Home » Manufacturing » Surface engineering is an integral part of everyday life

Dr Bryan Allcock FIMMM

IOM3 Strategic Advisor and CEO, TRL9 Limited

Screen surfaces and coatings for phones, tablets and other tech are an important and integral part of everyday life. In fact, they have been recognised by the government as one of the 22 UK enabling technologies required to meet the Grand Challenges of the Industrial Strategy and ‘Manufacturing our Future’.

We now rely as much on coatings as we do our smart phones, tablets and technology‐packed cars, which are all covered in coatings. The UK still heralds as world innovators in coating development and the industry is continually striving to close the gap in our ability to delivery modern manufactured coatings.

The manufacturing capability readiness level (MCRL) is a measure developed in the USA to assess and easily describe the maturity of manufacturing readiness, like how technology readiness levels (TRL) are used for measuring technology maturity. They are used to provide decision makers at all levels with a common understanding of the relative maturity and attendant risks associated with manufacturing technologies, products, and processes being considered.

Manufacturing risk identification and management must begin at the earliest stages of technology development and continue vigorously throughout each stage of a programmes’ life cycles.

The internal landscape for coatings

If we look at the internal landscape for manufactured coatings, (the manufacturing process itself and how we make coatings), then there are many examples of mature coatings (high MCRLs), which include electro‐plating on car parts, cutlery and jewellery to make things shiny and paint on our walls to protect them and make them look more presentable.

Lower MCRLs might include processes such as electron beam physical vapour deposition, which is used to produce coatings on spaceships and complex parts for aeroplanes.

External landscape for coatings

If we look at the external landscape for coatings, we look at what people use coatings for. These are coating applications. High levels of maturity exist in automotive and aerospace applications, but new applications are being developed every day.

Some of the newer coatings can be used, for example, to create a textured surface capable of separating oil and water mixtures, contributing to reducing our impact on the environment and our planet. Other coatings can convert heat to electricity, these are called thermo‐electric generators and researchers are developing coating materials that you can wear, which capture the heat from your body and convert that to enough electricity to charge your smart watch.

Surface engineering community needs to modernise

By far the biggest consumers, by value, of surface engineering are the high value manufacturing industry sectors such as the aerospace, automotive and energy sectors. When comparing internal landscapes, the method of manufacturing and the modern manufacturing philosophies – such as Industry 4.0, cyber–physical connectivity and the industrial Internet of Things – the surface engineering community is seen to lag behind other sectors, for example, additive manufacturing. This is now being actively addressed through the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3), with the surface engineering division playing an important role in the technical communities, who collectively represent the whole of the materials cycle. IOM3 actively collaborate with universities and industry through the Surface Engineering Forum (SELF) who are helping to coordinate efforts to increase productivity and Manufacturing our Future.

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