A report commissioned by the Lloyd's Register Foundation, reviewing the potential implications of nanotechnology on the safety and performance of engineering assets and the infrastructure on which modern society relies, finds that nanotechnology will have a far reaching impact on almost every industry including energy, transportation, manufacturing, medical, computing and telecommunications.
An expert panel led by Professor Sir Mark Welland FRS FREng, Director of the Nanoscience Centre at the University of Cambridge was assembled by the Lloyd's Register Foundation in October 2013 to consider nanotechnology. The panel included top academics from world-leading institutions: the universities of Cambridge, Heriot-Watt and Southampton and the Health Safety Laboratory in the UK; Yale in the USA; the National University of Singapore and Münster in Germany.
The resulting report identified five key areas of impact:
- Miniaturisation of sensor technology: Embedded nano-sensors in structural materials such as concrete, or 'living' inside engines, providing feedback on corrosion or stresses, will give continuous readout of real-time structural and systems performance data. This technology will also enhance robotics and un-manned vehicles across the transport sector (UAVs).
- Big data: Not so much a development but an implication of ubiquitous sensing is the massive increase in data being collected, with major implications concerning assurance about quality, security and traceability.
- Engineered smart materials: The development of new engineering materials and manufacturing techniques, using lighter, stronger materials with designer properties could see, for example, ships being glued together from lightweight composites. Parallel developments in 3D printing will also enable printing of metals.
- Energy storage: Small compact batteries with massive storage capacity combined with the ability to harvest energy from their environment could deliver profoundly different transportation systems or enable white goods to be powered for life at point of purchase.
- Nanoparticles: The report also highlighted the need for research into methods for assessing the safety, quality assurance and traceability of nanoparticles in the supply chain.
The engineering applications of nanotechnology and big data will herald a new digital future leading to improvements in safety, performance and reliability. A copy of the foresight review of nanotechnology can be downloaded at www.lrfoundation.org.uk/publications/nanotech.aspx