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Institute News: May 2006

Materials Congress 2006

For three days in April, Materials Congress took over Carlton House Terrace in London, providing delegates with a stimulating programme of events. Materials World reports

Diamond – Materials Science and Applications
Chaired by Dr Richard Jackman of University College London (UCL), UK, the diamond symposium was well attended and attracted delegates working in industry and academia. Here is a brief flavour of the subject matter presented –
  Jim Butler from the Naval Research Laboratories, USA, was the first speaker in this two-day symposium. He began in rhetorical mood by asking whether it would be possible to grow larger and more perfect diamonds than can be found in nature. In answering his own question, he said, ‘We can certainly grow purer diamonds, but we’re not there yet with larger ones.’ In his talk, he provided a brief overview of the chemical vapour deposition (CVD) technique used to grow synthetic diamonds. He then described a defect known as ‘twinning’ – which is where two crystals appear to be growing out of or into each other. Butler singled this out as one of the main obstacles to growing perfect diamonds.
  Phillip John from Heriot-Watt University, UK, discussed his work on diamond nanospheres and microshells, and made reference to possible biomedical applications. When taking questions from the floor, John suggested the chemistry of diamond made it suitable for the aggressive environment found within the human body.
  Oliver Williams from the University of Hasselt, Belgium, also commented about the biocompatibility of diamond in his talk ‘Growth, properties and applications of nano-diamond’. He argued that the term ‘biocompatible’ cannot be applied to diamond in general. In experiments involving cell-growth on oxygen-terminated diamond and hydrogen-terminated diamond, he said the results showed that cells fared poorly on the latter. Hence, says Williams, biocompatibility is dependent on how the diamond is terminated.
  Marshall Stoneham, Massey Professor of Physics at UCL, suggested two key application areas for diamond. The first involved exploiting diamond’s high thermal conductivity. Stoneham suggested that diamond could be used to design a carbon composite for lining the walls of a fusion reactor. The second application looked at the use of diamond to achieve quantum computing at room temperature.
  Alison Mainwood from Kings College London, UK, spoke on the subject of hydrogen solubility in diamond. In defining the problem, she acknowledged the existence of reliable methods for modelling impurities in solids but said researchers now want to know whether certain impurities are actually present in a sample. Using thermodynamic arguments, Mainwood said that in the case of diamond this would be dependent on hydrogen solubility. Unlike the CVD process where the source of hydrogen is known, Mainwood said the problem is more complex with natural diamond because the source of the hydrogen within the material is unknown.
  Moving to electronics – predicting the breakdown voltage of diamond is central to its use in power electronics, said Gehan Amaratunga from the University of Cambridge, UK. Again this application exploits the high thermal conductivity of diamond, and in his presentation, Amaratunga gave details of a diamond unipolar device that could outperform a similar one made from silicon carbide.

Building the future
In the coming years, building materials will not merely be selected on their ability to do the job, but on the impact of their whole lifecycle. With between 50 and 60 thousand different materials found in the average house, there is a lot of scope for innovation and improvement.
  John Tebbit of the Construction Products Association told the Innovation in Construction Materials session that, ‘Sustainability is the context by which everything has to be judged’. But he warns that ‘there is a long way to go’ before people see the ‘brand value’ of sustainable products for construction. Paul Lambert, Technical Director of Mott MacDonald, echoed this by emphasising the ‘need to overcome bias against reused and recycled material’.
  Areas identified for future innovation are photovoltaics, phase change materials, self-healing materials, better glass systems and lower environmental impact manufacturing systems. John Morlidge of BRE was excited at the prospect of RFID tagging of building materials to allow monitoring of the whole lifecycle of a product.
  Morlidge encouraged the construction industry to learn from other areas such as transport, where new composites and light metals have been used to meet specialist needs. He also sees the potential for cross-over of materials between industries where new materials developed for one use become commonplace for another.

Young persons’ lecture competition
Coatings were the topic of the day as the twelve entrants in the Materials Congress’ Young Researchers’ Lecture Competition pitched their research to a panel of four judges.
  All based in UK universities or companies, the group of speakers was surprisingly international, with many presenters giving their thorough and well-researched presentations with the hint of a Swedish, French or Malaysian accent. The theme of the contest was ‘Surface Engineering’, and the researchers were each given 10 minutes to present their knowledge of a specific area of surface engineering, from thermal barrier coatings to corrosion to plasma polymerisation.
  Despite the high quality of breakthrough research that was demonstrated, the aim of the competition was to award the presentation and answering skills of the young orators. And in this capacity, winner Noel Hopkins stood out from the rest with his clear and confident presentation on the ‘black art’ of abradable coatings.
  His speech described the newly developed freestanding coating process for the generation of material property data, and included video footage demonstrating the abrasive effects of an airplane’s rotating compressor blades. He also showed how a new freestanding abradable coating system called ‘Aquapour’ works. His presentation, as well as the research he continues to do on this topic, have been effective in casting some light on what was traditionally seen as the poorly understood area of thermal sprayed coatings. His win at the competition capped off a day of lively and interesting speeches.

