Foresight chief goes upbeat

Companies failing on materials technology are courting catastrophe, says Wood

By David Fowler

Companies failing to make use of materials technology is a potential catastrophe, said the new Materials Foresight panel chairman, Professor John Wood of Nottingham University.

Promising a `more upbeat’ message from the panel, Wood, head of Nottingham’s department of materials engineering and materials design, has rejigged the panel’s forthcoming report for phase three of the exercise – designed to widen awareness of Foresight to business.

He said: `The poor image of materials is absolutely appalling. Most of civilisation is based on materials technology. Getting it wrong leads very quickly to a non-competitive situation.’

Most people saw developments in materials as a gradual process, he said, but it was necessary to be alert for major changes in which materials technology became a driver of change rather than being driven by the need to reduce costs or increase performance.

Small firms in particular needed to be more aware of the dangers. Often the new technology was completely different from the old: `This can be catastrophic if you’re not up to speed.’

He cited examples such as polymers replacing steel for kettles, and polycarbonates replacing glass in bottles. In the future, conductive adhesives could replace solder in electrical components.

The phase three report, to be published in the next few weeks, will outline proposals for workshops and other initiatives to raise firms’ awareness of materials issues.

The panel is also likely to take on an expert on surface engineering. A report from the Metal Finishing Association recently complained that surface engineering had not been given sufficient prominence. Wood said that surfacing was one of several areas to be `beefed up’.

* Nottingham University, with the universities of Loughborough, Hull and Sheffield Hallam, will offer an MSc in surface engineering under the Integrated Graduate Development Scheme. An initial intake of 10 students is expected to start in September.