Smart Materials, Structures and Surfaces Network

Materials World magazine
1 Nov 2006

SMART.mat (the Smart Materials, Structures and Surfaces Network) exists to increase awareness and take up of smart materials and technologies by UK businesses.

Smart materials react to their environment in a controlled way, alone or as part of a system. They sense a change in their environment and develop a beneficial response to it. This adjustment may be autonomous or by human intervention.

SMART.mat brings together a consortium comprising IOM3, QinetiQ and NAMTEC.

The smart structures team of QinetiQ has been involved in several workshops and roadshows this year. These include a Smart Composites workshop in May 2006, hosted by IOM3 at 1 Carlton House Terrace, London, UK. It consisted of a series of technical lectures covering a range of applications where these materials are used.

While a Smart Materials, Surfaces and Structures Technology workshop, held in conjunction with the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) at the University of Reading, UK, highlighted the smart materials work being carried out in the southeast region of England.

Both events attracted industrial and academic delegates, and information was provided on various funding opportunities.

In July, the QinetiQ team participated in a Design Education Workshop, held at The Design Council in London, UK, which provided an introduction to current and future smart materials for representatives from the fashion and textiles industry.

At the London Design Festival in September, they demonstrated how these materials can be employed in novel and everyday applications. A range of devices were on show, including the ‘Batcane’, a tactile cane to alert partially sighted people to obstacles, as well as shape memory alloy spectacles.

Another highlight of the year is a review on structural health monitoring, which describes the current status of optical fibre and electrical technologies, in particular sensors that can be applied to composite structures. This report is available to SMART.mat members.

QinetiQ technology translators have also visited members who have applied for assistance – several potential collaboration opportunities have been identified. They demonstrate the benefits of the network.

A review on smart packaging by NAMTEC has focused on three key areas in which brand owners, retailers, the Government and consumers could benefit

● Medical compliance – 50% of patients do not complete their course of drugs in accordance with the instructions given. Patients often forget the advice given regarding frequency and quantity. They can be alerted through light signals or via SMS to a mobile phone when medication should be taken. There is even a product called Rex, a talking pill bottle that can whisper medical instructions.

● Product security – trading standards officials suggest that if items can be sold for more than £2, they are worth counterfeiting. Combinations of overt and covert devices are used in packaging to combat this – they differ in sophistication and cost. The former include optical varying displays, colour shifting inks and micro printing, while covert devices include taggants and radio frequency labels. In the Sydney Olympics, DNA technology was used to mark memorabilia to ensure authenticity.

● Putting brands on top – the proliferation of new products has eroded the one-time unassailable position of leading brands. There is, as ever, a need for companies to differentiate their products and raise brand awareness. Companies can now forge ahead with smart technology to create packages that are interactive and can communicate clearly with consumers.

A roadshow to report on the packaging review is being held on 31 January 2007.

A workshop in July attracted over 50 attendees, from university tutors to industry representatives, and focused on introducing smart materials already in the public domain as well as creating long term forecasts.

A Design and Smart Materials Bazaar was held at the Science Museum, London, UK, in September. This was a collaborative workshop by the EPSRC-funded Smart Textiles Network at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, in the UK, and SMART.mat. Intended for outreach to the public, the event was attended by designers and developers/ producers of smart materials, generating a view of the potential uses of smart materials.

The evening event comprised presentations on consumer needs for the future and an overview of smart materials, while the brainstorming workshop the following day consisted of experimental ‘visual thinking’ techniques to discuss how these materials might enter our lives. Sky News TV filmed and interviewed exhibitors, as well as Sharon Baurley, the workshop’s architect. The event formed part of the London Design Festival.

NAMTEC and Huddersfield University, both based in the UK, will be working together to introduce new developments into the university’s Surface Design BA course.

Emerging and innovative developments in materials and technologies now provide the opportunity for surface design to move from a traditional and passive application to an active, reactive and interactive level, with applications in fashion and interior design. Delivery of the module will occur during February and March 2007.


Further information:

David Arthur, IOM3, email: