Materials Informatics: Industry Activity Steps Up to Accelerate R&D
Sept 27, 2021 Dr Richard Collins
The ability to develop new materials and bring them to market ever faster is an obvious goal. There continues to be countless developments that improve chemistry and materials science R&D, but perhaps none represent the same paradigm shift that materials informatics offers. Major industry players are waking up to this as the technology matures. Overlooking this transition could be costly.
Materials informatics (MI) is based on using data infrastructures and leveraging machine learning solutions for the design of new materials, the discovery of materials for a given application, and optimization of how they are processed. MI can accelerate the "forward" direction of innovation (properties are realized for an input material) but the idealized solution is to enable the "inverse" direction (materials are designed given desired properties).
IDTechEx has released their latest report on the subject, "Materials Informatics 2022-2032". This leading report on the topic gives the reader a detailed assessment of this area including interview-based company profiles, critical technology analysis, adoption roadmap, business model appraisals, and granular application case studies. IDTechEx has extensive knowledge in the relevant fields of energy storage, additive manufacturing, organic electronics, nanomaterials, and green technology, to explore the significance of these developments.
Despite the hype, this is not straightforward and is still at a nascent stage. In many cases, the data infrastructure is not comprehensive and MI algorithms are often too immature for the given experimental data. The challenge is not the same as in other AI-led areas (such as autonomous cars or social media), the players are often dealing with sparse, high-dimensional, biased, and noisy data; leveraging domain knowledge is an essential part of most approaches.
Materials Informatics - Players. Source: IDTechEx, "Materials Informatics 2022-2032"
So, what has changed in the past 2-years?
There have been numerous key developments in recent years. IDTechEx has followed the growth of existing MI firms, major scientific developments from both academia and industry, the establishment of new consortia, repositories & national initiatives, funding rounds completed, and the emergence of exciting new companies.
Critically, there are 2 main reasons to pay attention to this industry right now:
1. Success Stories Multiply
One common concern is in proving the demonstratable value in engaging with a materials informatics strategy; this is very understandable when trying to navigate your way through the hype, promises, and buzzwords. The reality is that it is still hard to quantify (limited studies that run a head-to-head between traditional R&D and this new data-centric AI-guided approach) and that it will not be the golden ticket to everything.
It is also very different in an academic study with a carefully selected material group and parameter selection when compared to the diverse reality of industrial needs. However, there is an increasing number of commercial success stories that show that when applied correctly the results are significant. The market report highlights these in detail including metal alloys that have come to market significantly faster, Gigafactories being built to commercialize next-generation batteries, and significant licensing deals in the display industry. There are numerous other applications exploring this space, but the area identified by IDTechEx with the greatest early-stage potential is the formulations of specialty chemicals; impressive results have already been announced and many more are around the corner.
2. Expanding Industry Engagement
There are 3 main options for an end-user to embrace a materials informatics strategy. The company can go it alone and bring all the capabilities and know-how in-house (perhaps with some external training), they can use an external MI company, or they can form/join some form of public or private consortia. Similarly for external MI companies, they have numerous business models including providing software-as-a-service, carrying out individual projects, establishing joint ventures, or in-house material R&D with subsequent production or licensing options. Each of these has their relative strengths and weaknesses and are being pursued by different companies. This is explored in detail throughout the market report.
One thing that is highly evident is the increased activity from the largest chemical and materials companies in the world. Strategic partnerships or investments, collaborative projects, and paid-for engagements are all increasing. This is still predominantly being seen from major Japanese companies who continue to be the earliest adopters of this technology.
MI can play a key role with computational simulation (e.g., DFT) in much the same way as physical experimentation data; many that have come from this simulation have started to offer MI capabilities to their products. In recent years, IDTechEx has also observed a trend with more partnerships from companies known for their engineering simulation offerings, such as Intellegens with Ansys and Cirtine Informatics with Siemens, with obvious advantages to both companies.
For more information on this key emerging field see the IDTechEx market report, "Materials Informatics 2022-2032".
To find out more about this report, please visit www.IDTechEx.com/MaterialsInformatics or for the full portfolio of Advanced Materials related research available from IDTechEx please visit www.IDTechEx.com/Research/AM.