Smart thinking
‘Smart coatings are multilayered materials that provide a variable intrinsic response to external stimulus, such as temperature, stress strain, and the environment’, explained Professor John Nicholls of Cranfield University, UK, who kicked off proceedings at the symposium on ‘Smart Coating Systems – Their Design and Exploitation’. ‘If we link them to computer systems, we can switch smartness on and off [creating] intelligent systems’.
  What became clear from the session is the broad range of application areas that use the technology – construction (for solar control in windows or anti-graffiti coatings), transport, packaging, health care and the environment.
  Nicholls presented research into creating smart overlay coatings enriched in aluminium and chromium to different levels and depths that ‘pinches’ out corrosion in nickel-based alloys by ‘[getting] down to the interface and [stopping] corrosion pits growing’. While, a presentation from Phillip Evans of the Institute for Materials Research, University of Salford, UK, addressed how photocatalytically active titanium thin films deposited on steels using chemical vapour deposition could be used in self-cleaning, anti-bacterial or anti-soil added value steel products.
  But it wasn’t all about academic research, Dr David Rickerby, Chief of Surface Engineering at Rolls Royce, provided the industry perspective, describing the importance of surface coatings to ‘ensure an [aircraft] component operates for the design lifetime’. He explained how over the last 35 years, turbine entry temperatures have increased by 500ºC, engine thrust by a factor of four and fuel consumption by 35%. In 1960, coatings accounted for five per cent of the manufacturing cost at Rolls Royce, today that figure has risen to 30%. For example, after extensive testing and research, the team developed a ceramic thermal barrier coating to address overheating on the tip of the turbine engine caused by friction. ‘The thermal barrier is more expensive but you get that back on increased efficiency’, concluded Rickerby.

Rolls Royce Masterclass
Two major themes seemed to emerge from the Rolls Royce Masterclass, held on the first day of Materials Congress 2006, that were echoed throughout the three-day conference. The first theme highlighted the need to move towards lighter-weight and more heat-resistant composites – such as ceramics – when building transport devices, so as to reduce energy demands, pollution and noise emissions. The second theme was money – after all, how applicable could an innovative and groundbreaking technology be if it is not affordable to mass produce?
  Dr Mike Hicks of Rolls Royce focused his lecture on the materials developments taking place in aerospace. Typical airplane engines are currently made of metal, but ‘simple materials will not suffice in the future,’ he says. ‘There is a greater demand for highly-engineered solutions’. Developers are hoping to increase the use of composite materials, such as organic, metal and ceramic matrices, and decrease the dependence on ductile materials such as steel, nickel and aluminium. Engines and turbine blades will need to have increased temperature capabilities, which will involve the development of better thermal coatings (erosion and environmental barrier coatings that can be applied to composites) and reinforced composite materials (matrix-coated fibres and ceramic matrix composites).
  Naturally, the improved technology and the use of more complex and rare materials will increase the price, but Hicks hopes that ‘mass production will drive down the costs,’ to overcome this problem. Improved cooperation between the aerospace industry and investors in developing nanotechnology applications, as well as more efficient use of computers for design and modelling, should also help the speedy and creative production of new aerospace systems. ‘We’ve got to be brave, we’ve got to go forward with the designers and give ourselves the confidence to use these new materials,’ says Hicks.

