Materials informatics (MI) involves using data-centric approaches for materials science R&D. There are multiple strategic approaches and already some notable success stories; the adoption is happening now and missing this transition will be very costly.
This report provides key insights and commercial outlooks for this emerging field. Built upon technical primary interviews, readers will get a detailed understanding of the players, business models, technology, and the application areas.
What is materials informatics?
Materials informatics is the use of data-centric approaches for the advancement of materials science. This can take numerous forms and influence all parts of R&D (hypothesis - data handling & acquisition - data analysis - knowledge extraction).
Primarily, MI is based on using data infrastructures and leveraging machine learning solutions for the design of new materials, discovery of materials for a given application, and optimisation of how they are processed.
MI can accelerate the "forward" direction of innovation (properties are realised for an input material) but the idealised solution is to enable the "inverse" direction (materials are designed given desired properties).
This is not straight-forward 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.
Contrary to what some may believe, this is not something that will displace research scientists; if integrated correctly, MI will become a set of enabling technologies accelerating their R&D process. For many, the dream end-goal is for humans to oversee an autonomous self-driving laboratory; although still at an early-stage there have been key improvements, spin-out companies formed, and success stories all facilitated by MI developments.
This is not a new approach, many sectors have adopted similar design approaches for decades. But there are three main reasons why this transformative technology is impacting the materials science space right now:
- Improvements in AI-driven solutions leveraged from other sectors.
- Improvements in data infrastructures, from open-access data repositories to cloud-based research platforms.
- Awareness, education, and a need to keep up with the underlying pace of innovation.
IDTechEx have classified the projects undertaken into six main categories outlined in detail within the report. Within that, there are three repeated advantages to employing advanced machine learning techniques into your R&D process: enhanced screening of candidates & scoping research areas, reducing the number of experiments to develop a new material (and therefore time to market), and finding new materials or relationships. The training data can be based on internal experimental, computational simulation and/or from external data repositories; enhanced laboratory informatics and high throughput experimentation or computation can be integral to many projects.
This report looks at the key progressions in machine learning for MI, the success stories, and how end-users are actively engaging with this.
What are the strategic approaches?
Ignoring this R&D transition is a major oversight for any company that designs materials or designs with materials. The impact will not be seen immediately, but in the mid- to long-term the missed opportunity will be significant. This could be when bringing competitive products to market, developing versatility in the supply chain, finding next-generation opportunities, or generating the ability to diversify a business unit or material portfolio.
Numerous players have already begun this adoption with three core approaches: operate fully in-house, work with an external company, or join forces as part of a consortium.
Each of these approaches is appraised in detail in the report; choosing to start the adoption of MI is important, choosing the right path is essential.
The external MI players can come from numerous starting points, as outlined in the figure below. There is also the option for MI players to become a licencing company with a strong advanced material portfolio and also for end-users to offer MI as a service. Geographically, many of the end-users embracing this technology are Japanese companies, many of the emerging external companies are from USA, and the most notable consortia and academic labs are split across Japan and the USA.
Interview based profiles of all the key companies are included within this IDTechEx report.
Summary of different MI players. Source: Materials Informatics 2020-2030
What application areas are successfully using this?
Organic electronics, battery compositions, additive manufacturing alloys, polyurethane formulations, and nanomaterial development are all examples of areas that MI is having an immediate impact on. The broad range of material use-cases means industrial adoption is being seen from electronics manufacturers to chemical companies.
There are universal challenges, but each application area will have certain considerations, be it in the availability of existing data, the domain knowledge, the complexity of the structure-property relationships, and more.
The final part of this report goes into detail on each applications area in turn, highlighting key developments, commercial use-cases, and notable publications. This provides end-users the opportunity to focus on case studies in their specific areas of interest and MI players to what areas to explore.
What about COVID-19?
The impact from the global pandemic cannot be overlooked. Alongside this report, IDTechEx has provided a detailed additional document outlining the impact of COVID-19 on the development of materials informatics.
A large amount of the negative impact on MI players will depend on the fate of their customer-base which supply into multiple sectors; the majority of which will be negatively affected in the short-to-mid term. However, there are some positives for this field, most notably being the role MI can play in helping to develop a responsive and versatile global supply chain and how it can support computational simulation
What will I learn from the report?
This market report is released at a point in time where the 10-year outlook is prime for rapid adoption. This report goes far beyond what is available on the internet, providing key commercial outlooks based on primary-interviews coupled with expertise on both this topic and numerous of the relevant application areas.
Market forecasts, player profiles, investments, roadmaps, and comprehensive company lists are all provided. Making this essential reading for anyone wanting to get ahead in this field.