Coming up - research and development in 2012

Materials World magazine
2 Apr 2012

What does 2012 hold for R&D in the materials science arena? Martin Parley talks to people from across the industry to find out…  

Materials World spoke to:

  • Tony Francis (TF), Independent Consulting Metallurgist
  • Dr Rod Martin (RM), CEO, Materials Engineering Research Laboratory (MERL)
  • Martin Cox (MC), Head of Technical Business Development, Aberdeen Drilling Management
  • Stuart Preston (SP), Head of Knowledge Exchange, IOM3
  • Craig Durham (CD), Senior Completion Engineer, Nexan Petroleum UK Limited
  • Dr Roger Lumley (RL), Principal Research Scientist, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
  • Mike Hicks (MH), Director for Materials and Mechanical Behaviour; David Rickerby, Corporate Specialist Surface Engineering and Neil Glover, Chief of Materials – Capability Acquisition, (RR) from Rolls Royce Ltd
  • Jan Cilliers (JC), Head of Department of Earth Science and Engineering in the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College London
  • Alan McLelland (AM), CEO, The National Metals Technology Centre

What are the most important R&D issues in 2012?

TF ‘Green house gas emissions from nature and human activity, understanding respective contributions and managing them.’

RM ‘Some of the most important issues facing the composites industry are reliably reducing cost of manufacturing, reliability, life assessment and prediction.’

MC ‘In the raw material resources sector concerning energy – combustion/fuel efficiency, research related to the grid, renewable energy generation, post-combustion clean up and CO2 capture, transport and storage are the main ones.’

SP ‘R&D in industry tends to be carried out by the large original equipment manufacturers such as Rolls-Royce and Airbus, but with a more focused market, in this case aerospace and defence. Small and medium enterprises cannot a  ord the time or money, and either club together in specific projects with a common aim or try to obtain public funding.’

CD ‘Real-time data streaming of production data from field to office.’

RL ‘Job creation in the manufacturing industry. First world countries have difficulties competing with low-cost countries for commodity products. We cannot compete as manufacturers of basic commodity products and must differentiate ourselves.’

JC ‘Reduction in energy use for resource extraction. The 5% of world energy used for mineral comminution is not sustainable in the long term. Similarly, using relatively clean energy to extract dirty oil sands cannot be justified.’

What do you see as the biggest R&D issues in your sector?

TF ‘Improving the efficiency of gravity recovery methods in the industry.’

RM ‘For non-metallic materials in the oil and gas sector it is the continual push to expand the operating envelope of pressure and temperature in hostile fluids for a longer time.’

RR ‘Continuity of funding. Developing materials capable of operating in the most extreme environments found in a jet engine can take up to 15 years.’

MC ‘Post-combustion carbon capture and clean up, transport and sequestration options for CO2.’

CD ‘Integrated data management.’

RL ‘Energy, carbon trading, resource management, intellectual property and education.’

Is R&D in the UK in a healthy state?

TF ‘No, more funding is needed from Government and industry, and more research scientists from universities.’

RM ‘The UK is in a good position with a strong supply chain from development to operation. However, so are other countries, and the UK needs to lead with increased Government support, reducing risk and speeding up developments in untried materials to a very risk-averse industry sector.’

AM ‘Both public and private sources of funding will remain constrained, therefore this scarce resource needs to have a clear and managed focus – there is a danger of spreading the effort too thinly and failing to make the speed of progress needed.’

RR ‘A key concern is increasing the flow of good students with strong maths and physics backgrounds into engineering courses. We also need to maintain a healthy research base in, for example, structural materials that are vital to keep the UK at the forefront of sectors such as aerospace.’

MC ‘We need to connect better with industry and finance and gain greater awareness of what is underway. Institutes help service this function.’

SP ‘Research in the UK is predominantly undertaken by academia. Britain is particularly strong in bio-materials, nano-materials and modelling, although it tends to be centred on a few academic establishments.’

CD ‘Attention is needed. Unfortunately, during an economic downturn, funding in development is one of the first things to be cut.’

