Advanced Materials case study

It is always our objective to work with truly disruptive and fundamental technologies, and back in 2014 we were fortunate enough to start working with a company whose technology has the potential to change every metal surface in use in industry. Ostensibly, it’s a coating process technology, though in actual fact it is far more ingenious and, more importantly, effective – the process allows its user to change by design the fundamental chemical make-up of a metal surface.

As we all know, metals are highly reactive materials and they react with oxygen in the atmosphere to form metal oxides – the relatively inert ceramic surfaces that we see when we look at anything from a tin can, to a gold wedding ring, to a steel drill-bit. Our client has developed atechnology which is able to induce a chemical bond between a metal and another material, in permanent replacement of nature’s arbitrary oxide layer. The options for what material to use to bond to the metal are very broad indeed and include methacrylate (super-glue), PTFE (Teflon), epoxy (ubiquitous coating material) – and many more. The significance here is that the technology means the user no longer need put a material on the oxide layer, but to design an alternative layer that is just as integral to the metal as the oxide used to be, and to use that as the foundation for subsequent materials.

We came across this client when it already had a fully-fledged application developed and in use. They were working with the European Space Agency to produce the heatshield for their 2017 mission to orbit and image the sun. Our client’s technology, and in particular the coating of titanium with a black calcium phosphate, had been genuinely enabling – no other technology was able to survive the simulation testing – and thus had been hurtled through the technology readiness levels to achieve mission sign-off within 3 years. This is largely unheard of in the ultra-conservative space industry.

Space may be vast but its economy is still relatively tiny, and so our mission is to commercialise the technology in terrestrial industry. This of course means building product-market fit, validate demand, and funding to allow for industry/ application specific R&D as well as ongoing commitment and validation of commitment to the ‘product’. In this case, the product is the result of substantial development – the solar application is a great exemplar but has only limited adjacent markets (Mercury?), and given the truly platform nature of the technology, the process equipment, the specific use cases, the appropriate materials and materials systems and economic value cases all needed to be started again from scratch.

Amongst the first things we did was to understand the true expertise that exists within our client company, and the synergistic expertise that exists in industry. We also conducted a cursory assessment of various industries and markets which led us to the conclusion that rapid commercial uptake of the disruptive technology would require a strategy that would not disrupt the existing supply chains active in industry. We used these basic tenets to model and subsequently to build the appropriate partnerships that feed into a business model that maximises value and mitigates risk.

We established the focal point of a wide variety use cases (i.e. problems in need of solutions) covering a number of different industries. We did this with end users such as oil companies, refinery companies, automotive, electronics companies etc, and validated demand and established relationships which we are then able to use as leverage throughout the value chain, to ensure that the partners that we want to work with have the business case and impetus to work with us.

As a result of the above, we now have established relationships and JDAs with a number of multinational OEMs, end users, coating and materials companies, and equipment manufacturers. Through these relationships we have firmly established the IP protection model that will see long-term IP capture and evolution. We have agreements in place that clearly demarcate the IP ‘realms’ of our client and its partner companies. This allows partners to commercialise their own proprietary products built on the technology platform, while also building out our client’s IP portfolio and giving access to established routes and relationships into the adopting end-user communities.