Expect things to get more complex in 2017

It’s a year that’s been, well, unexpected. By all accounts 2016 will be remembered as the year the UK voted for Brexit, Trump won the White House and numerous celebrities passed away. So what on Earth can we expect from 2017?

My prediction is that things are about to go from unexpected to complicated. It seems global accords on trade are set to be ripped up and renegotiated, so expect the bureaucrats to get into the detail and any progress towards future agreements to slow down.

It is not just the crazy world of global politics that is set to up its complexity counter, though. Engineering and design are also likely to become a whole lot more complex in coming years.

Like politics, it is not necessarily all doom and gloom, but an opportunity for those that are able to best adjust and get their heads around the tools, materials and processes that will enable this complexity to be tackled.

In the latest print issue of Engineering Materials (Winter) there are some fine examples of complexity in action. The high volume composites enigma is unraveling. Supply chains are being increasingly established and the cost of the material is coming down. We look at one project in the US that aims to establish Tennessee as the global hub for cheap carbon fibre.

Elsewhere, we uncovered a European project that is looking to use CO2 as a raw material that can be used to transform the demonic climate changing gas into useful plastic materials and fuels. It sounds too good to be true, but there are real examples of plastic materials being made under the concept of Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) also better known as CO2 reuse.

We also take a look at how graphene is beginning to find various routes to market including adopting the seemingly bizarre position of being infused on 3D print filaments for the hobbyist market, which now has access to one of the most advanced materials in the world.

The fundamental mantra of Engineering Materials – which is a direct reflection of what readers say to us – is to use the right material for the right application. The trouble is this is getting less clear cut with more materials coming to market that seem to offer something better.

Design, engineering, materials selection, end of life, environmental impact and even manufacture are increasingly being tackled holistically. Material selection is no longer a siloed activity, so expect to face the complexity in 2017 and beyond.

In the meantime have a well earned winter break. JC

Justin Cunningham

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