On 15th September, the HMG launched the Institute of Fundamental and Advanced Technology (IFAT) which will be responsible for the development of core technologies that will potentially hold the keys to the future of the industry. Needless to say, IFAT has an important mission for the HMG. We interviewed Executive director Taewon Im, who has been appointed to lead IFAT, about the importance of advanced technologies with a focus on materials technology.
Materials technology : a new source
of competitiveness in the
Currently, the automotive industry is focusing on four elements; connectivity, autonomous driving, sharing and electrification. Building competitiveness in base technologies such as advanced materials should not be overlooked, especially when it comes to electrification. Software and service strategy are important for connectivity and car-sharing services. Yet, it is always important to make competitive cars which can be achieved with base technologies such as advanced materials. Even if our carse come with software services, car sharing companies such as Uber and Grab will not choose our cars if they are not also built well. A paradigm shift is happening now. We cannot be an industry leader unless we achieve innovation in base technologies. We need to strengthen our core capacity for building vehicles and start developing new technologies and fresh concepts for the decades ahead.
New materials create new
possibilities for electrification
Materials research is an important part of our research work at IFAT. For the last 100 years, materials research for the automotive industry was mostly focused on cast reduction and weight reduction, replacing steel parts with aluminum, plastics and other compound materials.
However, the focus is shifting with electrification as new materials and technologies are now employed in EV batteries, elelctric motors and fuel cells. One of the biggest challenges at the moment is achieving a longer range for electric vehicles. This cannot be tackled through design tweaks but by changing the basic operation mechanisms. For example, longer ranges for EVs can be achieved if new battery materials are developed and applied successfully.
The development of advanced
materials technology is key to
competitiveness for the future of
the mobility industry
In the future, a wide range of materials will be employed in mobility products. In fact, the majority of global automakers plan to only make green cars by 2040. In the age of electrification, the role of materials has completely changed in cars. To date, materials were mainly studied and used for the manufacturing of physical structures such as the vehicle body and engine. From now on, advanced materials used in battery cathodes and anodes, magnetic materials in electric motors, materials for semiconductor such as Silicon Carbide, Gallium Nitride and Gallium Oxide will all play a much larger role in automobiles. In addition, high-tech materials used in sensors within autonomous driving systems will become a lot more important. This is why IFAT plans to focus on the development of new materials, building a strong foundation for competitiveness for the future.
Capacity of individual researchers
is a key determinant of advanced
I plan to make IFAT a place where individual researchers feel a sense of happiness and satisfaction with the work they do. The competitiveness of our institute comes from its members and their professional capacity. I firmly believe that we can become a competitive player in the field if we create an environment where our researchers are happy doing their work and feel a sense of achievement. It usually takes five to seven years to set up an advanced research organizations and anywhere between five to ten years to see any major achievements. In order to obtain good results, it is important to allow researchers to enjoy their work.
Finding a new direction in
advanced materials research
The industrialization of South Korea began in earnest in 1960. Rapid progress was desired and so the emphasis was on securing technologies which could be applied immediately. With such a history, South Korea has a relatively weak foundation in base technology R&D such as materials research. By contrast, the US, Germany and Japan were powerhouses in technology and science, building airplanes, submarines and aircraft carriers during the World War Ⅱ. These countries have a strong foundation for materials technology and chemistry.
Whilst many national labs and R&D institutes have been investing in relevant research for some time. In addition, car makers such as GM and Ford have also been investing in the technologies as well. Toyota established their central research institute in the 1960s, focusing on materials technology. Recently, researchers began to employ AI in materials research. For example, deep learning and big data is used to derive ideas for new materials and predict the ideal molecular structure of materials through simulation. South Korea is no exception to such research trends. We also plan to engage in advanced materials R&D using AI and simulations. I believe we also need to consider taking on an interdisciplinary approach bringing in Humanities, Sociology and Psychology. Such an approach will allow us to create technologies that ‘understand’ humans which will become increasingly important for leadership in technology and broad car culture. We will have to approach mobility services and shared economy from a cultural perspective. It is important to predict how culture and society could change and to make products that will suit these changing needs.
Advanced research needs to start
early to make timely application
In any research, it is crucial to generate output so that the technology is available by the time of its application. In the world of advanced research, the rule of winner takes all applies. So everyone who comes late remain as followers. Partnership with external parties plays an important role to ensuring the timely completion of research. We need to engage in open innovation with universities and external R&D labs to familiarize ourselves with cutting-edge technologies. Our fuel cell research began in partnership with external suppliers and we then successfully improved upon it, becoming a world leader. IFAT will actively engage with external suppliers to develop advanced materials.
Advanced research needs to start
early to make timely application
The ultimate goal of IFAT’s research is to boost sustainability. In the future, we must strengthen competitiveness in all industrial sectors including steel, construction, railroads and defense and IFAT can help strengthen all of these. Technologies cannot continue to evolve without strong research and development. IFAT will be able to make a practical contribution within a few years after it is set-up and running. I am confident that our R&D results will not only strengthen the competitiveness of HMG but of South Korea as a whole