It’s A Whole New Material World

High Point’s Material ConneXion Library inspires innovative design & sustainable solutions

Leather made from mushrooms. Carpet inlaid with luminous arrows. Fabric that warms for comfort. These were among the cutting-edge technologies shared by Andrew H. Dent, Ph.D., during his keynote on breakthroughs in material science. Most of these can now be seen, touched, and globally sourced at the Material ConneXion library in High Point.

Sandow-owned Material ConneXion opened its first library and database in New York twenty years ago, featuring over 8000 samples that are updated monthly. According to Dent, Executive VP and Chief Material Scientist, “The military and medical industries are pioneers in researching and utilizing new materials, followed by sports equipment, apparel, and home furnishings. High Point was chosen for one of the global libraries because builders, architects, designers, and furniture manufacturers are impacted by the trends driving material science and seek new vendors to create products that meet the consumers’ changing preferences.” Dent highlighted four areas that are compelling “A Materials Future.”

1. Digital Invades and Then Recedes

“The preponderance of screens, and cold, sharp angles, metal and glass surfaces will disappear from our environments as software becomes integrated into products like smart glasses, clothing, and upholstery fabrics,” said Dent. He identified a resurgence of natural textures that are pleasing to the touch, like leather and wood, with softer surfaces providing all the interactivity of today’s phones. “Appliances, electronics, and lighting won’t be seen until needed; like a 50’ TV that ruins the serenity and beauty of a well-designed room. Public buildings won’t post directional signs, they’ll have flooring with LED lights guiding guests.”

2. End of the Artisan’s Guiding Hand?

While the evolution of visual technology has brought robots into many factories, its impact on sewing functions has been minimal until recently. “Robots have difficulty handling fabric that moves. New technology has developed stiff denim that can they can manipulate and stitch. The starch in the fabric dissolves in hot water, making them soft,” said Dent. “The Sewbo Co. claimed the first T-shirt made by a robot. Adidas’ Speedfactories in Germany and Atlanta are completely automated with robots and 3-D printing quickly producing limited runs of customizable product or replenishing sell-outs. There will always be demand for handcrafted goods, but there’s no going back!”

3. Evolution of Naturals

“Until the medical revolution stopped nature from killing us with bacteria, we were under its control and we also had to rely on natural materials. As science advanced, we developed man made substances like plastic that were cheap and easy to produce. They also took over landfills and made the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” said Dent. As material scientists research sustainability, they discover surprising solutions in nature. “Mycoworks makes leather from mushrooms, Frumat uses apples, and Olivenleder offers a tanning agent made from the by-product of the Mediterranean olive harvest. Once they learn about these environmentally-friendly alternatives, consumers will demand bio leather clothing and home furnishings.”

4. Resurgence of Surface Materials

After decades of focusing on screens and the hard, cold surfaces of technology, we’re moving away from digital reality and looking around at our surroundings. We want to touch, feel, and experience our environments; interact with and explore the world around us. This impulse is provoking the creation of surface materials that provide tactile stimulation while being sustainable and visually stunning. “Bricks built from recycled construction rubble, floor tiles made from compacted plastic bags, and metal accessories crafted from locksmiths’ debris. These materials and many others exist and offer unlimited opportunity to designers and manufacturers seeking to develop signature products with engaging stories that inspire and delight,” said Dent.

The Material ConneXion Library, located in the Plant Seven innovation hub at 410 West English Road in High Point, is the perfect place to start the creative journey to develop exceptional new products. With rows and rows of samples, intuitively arranged to guide the visitor through groupings like super textiles, bioplastics, rethinking waste, and adaptive construction, the library and its global database are accessible year-round. Visit during Market, or better yet, plan a dedicated trip to explore the countless wonders of a Materials Future.