Manufacturing with “Nano”

There are stages to the development of employing nanotechnology to various devices/products.  It has been an evolution in application and not a revolution. Among the earliest applications that reached the consumer market was the application of Carbon Nano Tubes (CNTs).  From the automotive application, Toyota employed CNTs in epoxies to create light weight and stronger bumpers for vehicles.  The advantage was an increase in strength while providing reduced weight, which translated into better vehicle mileage.  About the same time, Zyvex was instrumental in applying CNTs to sports products like tennis racquets and baseball bats.  Again, the advantage was strength with reduced weight and the ability to withstand greater forces as compared with the traditional products.  This could be considered Stage One in the application of nanotechnology.

There are numerous advances in the medical community.  Gold nanoparticles and CNTs are being developed for the treatment of certain types of cancer.  Researchers in Germany have employed iron-oxide nanoparticles for treatment of brain cancers.  These nanomaterials have been “grafted” on to viruses or similar biological entities that cancer cells consume.  The application of external sources of power to destroy the cancerous cells.  This is a Stage Two effort that incorporates the nanomaterial properties, but is “nano” only because the carrier mechanism is in the nano realm.

Graphene and similar two-dimensional materials have been shown to provide a promising basis for electronics.  CNT transistors have been demonstrated.  There have been two questions on applying these materials.  The first one is the purity or quality of the material.  Graphene tends to have voids in larger sheets, although new research indicates that it might be possible to post-cure the voids that exist.  The question for Stage Three, which is the application of nanomaterials that employ unique properties of the materials in the nano realm, is how does the mass production of these unique structures occur?

Nanomaterials have shown promise, but the applications are still being developed.  The observable exception is the red coloring in the stained glass windows from the Middle Ages and before, which coloring is caused by the inclusion of gold nanoparticles in the glass.

When the need is to use actual nanomaterial structures, the ability to manufacture them is more problematic.  The initial thought is “What about semiconductors?”  Their structures are on the nanometer scale.  That is absolutely correct, but the product is much larger than nanometer-sized devices.  The question is how to we measure, test, and handle nano-scale products/devices?  As an example of this question, consider the following.  If I manufacture 30 nm gold particles, how do I know the distribution of the size?  What is the half-width of the distribution?  Can I use the same method for a gram? a Kilogram? and a ton?  How accurate will the measurements be?  There is still a large amount of significant development that is required before there will be true nanomaterial products.  It is coming, but it is not ready yet.

About Walt

I have been involved in various aspects of nanotechnology since the late 1970s. My interest in promoting nano-safety began in 2006 and produced a white paper in 2007 explaining the four pillars of nano-safety. I am a technology futurist and is currently focused on nanoelectronics, single digit nanomaterials, and 3D printing at the nanoscale. My experience includes three startups, two of which I founded, 13 years at SEMATECH, where I was a Senior Fellow of the technical staff when I left, and 12 years at General Electric with nine of them on corporate staff. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, an MBA from James Madison University, and a B.S. in Physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Category(s): Uncategorized

Leave a Reply