It’s pretty obvious that modern technology is constantly changing every aspect of our daily lives. It’s mindboggling to know that computer processing used in today’s cellular phones is far more advanced than that used to launch men into space during the early Apollo missions.
Let’s take the computer spreadsheet as an example. Look at the ease in which you can open a spreadsheet program, input a series of numbers and then process, slice, sort and report information with the push of a few buttons. Before the spreadsheet, accountants used to painstakingly process this kind of information with 10X more effort. Not to mention, each minor revision resulted in starting again at square one. Today, with the power and ease of use, non-accountants can manage annual revenues in the millions of dollars armed with a simple spreadsheet. From multi-million dollar businesses to household budgets, this tool has changed the accounting world. What an impact.
There are numerous other examples of how modern computational processing has simplified labor intensive tasks of the past and made the extraction of information at multiples of what could be mined prior to the computer age. GPS/mapping, computer-aided design, manufacturing process controls are just a few. Can you imagine industrial productivity now without these modern advancements?
Interestingly, one area where computational processing has not resulted in whole-scale change is material science – the key aspect to functional durability of the manufactured products we rely on every day. Material scientists are the experts in the processing and evaluating tiny particles in the form of micro-level structures so small they can’t be seen with the naked eye. Although small these micro-level structures are able to produce flight, move mountains, and navigate the ocean depths. The work of material science involves high resolution imaging, the manufacturing and controlled breakage of laboratory specimens, and the painstaking analysis of material failure data points. There are never enough data points to fill in all the gaps required for thorough durability analysis. Physical testing is a slow and very costly process. The mega-corporations with the largest research and development budgets in the world all readily admit that they can’t come close to affording all the physical testing they want and need to better understand the durability or reliability of their products.
How powerful would it be to have a technology – something like a material science spreadsheet – where product teams could simply enter the handful of physical test points they could afford to get and then have the computer virtually replicate the physics to create volumes of information on product durability. Like the spreadsheet, you would then be able to slice, interrogate, and arrange all the virtually created information to gain new insights before the product was ever built. And just like the spreadsheet can process formulas instantaneously, this revolutionary means to processing material science would be almost immediate. Like never before, material science specialists would know exactly where to place their time, attention and most importantly their budgets. A spreadsheet like process for material science – could it be that’s it’s already here?