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Knowledge-based Multicomponent Materials for Durable and Safe Performance

Final Report Summary - KMM-NOE (Knowledge-based Multicomponent Materials for Durable and Safe Performance)

The main goal of the KMM-NOE project was to mobilise and concentrate the fragmented scientific potential in the KMM field to create a durable and efficient organism capable of developing leading-edge research while spreading the accumulated knowledge outside the network and enhancing the technological skills of the related industries. The KMM-NOE concentrated on understanding, designing and developing novel knowledge-based multi-component materials with superior properties like low density, high strength and hardness while fulfilling some specific functionalities like excellent performance in high temperature regimes, enhanced fracture toughness and fatigue lifetime, superior resistance to wear, corrosion and oxidation.

The knowledge-based multi-component materials are understood here as advanced materials designed for enhanced performance in highly demanding loading and environmental conditions like thermo-mechanical and impact loading, high strain rates and temperature regimes, aggressive chemical environment, and combinations thereof. Such regimes are typical of applications e.g. in aerospace and automotive industry, turbo-machinery, tribology, chemical industry, electronic devices, biological implants, microsensors, household appliances.

The joint programme of activities of KMM-NOE consisted of integrating, jointly executed research, spreading of knowledge and management activities. The integrating activities comprised strategy-making and network integration activities. The strategy-making activities set out directions of progressive integration and built up a potential for long lasting integration following three logical phases of integration: activation, strengthening, consolidation. The integration activities were permanent tools aimed at integration of research facilities, exchange of researchers and research groups, technology transfer (competence centres) and intranet.

The jointly executed research activities included processing, characterisation, modelling and industrial applications of KMM. The spreading of excellence comprised training of researchers (integrated post-graduate school), dissemination of knowledge in industry, foresight studies to evaluate technological needs and developments. Two external networks: external research network (ERN) and external industrial network (EIN)were created for external partners interested in closer interaction with KMM-NOE.

The major deliverable of the KMM-NOE joint programme of integration was the self-supporting pan-European research organisation in the field of knowledge-based multifunctional materials called KMM Virtual Institute (KMM-VIN). The KMM-VIN was created in 2007 as an international non-profit association (AISBL) incorporated on Belgian law with its registered seat in Brussels. It combines industry oriented research and services with educational / training activities.

The specific objectives of KMM-NOE that remained in force for the whole project duration were:
- to create a common platform for intensive scientific cooperation in the area of KMM;
- to harmonise participants' research efforts by jointly generating, executing and monitoring interdisciplinary research projects;
- to share research infrastructure among the participants;
- to achieve a durable integration of KMM-NOE partners by creating a new legal organisation KMM-VIN in KMM domain;
- to create external research network with coordinated research agenda and external industrial network closely cooperating with KMM-NOE;
- to enhance KMM-NOE research and technological skills to achieve and hold the world leading position in KMM area;
- to transform participants' individual competitiveness into a synergistic joint programme of activities;
- to create and disseminate novel materials' concepts that go beyond conventional approaches;
- to avoid 'double-research' thus to optimise the cost of research;
- to establish an effective system of information exchange;
- to interact with manufacturers of the KMM to get stimulus for new research projects;
- to disseminate accumulated knowledge (education, promotion, conferences, publishing);
- to establish relationships with other European / international organisations in KMM area;
- to protect knowledge accumulated within the KMM-NOE from unauthorised access.

Integration within KMM-NOE through the joint programme of activities was attempted within all three major domains of the activities of a Network of Excellence (NoE):
(i) integration of partners' research programmes;
(ii) integration of PhD programmes; and
(iii) integration of research infrastructure.

The joint programme of activities of KMM-NoE consisted of 14 work packages (WPs): 7 integration (WPI), 3 research (WPR), 3 spreading of excellence (WPS) and 1 management (WPM). In what follows the achievements of WPI, WPR and WPS will briefly be reported.

