Currently, there is a diverse range of organisations and SMEs involved in various aspects of smart materials and systems. Applications include transport, civil engineering, medical hardware and manufacturing technology. ‘Disciplines such as materials science and materials engineering will be central to smart materials development,’ says Paul Butler, currently Academic Visitor to the Department of Materials at the University of Oxford, ‘aided and abetted by emerging platform technologies such as nanotechnology’.
Jobs in smart materials and systems cover a broad range of disciplines, including materials science, chemistry, surface engineering, design and mechanical engineering, with mathematical modelling increasingly being used to reduce time-to-market. These disciplines are embraced by a number of materials science, technology and engineering courses taught by universities throughout the UK. The Centre for Materials Science and Engineering at Cranfield University, for example, provides teaching and research opportunities in the field of smart materials, in particular within the area of medical science.
One of the biggest growth areas for smart materials and systems is within the packaging industry. For companies such as Crown Cork & Seal there is a strong emphasis on new product development and smart packaging that does more than just safely contain the product. Self-heating and self-cooling beverage containers are of particular interest, and the chemistry and control of exo- and endothermic reactions is a key study area. ‘More generally, there is an enormous interest in the development of cost-effective smart labels or tags that track products and their packaging through the supply chain,’ says Butler. He believes such smart packaging will result in significant benefits to supply chain logistics. ‘It will ensure the item you want to buy is never out of stock and eliminate those queues at the check-out as the contents of your grocery trolley is automatically scanned and your account debited,’ he says.