Think: NextGen materials
Industry is searching for materials and manufacturing solutions that bring more efficient and competitive products, and UNT scientists are leading the creation, application and characterization of new materials for the 21st century.
BY: TANYA O’NEIL
Every major technology breakthrough is directly related to significant advances in materials for manufacturing.
Steel led to steam engines, silicon drove computer and smartphone innovations, while titanium alloys have allowed jet engines and spacecraft to take flight. And materials like DuPont™ Kevlar®, for example, have been used to keep our military, police and security officers safe by making clothing, accessories and equipment ballistic, cut and stab resistant.
As materials get tapped for particular products and manufacturing, it’s crucial to continue to investigate not only new sustainable materials, but to gain a better understanding of the limitations and possibilities of current materials and manufacturing strategies used.
“The future innovations of the 21st century — essential for society and the economy — depend on the intelligent use of materials,” says Raymond Brennan, a materials engineer at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL). “To move industry forward, we must explore modern day materials science from all angles for development of novel material solutions.”
Developing materials that are most effective, reliable, earth-friendly and cost-effective are key to keeping our military safe.
“Materials science is just as important to our national security,” says Jeffrey Zabinski, senior research scientist for materials science for the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and a Board of Advisors member for the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Processes Institute (AMMPI) at the University of North Texas. “With the globalization of technology and the marketplace, it is challenging to steer discovery and innovation to meet our unique and demanding requirements.”
In order to provide the latest advances for the military, researchers are dedicating efforts to ensure that innovation meets protection. For example, the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center continues to invest millions to improve the vehicle armor that protects troops from small-arms fire and explosive devices. Universities are pitching in by inventing new life-saving materials that are cost efficient and even more effective while also exploring ways to advance existing materials.
Other examples of advances include looking at additive manufacturing, better known as 3-D printing, as an affordable option but also looking closely at how armor reacts to the environment — temperatures, humidity and terrain — for finding the most durable and sustainable option. The defense industry is rapidly expanding the use of 3-D printing to make parts and tools for more sophisticated military equipment, with potential for parts for ships and airplanes in the future. Beyond military uses, 3-D printing will transform industries from the medical field such as creating implants for reconstructive surgery to customized circuits for the electronics industry.
To pursue the sustainable materials of the future and develop more innovative processes, today’s scientists must continually challenge past assumptions. Rajiv Mishra, AMMPI director and a professor of materials science and engineering, and a team of researchers at UNT conducted experimental research about creep deformation and developed a divergent alloy that is able to achieve and retain high strength and creep resistance even at high temperatures.
“Nanocrystalline alloys are inherently unstable at high temperature, but we found a way to get them stable and that is a major breakthrough,” Mishra says. “Our results will have a profound impact on how materials are designed for high-temperature applications such as power plants and engines.”
Creating the kinds of materials needed for tomorrow requires intense collaboration and cross-disciplinary work.
Most recently, UNT’s AMMPI researchers joined forces with three other universities to collaborate on a $20 million grant from the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) for a project aimed at keeping soldiers safe. UNT’s portion of the project includes examining body and vehicle armor to understand how current failures take place so they can create stronger, more durable armor.
“ARL is creating a transformative global science and technology ecosystem by linking government, academia and business to share the best and brightest people, ideas and facilities in forward-reaching research areas of strategic importance to the Army,” says Philip Perconti, acting director in the ARL.
And universities are an excellent place to conduct the fundamental research that industries need so they can do the work the market demands, such as creating more sustainable products.
UNT researchers are advancing the field internationally to revolutionize the way products are made. They are not only searching for new materials, but investigating how to better understand the limitations and possibilities of current materials strategies used in manufacturing.
“We recognize the evolving science associated with materials of all types, and we strongly believe that an integrated design approach to manufacturing will create much-needed, high-throughput techniques in materials genomics and computational materials discovery and design,” Mishra says. “UNT’s use of genomics in materials is a leading-edge development. Working with the ARL on military-use products paves the way for breakthrough technologies and the creation of nextgen materials for industry and consumer use.”