Seizing the chance to lead

 Among areas where graphene has the potential to be truly revolutionary is as an enabler in Industry 4.0 technologies. Imagine Intelligent Materials Co-Founder Chris Gilbey discusses the nanomaterial’s place within the roads and factories of the future.

 Every day in the lead up to the Internet of Industrial Materials Conference 2017 on August 17th we will be featuring conversations that Brent Balinski had with the presenters.

 BB: Why is this an important moment for Imagine IM?

 CG: This is the point at which this company can start to become credibly involved in a much bigger sector, the Internet of Industrial Materials, as opposed to just being a company that makes stuff.

BB: Regarding the Internet of Industrial Materials, can you tell me about the company’s current efforts to capture and analyse data?

CG: Our vision has always been to use graphene to solve big problems where there’s lots of volume needed for materials. Now we have not just developed abilities to do precisely that, to connect materials to the gathering of data, but we’ve also filed the appropriate patents that we needed to do before we showed our hand. So now we can really start to discuss these things.

BB: You’ll be demoing a prototype for the Transurban project on the day, right?

CG: At this conference we will be presenting a prototype sensing textile material that is a platform that will enable us to then develop a number of sensing and communicating functions that we think are going to be very useful in civil engineering in particular, but really are the signposts to show, from our point of view, how an Industry 4.0 model can be not just be realised, but very valuable.

BB: A quick summary of your presentation, please

CG: I’ll be talking about the vision for the company and how the things that we’ve been doing to date indicate our ability to execute on these things, and that are much more visionary than what we have discussed previously in public. And I suppose, in particular, this is about real, practical applications for graphene. Real, practical applications for graphene that can only be achieved if you really understand the customer need. And that means you have to be deeply embedded into the customer or end user’s business, and be close to not just your transactional customer, but all parts of the value chain. So I’ll be talking about why this is important and how we do these things.

BB: Can we get your point of view on the importance of replicability and certification?

CG: So certification, being able to have a process by which the functionality of materials can be essentially warranted, is critical for any large-scale manufacturer. In order to ensure that their investments in a brand new product or process can be de-risked. And so we see certification as being a means to help our customers and their customers be able to show that there is a process. And it’s also very important in order for various aspects of the products to be protected against commoditisation. Once a high-value product is in the market and people have an opportunity to potentially reverse-engineer it, of course they’re going to, regardless of the number of patents you have. People will try and do that. The problem of course is for an end user – if they do that, it’s kind of like piracy. You can get a copy of something, a clone of it, but is it going to work the same as the original or not? There’s risk throughout this, for all parties in brand new products. What we want to do is show our customers and beyond that we think very seriously about these things and we’re trying to develop a way to create a proprietary standard, if you like, for the products that we’re involved in directly.

BB: Lastly, why are graphene-based materials something important in the context of the Australian manufacturing sector?

CG: I think that we stand at the cusp of the next industrial revolution. And that industrial revolution is like previous revolutions. We had the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution and the digital revolution and now we’re moving into this next era, which is of connected devices and materials. And this is going to be as transformative as the internet has proved to be.

When you look at what has happened as a result of the internet, you look at some of the extraordinary companies that are around now that were not around even 10 or 15 years ago. Look at the value of Amazon as a company that started as basically a book wholesaler using the internet to sell inventory. And now they are an internet backbone company, fundamentally. That’s where their value is. It’s hidden from most people’s understanding,  but they’re just a giant. Now manufacturing 4.0 will be equally transformative, and those companies that don’t recognise the opportunity and get onboard with that opportunity are likely to be disrupted and displaced in the same way that many bricks and mortar retailers were by the internet, as the movie and record business was by the internet, and manufacturing is the next cab off the rank. And the opportunities for productivity gains from IoT are just amazing. The forecasts are that the IoT will contribute up to $US 11 trillion to the global economy by 2025. And to get there, companies need to start embracing IoT now if they’re going to survive and thrive in that environment. Companies that don’t might just as well close their doors and go home. There are some great aspects to Australia that can potentially help us. The fact that we are remote, physically, from the rest of the world – and that’s not going to ever change – means that there are a lot of things that we can develop here in a relatively closed environment. And I think that gives us an ability to do things in manufacturing that can be world-leading. Just because we don’t have an automotive assembly business in Australia doesn’t mean to say we can’t be a leading player in the global automotive and transportation businesses, as just one “for instance”. And what we need to do in Australia is being prepared to lead.


This is an edited version of an interview with Chris Gilbey, CEO and Co-Founder at Imagine Intelligent Materials. His presentation at the August 17 Internet of Industrial Materials Conference 2017 is titled “The Future: Connected, Self-Reporting Materials”. For more information on the conference, click here.