Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Sustainable Chemistry, Smart Industry and #Digital4EU

Today (24 February) the #Digital4EU stakeholder forum is taking place in Brussels. This one-day event organised by the European Commission includes four main workshops including one on Smart Industry. Sustainable chemistry has a major role to play in supporting the digital agenda in Europe.

ICT and digital innovation is an important technology area for the chemical industry. For decades the chemical industry has made extensive use of ICT systems throughout its value chain, from logistics, to modelling, design, control, monitoring and repair. In addition, the chemical industry is a key provider of materials and technologies that form the basis for many ICT and digital solutions.

Smart Chemical Processes
Within the total chemical industry value chain from product design to delivery to the customer, ICT plays a key role. ICT is key to a successful, efficient and competitive industry.

As chemical products, process and plants become ever more complex and resource usage and performance requirements become tougher, ICT can deliver a large portion of the innovation needed to keep the European chemical industry competitive on the global stage.

Process Control is a critical factor for sustainability in the production process. Advanced process methods allow production units to run at optimal operating points under appropriate constraints. Monitoring is a related area of importance for the process industry where improved digital modelling can contribute to increased plant availability, reduced costs and improved product quality.

Modelling for innovation is also a key topic. ICT-enabled innovation can significantly reduce (20-40%) time lines for product and process developments and save costs. Overall ICT technologies can enable increased resource efficiency, will enable new process and product capabilities, and strengthen the chemical industry and European competitiveness.

Smart Materials for smart industry
Sustainable chemistry is all about developing ‘Smart materials’ – materials that will enable the development of important ICT such as nanoelectronics and haptic devices. Sustainable chemistry also provides the specialty polymers and other materials that will be required for new 3D printing technologies to produce components with demanding specifications.

Sustainable chemistry is looking to develop polymers that enable nano-structured self-organisation for use as templates to support advanced nano-lithography or other nanoelectronic fabrication techniques for the fast prototyping and production of complex electronic devices. Such advanced fabrication techniques can reduce development time for microelectronic devices and boost the capability and competitiveness of the European ICT sector.

Polymers and polymer-based ink formulations are also essential for printed fabrication techniques, such as roll-to-roll lithography that allow mass production of low-cost microelectronic circuits for a wide range of applications including RFID tags, flexible displays and OLED lighting.

Future chemical developments include improved conductive polymers, piezoelectric and electro-active polymers that can inspire new and emerging end-use applications including wearable electronics.

Additive manufacturing aka 3D printing
3D printing will change the way society manufactures and its development heralds an era of mass-customisation. 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing produces a three-dimensional object from an electronic data set through an additive process making material layers in successive steps under computer control – truly digital manufacturing.

The global market for materials and services for 3D printing (excluding printer equipment) was estimated to be US$ 1.8 billion in 2013 and is projected to grow to US$ 10.8 billion by 2018.

The ability to produce small lot sizes and highly specialised added value products makes 3D printing technology a key technology for the next generation of industry: Industry 4.0. Innovation and pre-industrialisation, competitive small series production, improved time-to-market, custom made parts for personalised products, manufacturing of complex structures and geometries are all drivers for the development of additive manufacturing technologies. 3D printing also contributes to lower energy and resource use.

Polymers with appropriate end-use performances and adapted to specific 3D printing technologies are needed along with suitable metallic or ceramic materials. The European chemical industry already delivers many of these materials, but research is needed to widen the range of materials and mechanical properties of polymers available for 3D printing. Development of new electrically and thermally conductive materials will provide new opportunities for the development of additive manufacturing. Solutions to improve the surface finish of manufactured parts are also required.

Sustainable chemistry is key
Additive manufacturing is a key technology for fostering the European innovation and manufacturing industries. And its full development requires key inputs from sustainable chemistry.

Digital technologies, such as 3D printing technologies, can reduce the gap between innovation and manufacturing, stimulate the renewal of European manufacturing industry and boost industrial research and design opportunities too.

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