£1.8 million award to develop micro and nano materials, including clothing for Olympic athletes

A research team of materials engineers and performance scientists at Swansea University has been awarded £1.8 million to develop new products – in areas from the motor industry to packaging and sport – that make use of micro and nano materials based on specialist inks.

One application already being developed is specialist clothing that will be worn by elite British athletes in training and at the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. 

The researchers will be incorporating advanced materials such as graphene into flexible coatings which will be printed and embedded into bespoke garments to enhance the performance of elite athletes.

The purpose of the project is to serve as a pipeline for new ideas, testing to see which of them can work in practice and on a large scale, and then turning them into actual products.  

The gap between initial concept and final product is known in manufacturing as the “valley of death” as so many good ideas simply fail to make it.  The pipeline will help ensure more of them make it across the valley: off the drawing board and into production.

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Picture:  packaging is one of the first sectors to make use of the pipeline

This project is unique in that it is driven by market requirements. As well as the wearable technology, identified by the English Institute of Sport (EIS), two other areas will be amongst the first to use the pipeline: SMART packaging, with the company Tectonic, and the car industry, with GTS Flexible Materials

The project is a collaboration between two teams in Swansea University’s College of Engineering:  the Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating (WCPC) led by Professor Tim Claypole and Professor David Gethin, and the Elite and Professional Sport (EPS) research group, namely Dr Neil Bezodis, Professor Liam Kilduff and Dr Camilla Knight.

The WCPC is pioneering ways of using printing with specialist inks as an advanced manufacturing process.  Their expertise will be central to the project. 

Professor Tim Claypole, Director of the Wales Centre for Printing and Coating, said:

“The WCPC expertise in ink formulation and printing is enabling the creation of a range of advanced products for a wide range of applications that utilise innovative materials”.

Sport, which is one of the areas the project covers, has been a test bed for technology before.  For example, heart rate monitors and exercise bikes have now become mainstream. 

EPS project lead Dr Neil Bezodis underlined the importance of links with partners within the overall project:

“Collaborations between industrial partners which are driven by end users in elite sport are key to ensuring our research has a real impact”.

AlysPicture:  Swansea University student Alys Thomas who won gold at the Commonwealth Games.  Elite sport is one of the areas where the new project can make a difference

‌Partners on the project include: Haydale Graphene Industries, GTS Flexible Materials, Alliance Labels, Tectonic International, ScreenTec, Malvern Analytical and the English Institute of Sport.

The three-year project is entitled “Application of Functionalised Micro and Nano Materials – scale up to volume production”. 

The £1.8 million funding is made up of £900,000 from the SMARTExpertise fund at the Welsh Government, with the same amount from industry partners.

Partners' views

Keith Broadbent, Chief Operating Officer at Haydale: “The close relationship with our colleagues at WCPC is now bearing fruit with a range of robust, stable, high performing inks and coatings emerging from extensive development work and finding applications in wearable technology, printed sensors and thermal management.”

Paul Kippax, Malvern Panalytical: “The WCPC has had a long-term relationship with Malvern Panalytical. Our network based on technologically leading instruments for R&D and quality assurance will ensure the impact of the research in Wales is felt worldwide”.

Graham Farmer, Group Executive Chairman, GTS Flexible Materials: “This project will enable GTS to look at new environmentally friendly offerings based on printed Carbon technology for the automotive and aerospace industry”.

Sheila Harper, Director of Tectonic International: “Warmalonga is a concept we came up with during a previous INNOVATE project. It is a wonderful idea which has already caught the imagination of the fast food and packaging industry. SMART Funding is enabling us to go from concept to a commercially viable product”.

Dr Matt Parker, Director of Performance Innovation for EIS: “The EIS performance innovation team is continually looking for external expertise that can help us optimise athlete performance – we believe the project will allow us at the EIS to make significant advances in our use of wearable technologies.”