As a practical matter materials suppliers, electronics companies and OEMs are currently exploring two major industries where smart structures can become commercialized within a timeframe that might seriously interest investors and corporate managers. These two areas are the construction industry – our subject in this article -- and the aerospace industry:

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In 2016 n-tech believes that metamaterials will clock up less than $45 million in actual sales to the aerospace and defense sector.  The big payoff in this area won’t come for a few more years, although the indications are that the 2016-2020 will be a takeoff point for metamaterials used in aerospace/defense applications.

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Smart textiles – textiles made from intrinsically smart materials or those with embedded fabric sensors – provide a significant opportunity for materials and clothing suppliers. n-tech estimates that the market for smart textile materials or coatings and textile-based sensors will grow nearly tenfold in the next eight years, to over $3 billion by 2023.

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One year ago, n-tech Research projected that electrochromic (EC) glass was positioned to step beyond its stronghold in automotive smart mirrors to capitalize on considerable opportunities in the smart windows markets for buildings and automotive, and maybe even new areas like smartphone camera designs.

That broad market sentiment still rings largely true. If anything, we've strengthened our view of EC auto mirrors as a "cash cow" for this technology. Our expectations for EC glass in smart windows also has increased, especially in the medium- to long-term. We now see EC glass markets nearly doubling from today's levels to exceed $2.5 billion by 2019, and nearly doubling again to $4.8 billion by 2022.

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Thoughts on BIPV Glass

We think BIPV glass' best story will be in its true monolithic integration and ability to incorporate multiple desirable functions beside electricity generation, such as self-cleaning and self-healing. These will not only enable new product/marketing strategies, but also will reshape the supply chain, putting glass firms into a more central role. That also will de-emphasize the reliance upon architects in the process, which will indeed be necessary for down-market expansion.

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Multifunctional coatings, paints and structured surfaces are starting to appear on the market with more such offerings certain to emerge from industrial labs over the next decade. n-tech believes that these coatings will present an opportunity for paints and coatings firms, specialty chemical companies, glass firms and specialty startups of various kinds.  

We also see the rise of multi-functional materials as having potential for manufacturers of manufacturing equipment since nothing is settled with regard to how these materials will be created.  Multi-layered coatings seems like a popular approach, but so do nano-patterned surfaces and smart materials that are inherently multifunctional are also being created in the labs.

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n-tech believes the real barrier to further development of multi-functional building glass is not in technology development -- it's in pricing strategy. Glass firms claim customers still don't want to pay much extra for a "smart" IGU. To our thinking, that's actually part of a bigger question: Can multifunctional glass be turned into a real business, and what are the appropriate marketing strategies to make that happen?

Our answer is a resounding 'yes,' and we offer four potential strategies to help glass companies better translate business and investment activities into sales activities.

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PV technology has been paired with small electronic devices for decades, most notably in calculators. What's new here is the emergence of alternative PV technologies -- organic PV (OPV), dye-sensitized (DSC), and thin-film variants such as CIGS -- promising not only those specific capabilities, but also potentially produced in large volumes using low-cost manufacturing processes.  Many within these PV sectors are developing the technology with an eye toward building-integrated PV (BIPV), but strict performance and lifetime requirements mean this is still some ways off. Consumer electronics, on the other hand, presents an alluring easier target with opportunities right now, and potentially massive addressable volumes.

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  • Smart Structures In the Construction Industry: 2016-2025 Slides

  • Smart Structures in  Aerospace: Market Opportunities – 2016 to 2025 Slides

  • Smart Textile Markets 2016-2023 Slides

  • Markets for Smart Antimicrobial Coatings and Surfaces–2015-2022 Slides


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