Packaging Masterclass
Making its first appearance at Materials Congress, packaging had its own two-day programme - the masterclass ‘Packaging for tomorrow’ and the symposium ‘Covering all options’. Chaired by Anne Stirling Roberts from Pira, the masterclass got off to a high-profile start with a keynote speech by Helene Roberts, Head of Packaging for Marks & Spencer. There were, of course, the obligatory background statistics – 455 stores in the UK, four in Ireland, and 10 in Hong Kong. M&S has five per cent of the UK food market specialising in what Roberts called ‘niche premium foods’. The rest of her presentation emphasised how important it was for an own-brand retailer to have command of its supply chain – with regards to beef, for example, M&S has detailed knowledge of 1,600 farms. Without the ‘footage’, or floor area, of other supermarkets, M&S has to work hard to differentiate its products. Roberts spoke of creating a ‘product hero’ through the use of transparent packaging, and the importance of being able to navigate a product range. Added to this is the need for pack integrity, such as the leak-proof film for oven-ready turkeys. With regards to environmental issues, Roberts touched on the Courtauld Commitment, which M&S has signed with the aim of delivering an absolute reduction in packaging waste by 2010. Roberts said that M&S had removed 9,000 tonnes of PVC from its food packaging in the last two years.
  Will Connolly, a senior scientist with Procter & Gamble (P&G), picked up on the theme of materials innovation in his presentation. Having posed the question ‘why innovate?’, he proceeded to answer it with a few figures. P&G’s predicted turnover for 2005-2006 is US$70 billion. Shareholders, he said, require a growth rate of 5-10%. Therefore, P&G needs an annual business growth of at least US$3.5 billion (on those figures), and this, according to Connolly, highlights the need for innovation.
  Julian Cabell from Huhtamaki, UK, spoke about his company’s efforts to combine innovation with sustainability. Bioware, a biopolymer resin, is the result of Huhtamaki’s desire to use recycled or renewable materials. Following questions from the floor, there appeared to be confusion over the definitions of biodegradable or compostable, a point acknowledged by Cabell.
  Andrew Streeter of CPS International continued the theme of innovation at the symposium. By taking a global look at the packaging industry, Streeter said the key relationship was now between the brand owner and the consumer, with less importance being placed on the retailer. He also questioned the need for brand communication, suggesting instead that consumers now had a more important relationship with the packaged brand itself. ‘The consumer’s relationship with the packaged brand has superseded the consumer’s relationship with the brand,’ he said. In other words, advertising may no longer be king. To finish, Streeter threw down the gauntlet to the UK’s packaging organisations and asked if there was a need for a coordinating body for innovation in packaging.
  Tom Serpell, a management consultant with Obsidian Consulting LLP, UK, gave an overview of how companies can incorporate a knowledge strategy. There was an open exchange of opinions following the presentation. One delegate, for example, felt the speaker had not presented a knowledge strategy tailored for the packaging industry.
  Anne Emblem, a lecturer at the London College of Fashion, looked at the changing face of cosmetic and toiletries packaging. She began by making delegates aware of the lack of brand loyalty in this market sector. For example, it is possible to have many products on the go at the same time. Gender differences also play a key role. For example, Emblem said that women want products to care for them, as well as enhance their features. Men want simplicity in both the language used on the packaging and the pack itself. According to Emblem, cosmetics and toiletries are a robust market sector and during the economic slump of the 1970s was still able to grow.
  Walter Lewis, Managing Director of Faraday Packaging Partnership, ended the day’s proceedings with a talk on the need for ‘continuous innovation’. One of the problems he highlighted was the diverse knowledge base within packaging. This can include disciplines such as materials science, ergonomics, and psychology. According to Lewis, the only way forward is through knowledge partnerships. ‘Working with academics is like herding cats,’ quipped Lewis, ‘so how do you keep them in one direction?’ One mechanism, according to Lewis, is a ‘gated development’. Work by academic alliances can be funnelled towards the product stage through the support of organisations such as PIRA. Lewis also spoke about Inclusive Design, a project run by the Royal College of Art, which tries to assess how visual communication used in food packaging can enhance the ability of the consumer to access the product.

Probing news
Three dimensional atomic probe (3DAP) analysis of semiconductor thin film materials, nanoindentation, and focused ion beam microscopy (FIBS) were just some of techniques presented by speakers at the ‘Advanced Analytical Techniques’ symposium. Well attended by delegates, the presentations were littered with insightful questions and answers.
  Professor Mark Rainforth of the University of Sheffield, UK, discussed the ‘step change’ in microscopy over recent years with the ability to now probe individual atomic columns, through the correction of aberrations in electron microscope lenses. Case studies of the analysis of nanostructured coatings were presented.
  Dr Beverley Inkson of the same university addressed how developments in FIBS could be used to view, manipulate and produce nano-objects. She discussed how the main differences between FIBS and scanning electron microscopes (SEM) are that the ‘ion beam causes surface sputtering, structural defects and changes the chemistry [of the sample] as ions are implanted’. Therefore, it is important to ‘harness’ this, such as for ‘nanomachining,’ or manipulating molecules in carbon nanotube devices.

Rolling forward and fast?
Are there any challenges in strip rolling, asked Dr Arjan van den Hoogen of Corus, in his keynote speech as part of the ‘Rolling Research to 2010’ symposium. According to van den Hoogen, there are challenges, and speed is most definitely of the essence to address them. ‘The most dangerous thing for the developed countries is not the fact that China and India can produce at low cost, as that’s not sustainable, but rather the combination of low cost and high tech,’ said van den Hoogen. ‘We are five to seven years ahead of China, we have to drive innovation and be fast.’ Areas that could be addressed are applying best practice, reducing energy consumption and emissions, and investing in new technology and equipment enhancement. A ‘triangle’ system looking at processing, maintenance and installation was presented as a model for technological improvement.

©Copyright 2006 The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining