The way from a discovery / invention as a result of the basic research to a commercial product or process is protracted and leads only in certain cases and under certain circumstances effectively to the commercial success. The transfer of basic research results in product innovations represents, therefore, a complicated, sequential process, the so-called “innovation chain”. The objective of the profile area is to identify and analyze the influence and factors for the successful transfer material discoveries to a product innovation. New developments of the last two decades show, that the innovation chain has to be considered as a non-linear, more interactively and systemic process, which requires intensive communication and cooperation between various disciplines ranging from natural science to engineering. The profile area hence, is based on an detailed analysis of added value and innovation chains.
Key research focus of the profile area progresses from reliability analytics via materials criticality and substitution to novel product innovations related to paper-based materials.
Presently, three major lines of future research are pursued, through a number of initiatives. They follow the current guiding idea of the Profile Area to link materials science closely with engineering, but also pursue novel research directions towards the design of “cognitive” materials and components:
• Reliability Analytics for Design and Life Cycle of Components: By fusing emerging additive manufacturing technologies with new databased approaches to reliability, TU Darmstadt aims to path the way to the next generation of ‘cognitive’ mechanical engineering components. This initiative spans materials science, mechanical engineering, and computer science.
• Materials Criticality and Substitution: Subsequent to a LOEWE research centre „Resource efficient permanent magnets by optimized use of rare earths“ (RESPONSE), research is continued with the focus on “Hysteresis Design of Magnetic Materials for Efficient Energy Conversion”.
Complementary to this initiative, TU Darmstadt is taking the lead in the Fraunhofer Project Group denoted Materials Recycling and Resource Strategies, Hanau, with the aim of establishing a new Fraunhofer Institute. The designated director of the institute was appointed as professor in the Materials and Geosciences Department at TU Darmstadt in October 2018.
• Paper-Based Materials: Within LOEWE BAMP! – Building with paper – an interdisciplinary group of renowned scientists progressing from paper chemistry & technology to mechanics, structural engineering and architecture are working towards new and sustainable product solutions for the design of paper-based structural elements and even complete housings. As such, this initiative is internationally unique, comparable to DFG collaborative research projects, and can be considered at the forefront of paper research institutions in Europe. With respect to the latter, TU Darmstadt has a more than 100 year old tradition, and the University is one out of only two Technical Universities in Germany to comprise very strong as well as international visibility in paper science and technology.
These interconnections can be observe in the following picture:
Integrated Material, Process and Product Development
Examples of the challenges within the theme of “From Material to Product Innovation”:
I. Magnetic refrigeration
Magnetic refrigeration is a new and in principle very energy-efficient technology that could be launched onto the market in the near future and thus offer an alternative to conventional gas compression refrigeration. In order to achieve the objective of a magnetocaloric refrigerator, various requirements need to be fulfilled and problems resolved.
This can only be successfully achieved in close interdisciplinary cooperation between various areas of expertise. The rare element gadolinium exhibits a very high magnetocaloric effect and could thus generate significant changes in temperature in moderate magnetic fields. However, the availability of this metal is a very critical issue and it is thus not possible to design a cheap product. Alternative substitute materials need to be found that exhibit a high magnetocaloric effect, while at the same time being inexpensive, non-toxic, malleable and stable over the long term.
The magnetic field for the refrigeration process is generated using permanent magnets, which also influence the criticality and costs of the technology. In order to achieve an efficient heat transfer and high level of efficiency, the actual refrigerator needs to be specially developed for the magnetocaloric material being used and optimised for the use of permanent magnets. Launching this alternative technology onto the market will only be realistic once these requirements have been met.
II. High-strength thin glass for architectural, solar and automobile applications
High-strength thin glass <2 mm is available today for applications in the cover & touch sector (tablet computers, smartphones) but any possible availability for architectural, solar and automotive applications is only at an early stage. It is believed that there is great potential for light, easily formed and adaptively changeable products for the construction industry.
This will require the adaptation and improvement of conventional processes for increasing the flexural strength of the glass (thermal or chemical tempering) and lamination processes using transparent polymer materials (composite glass), which were not designed for these applications and thus the associated component sizes. In terms of the development of new materials, there is also a lack of improved materials that could be safely utilised for the long periods of use and influences experienced in the aforementioned fields.
Ultimately, there are no basic principles for the calculation and design of the structural elements nor any appropriate techniques for joining the materials in the thin glass. When these basic principles have been developed, it could be possible to create very innovative products for the aforementioned sectors.
Alongside the joint research projects shown in the above diagram, numerous other projects are already anchored or planned within the profile area. An analysis of these projects will provide valuable assistance for the value added chain, particularly with regards to success factors and obstacles. These include e.g. SFB 1189 “Mechanically Adjustable Electrical Conductivity” which is currently at the application stage, the LOEWE project application “BAMP! – Building with Paper”, the LOEWE Research Cluster “iNAPO – Nano Sensors Taking Nature as a Model” and other projects.
III. Innovative functional materials and technologies for controllable high-frequency components in mobile and satellite communication
Future landline and mobile, terrestrial and satellite-supported communication systems will require flexible/agile concepts and strategies when it comes to their software and hardware in order to be able to deliver the desired electrically reconfigurable functional modules in basic and high frequency bands with “intelligent” system functionalities such as multi-standard and multi-band, dynamic frequency allocation and tuning, adaptive adjustment of different frequency bands and ambient conditions, dynamic, electronic beam scanning and shaping of antennas, as well as electronic rotation and conversion of the polarisation.
Examples include frequency agile multi-band antennas, adaptive filters and impedance-matching networks, polarisation agile antennas and phase shifters as core components of phase-controlled agile antenna systems. These agile key components enable the adaptable, cognitive and efficient use of frequency bands and antenna alignment. A promising hardware solution for the realisation of these smart high frequency components in the frequency range from 100 MHz to 1 THz is the use of innovative functional materials and corresponding process technologies, such as microwave liquid crystal technology and ferroelectric thin and thick film technology.