Metamaterials Manufacturing: Pathway to Industrial Competitiveness

New Report

From invisibility to energy efficiency, metamaterials promise extraordinary new products. Here’s how to realize the potential.

The emerging field of metamaterials promises the power to engineer artificial materials and custom-tailor properties to create extraordinary new possibilities that will transcend industrial sectors.

An invisibility cloak for microwave frequencies. Image courtesy of David Smith (Duke University).

While “invisibility cloaking” might sound like something out of a science fiction film, metamaterials could bring elements of this capacity — which derive from the ability to change how objects interact with light or sound — into reality with applications in stealth technologies for defense. Other national security applications of metamaterials range from enhanced military communication to higher quality reconnaissance imaging to next generation body armor. Health implications range from greatly improved medical imaging and research tools to superior injury protection products. Metamaterials are also poised to drastically improve energy efficiency through light-weight, high performing structures and the enhancement of energy generation and storage technologies.

By 2025, it’s estimated that metamaterial manufacturing will be a multi-billion-dollar market.

The prospects are powerful.

A lightweight metamaterial microlattice that is 99.99% air — the world’s lightest material when announced. Image courtesy of HRL Laboratories, LLC.

The United States has invested heavily in the potential of metamaterials, and U.S.-based experts and research facilities lead the world in related publications, citations, and intellectual property.

But the development of metamaterials isn’t yet assured. Realizing the true benefits of these emerging technologies — and return on federal investments — will require advancing metamaterials from prototypes to products manufactured at scale. Fabrication of these materials at the scale and quality needed for practical usefulness will require manufacturing innovation and the establishment of a strong supporting ecosystem.

A new MForesight report examines the challenges and opportunities facing metamaterials manufacturing. The report presents a set of actionable recommendations for realizing the promised impact.

MForesight: Alliance for Manufacturing Foresight, a national consortium focused on enhancing U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, convened experts from academia, government, federal labs, and industry to identify the key challenges and opportunities facing metamaterials manufacturing. The experts defined a range of actionable recommendations for U.S. stakeholders seeking to establish a competitive advantage for U.S. metamaterials manufacturing and secure U.S. technical superiority in this space.

The expert group identified a series of recommendations with potential to accelerate the prudent development of metamaterials:

1. Establish a coordinated multi-agency federal research initiative focused on technologies to scale metamaterial fabrication.
2. Leverage existing federal facilities and experts to accelerate and enhance metamaterials manufacturing innovation.
3. Use federal resources and partnerships to expand access to critical feedstocks, such as nanomaterials and substrates, to enable metamaterial manufacturing in practice.
4. Beyond government, create a new cross-sector advisory group to help ensure that metamaterials technologies take hold in the U.S. manufacturing industry.
5. Create a National Center of Excellence to coordinate U.S. efforts and secure technological leadership in metamaterials manufacturing.

The new report includes details and next steps for each of these recommendations.

While metamaterials are still little-known to the public, they could have some of the most profound implications for next generation products manufactured in the United States.

Fantastical properties like invisibility may be just the beginning.