I must admit that I don’t mind living in a material world. In fact, I love materials, so much so that for seven years I blogged on ephemera, exploring the world of old paper. That was a pastime, but in my work as a writer who covers manufacturing, I’ve come to appreciate how critical materials are to the progress of the sector.
Research is at the Heart of the Industry. Consider semiconductor manufacturing, and as it relentlessly pursues Moore’s Law, it has been driven to develop new materials to facilitate progress. Today, as semiconductor manufacturing moves headlong into nanotechnology, frontline researchers are engineering materials by each atomic layer, taking material science to new frontiers.
The automotive sector has always been on the forefront of materials development. A recent article on Science Codex speculates that work with graphene may revolutionize the automotive industry. Graphene is a material made from a single layer of carbon atoms and is stronger than diamond, lightweight, and flexible. It was discovered during experiments by Professors Kostya Novoselov and Andrew Geim, who were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics.
Economic Growth and New jobs in Europe. Since the discovery, the European Commission is investing €1bn as part of the Graphene Flagship over 10 years, which aims to take graphene-related technologies from academic laboratories to everyday use in multiple industries, creating economic growth and new jobs in Europe. This kind of approach—where manufacturers and academics work more closely together—is necessary for efficient materials development, and one that government needs to facilitate.
It takes decades to get from development stage into manufactured products. Despite the fact that materials drive progress in manufacturing and other industrial sectors, it often takes decades from the time researchers develop a new material until it makes its way into manufactured products. Such delays hold manufacturing back, so it’s heartening to see efforts like that of the EC above or the Materials Genome Initiative for Global Competitiveness (MGI) plan launched under the U.S. Advanced Manufacturing Partnership.
Since the launch of MGI in the federal government has invested more than $250 million in new R&D and innovation infrastructure to anchor the use of advanced materials in existing and emerging industrial sectors in the United States. This is the kind of support manufacturing needs to thrive in today’s rapidly changing marketplace. After all, with apologies to Madonna, we’re living (and working) in a material world.