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Advanced Materials

Background

Advanced materials can be defined in many ways. The broadest definition is to refer to all materials that represent advances over the traditional materials that have been used for hundreds or even thousands of years. From this perspective, advanced materials refer to all new materials and modifications to existing materials to obtain superior performance in one or more characteristics that are critical for the application under consideration.

They can also exhibit completely novel properties. Advanced materials typically have properties that are superior to and outperform conventional materials in their applications. The development of advanced materials is associated with the generation of new knowledge and intellectual property (IP). The development of advanced materials can even lead to the design of completely new products. Advanced materials may also be remarkably adaptable.

The advanced materials industry encompasses a full life cycle from materials extraction, primary production, process development and materials characterisation to product fabrication, testing, use and end-of-life waste management and recycling. Supporting activities would include research, design and development, together with skills and standards development.

A more insightful and focused approach to advanced materials is to consider materials that are early in their product and/or technology lifecycle. In other words, there is significant room for growth in terms of the improvement of the performance characteristics (technology lifecycle) and their sales volume (product lifecycle). Examples of these elite of materials include ceramics, glass, metals, composites, semiconductors and polymers.

Advanced materials and their associated process technologies, with the potential to be exploited in high value-added products, is both a multidisciplinary area within itself and cross-cutting over technology areas and market sectors.

Consequently, the South African materials sector (which includes the advanced materials) is both large and diverse, with numerous major stakeholders, including:

  • Industry
  • SMMEs
  • Academia
  • Government departments
  • Research Councils
  • Professional Bodies etc.
The development of advanced materials is associated with the generation of new knowledge and intellectual property, a combination of the following concepts is typically associated with Advanced Materials:

  • R&D and innovation
  • Intellectual property
  • Intelligent computing systems
  • Concentrated bodies of expertise
  • Advanced manufacturing processes
  • High value-add services and products
  • Processes, products and technologies that are sophisticated and not easily replicable

Success Stories

The advanced materials directorate has in the past financial year developed a baseline study on the sector in South Africa. The study entailed understanding the capabilities, opportunities, global trends, gaps and challenges of the industry, with a specific emphasis on Titanium, nano-materials, advanced composites and Bioceramics and industrial applications in aerospace, automotives, construction, electronics, medical, packaging and renewable energy (PV).

The study further emphasises the development of relevant skills and IP regulations as well as testing and prototyping facilities. The study aimed to provide the Government, including the dti, with strategic recommendations on how this sector can be enhanced in producing new commercial products and process while maximising the societal benefits.

Opportunities

  • Move towards knowledge-based economy
  • Export opportunities
  • Gain and retain international competitiveness through technological advances
  • Industry capability for job creation and long-term job retention
  • Skills development and transfer
  • Captured value-add through beneficiation
  • Spill-overs and multipliers among sectors
  • New emerging clusters
  • Pipeline of R&D projects to build and strengthen value chains

Constraints

  • R&D expenditure (0,9% of GDP)
  • Funding for advanced materials
  • Incomplete value chains
  • South Africa is classified as an inefficient innovator
  • Human capital/skills shortages
  • Presence of "silos" within government agencies and departments
  • Lack of research priorities for advanced materials
  • Relatively small domestic markets

BioComposites

Composites are a combination of Polymer matrix resin and Fibre reinforcement such as glass, carbon, Kevlar, aramid or other reinforcing material. Composites are lightweight, have high strength (can be designed to be stronger than aluminium or steel), design flexibility (can be moulded into complicated shapes more easily than most other materials) and are corrosion resistant.

Composites are used in aircraft, military, appliances, automotive, civil infrastructure, construction, marine, etc. In the 1960s, the marine market was the largest consumer of composite materials, but in the 1970s the automotive market took over the top spot. Composites have also been used in the construction industry for several decades.

Current challenges for the industry include:

  • Inefficient skills development
  • An incomplete local value chain
  • Inferior imports
  • Absence of SQAM and import duties structures
  • Lack of tooling and machining for testing

Contact Details

Ms Nomfuneko Majaja
Chief Director: Advanced Manufacturing
Tel: +27 (0)12 394 1471
Fax: +27 (0)12 394 2471
E-mail: NMajaja@thedti.gov.za or TMathibe@thedti.gov.za