The permanent tools of network integration included general assembly (GA) meetings, regular meetings of the executive board (EB) and the international advisory board (IAB). Over the project execution there were held: 6 GA meetings, 15 EB meetings, 4 IAB meetings, 3 integration conferences (IC). To promote integration and stimulate partners' involvement these meetings were organised by different KMM-NoE partners at different locations. Routinely, the GA, EB and IAB meetings were all minuted in a detailed way.

An important contribution to KMM-NoE integration, although not easy to quantify in measurable terms, was the output of the IAB work. The professional assessment and recommendations of the IAB significantly contributed to the quality of KMM-NoE deliverables in all NoE activities. The IAB, whose members are renowned researchers in the KMM field, played a very important monitoring and mentoring role for the KMM-NoE consortium. Their criticism combined with constructive advice had an impact on the consortium because of their unquestionable position in research communities of advanced materials.

KMM-NoE spreading of knowledge activities were carried out using three main instruments: integrated post-graduate school (KMM IPGS) consisting of the PhD path and the skill path, summer schools and the ERN. The PhD path sessions lasted two weeks and comprised three 20 hour academic courses at a PhD level. The skill path sessions were addressed to university graduates who wanted to enhance their skills in a particular field or techniques and lasted one week (practical trainings in experimental labs were part of the sessions). Altogether KMM-NoE organised five PhD-path intensive sessions with total of 145 attendees, three skill-path sessions with 86 and three summer schools with 136 participants.

Another highlight was the integration of the PhD programmes. This was not planned initially in KMM-NoE project but as the project developed some core partners decided to establish a nucleus of a European doctoral programme (EDP) in KMM area and signed an official Memorandum of Understanding. The EDP launched six courses on KMM related topics held at TU Vienna, Politecnico di Milano and IPPT Warsaw. Importantly, the KMM and ERN participants of these courses were eligible to apply for EDP scholarships via a competitive call (15 short term educational scholarships were granted).

The ERN was established as a loose grouping of research teams from outside the consortium interested in KMM-NoE research programme and other network activities. The candidates to ERN had to be active in at least one of the main research KMM fields and be recommended by a member from KMM-NoE consortium. The number of ERN members at the project end reached 42 including research teams from Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland. Most ERN members were very active in seeking research interaction with KMM-NoE consortium (e.g. ERN lectures at KMM-NoE integration conferences, joint publications of KMM-NoE and ERN members). A natural development of KMM-ERN research integration was the accession of ERN members into KMM-VIN (eight members). Some of ERN members were also invited to the consortia of KMM-VIN proposals submitted to Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) calls.

Dissemination of knowledge in industry was done through EIN and the so-called KMM industrial workshops. The EIN was set up:
(i) to promote and disseminate KMM-NoE activities and research results in the industry outside the NoE;
(ii) to collect indications from industry as to the future research directions for KMM-NoE and KMM-VIN; (iii) to develop mechanisms of integration of academic / research partners and European industry.
At the project end the EIN consisted of 33 companies and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Of the three main areas of NoE integration, i.e. research, PhD programmes, and infrastructure, the integration of research groups is probably the most successful and valuable achievement of the KMM-NoE. The twelve NRTs have established strong cooperation links between different task force members not only within the grouping of mechanicians, or materials scientists, physicists or chemical engineers but also cross-links between the researchers from different disciplines.

KMM-NoE has contributed to the economic competitiveness and innovation by direct transfer of research results to the industry partners from the core consortium and to external industry via KMM competence centres network (12 info days in 7 different Member States) and the so-called industrial workshops (3 events) specially tailored to the industry needs identified by prior surveys among large companies and SMEs. Several patents have been filed, two of them already granted. A possible contribution of KMM-NoE to sustainable development can be sought in the active involvement of New Member States (Bulgaria, Poland, Slovakia) and Ukraine in project activities and in sharing of the project results. Specifically, these partners benefited a lot from the mobility programme that made it possible for them to improve skills and gain research experience while working in foreign institutes and laboratories of KMM-NoE. Also, one should not underestimate the experience these partners have achieved in managing the European projects, including the one of the overall project coordination by the Polish group from the IPPT in Warsaw.

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