. The TRL estimates the technology maturity of critical elements in the manufacturing process.

The TRL system is as well a method, so Withers, which allows SME’s to develop their own products with materials which can be classified by one of the maturity categories.

The design of future materials is a challenge. And traditionally, design, chemical processing, modelling and testing are processes conducted separately in different departments.

Due to new IoT technologies, additive manufacturing and X-Ray computed tomography (CT) scans, it’s possible to merge these formerly separated departments together.

The future challenges for material inventors are immense, not only when it comes to improve composite material for airplanes which can stop increasing corrosion, holes or cracks in the vehicle.

New materials are required in health and water supply sectors. For a long time, carbon fibre has proved to be a critical substance being used in aeroplanes, cars, sporting goods, military, medical or environmental applications.

The latest advanced future material that was discovered in 2004 is graphene.

Prof Andre Geim and Prof Kostya Novoselov discovered the material at Manchester Uni, but still the industry hasn’t found an efficient technology to mass produce the element.