Here at Material ConneXion, our team of researchers is always looking for the “what’s new and what’s next” when it comes to material trends and innovation. Here, we share the top 10 developments in the world of materials that excited and inspired us in 2017 (and the trends we’re looking forward to seeing more of in 2018)!
1. Bio-made: This year, we saw building with biology manifest itself in new and exciting ways. Things like Silk Therapeutics’ liquid silk as a replacement for polymer microbeads and plastic lining; Modern Meadow’s first-ever biofabricated leather material, Zoa; and Living Colors by PILI, which is described as renewable color biofabricated by bacteria to replace the petrochemical one, with a scalability that is unachievable with vegetal dyes, are all on our radar.
2. Materiality of Activism: We’ve seen a shift in today’s consumers, who are more cognizant than ever of the materials around them. Millennial buyers are actively pursuing the purchase of products that link to causes such as sustainability in plastics, and the reuse of waste materials. We have seen this especially in the field of ocean plastics, in the form of the Second Life movement, from brands like method and Adidas. We are excited about this movement, as brands now have an opportunity to turn consumerism into activism.
3. Synthetic Spider Silk: Synthetic spider silk is the ultimate engineered natural, and it’s shifting our thinking about what will be possible in the production of materials. Instead of designing products based on materials, we will now be able to design materials to suit our products. Although synthetic spider silk products have been seen in the past few years, it was this year that we saw commercial-level runs of the material from companies such as Bolt Threads.
4. Green Composites: Green composites are loosely defined as the use of natural fibers to reinforce polymers. The automotive and construction industries are currently shifting toward green composites, as natural fibers are tougher than steel and also more cost-effective in terms of production.
5. Carbon Capture: According to the Culture Glossary put out by trend forecasters, Sparks & Honey, companies are finding ways to capture carbon dioxide and turn it into new products. Such products include ‘Diamonds from the sky,’ or diamonds made from air pollution; or carbon gas-infused foam car seats (a collaboration between Ford and Novomer). We are excited about the potential for this innovation to continue to shape the debate on climate change and global warming.
6. Smart Haptics: One of our favorite subjects, we presented on the topic at the Smart Haptics conference this year, and we cannot stop monitoring the developments in this exciting trend. In our current, technologically-driven, ephemeral world, technologies such as haptics will increasingly be relied upon to deliver the “human touch.”
7. Graphene: Although in its nascent stage, we are excited to see the progress being made in the graphene market – from porous graphene being developed by Super Carbon ( https://supercarbon.co/ ) for supercapacitors, to graphene-enhanced plastics by NanoXplore for industrial, automotive, electronics, and packaging applications.
8. Seamless Smart: “Seamless smart” refers to the way in which digital elements are being integrated into our spaces and products. This trend infiltrates all aspects of our lives, from back-lit and touch surfaces in the home, to smart yarns integrated into apparel.
9. Localized Manufacturing: Urbanization, political, and economic implications are leading to the demand and need for localized manufacturing, which is now being supported by technological advances and enabled by automation and on-demand production technologies such as additive manufacturing (3D-knitting & 3D-printing).
10. Advanced Ceramics: Ceramic 3D printing is still at its nascent stage. In spite of its unique characteristics, it isn’t as easy to 3D print as some competing materials. The recent development of new 3D printing technologies, such as high-speed digital light processing (DLP)-based 3D printing from Admatec and Lithoz’s lithography-based ceramic manufacturing (LCM), specifically tailored for technical ceramics, has proved that it is a viable high-performance 3D printing material.