RL ‘The health of R&D is inevitably linked to the health of the industry it serves.’

JC ‘Very healthy, although more attention can be given to large-scale engineering-type research in the energy and extractive sectors, which has largely been delegated to industrial funding (rather than research councils).’

Can R&D projects in manufacturing help the UK out of the economic crisis?

TF ‘Yes, but more efficient manufacturing frequently results in reduced employment so manufacturing costs are down but the state’s costs increase.’

AM ‘Manufacturing in the UK faces continued pressure from lower-cost sources but maintains the lead through its technology, quality and efficiency. Research needs to be tightly focused on technological advantage, increased automation and use of virtual development techniques to reduce lead times and product optimisation and application of advanced materials.’

RR ‘Investment in advanced manufacturing capability is vital. It is encouraging to see the growth of several new, well-equipped centres across the UK that are bridging the gap between academic research and industrial exploitation.’

MC ‘Yes, and steps could be put in place to assist this. The tools investment banks use in evaluating companies to assess their value prior to investment have the potential to support R&D funding. This would help investment banks in supporting projects at an early stage, providing they had access to the right information. The investment would be realised with a share of the successful completion of the R&D project.’

SP ‘Apart from certain niche markets, often supplied by spin-out ventures, there is very little research to help basic manufacturing. The exception is automotive, where R&D is directed to body shell manufacture and advanced electrical storage systems.’

CD ‘No. The timescale to bring new technology is too long for the immediate future.’

RL ‘Yes. What the global economic crisis shows is that countries that make things are prosperous. I also believe that in most first world countries, people are very proud of quality products made in their own country.’

JC ‘If we can create new technologies/methods that can be rolled out worldwide, that would be a major driver.’

What area of the industry are you most excited about in terms of R&D?

TF ‘Low energy comminution systems.’

RM ‘The increase in the use of composite materials to meet the deepwater exploration and production challenges of the oil and gas industry.’

AM ‘The cost of continued material resource creation is unaffordable in all senses, and improved material recovery, re-use and life extension will become key. A cost-effective solution is environmentally positive and has enormous commercial potential.’

RR ‘There are several really exciting developments in new classes of aeroengine materials such as titanium aluminides, titanium metal matrix composites and ceramic matrix composites (CMCs), which are much lighter than the conventional alloys and, in the case of CMCs, are capable of operating at much higher temperatures.’

MC ‘Increased understanding in lower cost transport of CO2 and of its sequestration and monitoring of long term storage.’

CD ‘The digital oilfield.’

RL ‘Advanced metal casting technologies related to high quality products, especially those that differentiate manufacturers from low cost country commodity suppliers and facilitate job creation.’

JC ‘Efficiency improvements in separations to increase resource use efficiency and sustainability.’

What current projects have the potential to be the next big thing?

TF ‘Remotely controlled underground mining will reduce personnel risk and lower operating costs. Natural techniques for neutralising acid rock drainage such as biological methods and wet lands, which will be environmentally benign and lower costs.’

RM ‘The use of continuously manufactured composite materials in monolithic or unbonded flexible pipes to reduce weight and corrosion issues for deep water use.’

RR ‘Materials and manufacturing modelling will have a major impact by significantly reducing the time needed to develop new materials. There is still a reliance on many iterative make or test cycles in material development programmes, which are time consuming.’

MC ‘Use of nanotechnology to alter phase change behaviour and reduce the cost of change-of-state for transportation and storage of substances that are gases under standard conditions.’

CD ‘Integrating 4D seismic, reservoir, production and process data to provide a virtual picture of oilfield depletion to increase recovery factors.’

RL ‘It is not always the developers of a product or process that gain success in the marketplace, it is those who take the R&D and turn its outcomes into a competitive and desirable product that gain success in the marketplace.’

JC ‘If the go-ahead for nuclear build comes soon, it will create jobs, research and high technology, and play an important part in ensuring reliable energy supply to the UK.’

Have your say

What are your thoughts on these questions, and their answers? Comment below or email with ‘R&D predictions’ in the subject line.