Megatrend: Multifunctional coatings


Smart cities: A megatrend

There can be little doubt that urbanisation is one of the current megatrends. What’s more, you’ll often hear people mention it and “smart cities” in the same breath. Some people even say that “smart” is the new “green”. Almost every conference nowadays features a presentation on megatrends and their impact on a particular industry. Coatings conferences are no different: scarcely have attendees taken their seats than the talk will turn to multifunctional coatings and their golden future. Trend researchers believe that there is big money to be made in this area in a few years. And a recent study seems to confirm this view.

Multifunctional coating systems on the rise

The study entitled “Multifunctional Smart Coatings and Surfaces: 2016-2023” was published earlier this year. Its authors believe that the coming decade will see substantial new business revenues generated by smart coatings that exhibit multiple functionalities. The company extolling the study is already seeing multifunctional coating systems and surfaces reach actual commercialisation: e.g. in construction (smart windows), in medicine (antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory surfaces), and in aerospace (self-healing surfaces).

Research in full swing

It’s a topic that a number of scientific projects and studies have been addressing for some years. An article recently appeared in the journal RSC Advances, for example, which reported on a multifunctional coating system that possesses flame-retardant, antistatic and antimicrobial effects – a cure-all for virtually every ailment, as it were. NASA, too, is keen on multifunctional systems. It is researching ways to detect corrosion when it occurs and how minor damage might be repaired autonomously.

The book “Functional coatings” by Volkmar Stenzel and Nadine Rehfeld from Fraunhofer IFAM, Germany  highlights the latest developments of the different technologies and novel surface functions that go beyond decoration, corrosion protection and surface protection.

Functional durability not guaranteed

Despite all the various research projects, you’d be hard-pressed to find a multifunctional coating system anywhere on the market. That might be because not enough is known about the durability of the multiple functions or maybe the products are still undergoing tests. True, there are plenty of applications awaiting smart coatings when they eventually arrive, but their success will ultimately depend on whether the end user is prepared to pay the price demanded for them. In my view, these are challenges that can and must be overcome.

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