Two-dimensional materials and moving them into production

There has been more work reporter on 2-D materials, also called atomic level materials.  Typically, this term refers to a sheet of material that is only atom thick with the other two dimensions that extend as far as can be produced, which normally is not to great.  The first material that was referred to this way was graphene.  There are interesting properties. Graphene provides strength as well as electrical properties.  There have been claims that 2-D materials will lead to improved performance in solar cells, new electronics based on 2-D transistors, various filtering mechanisms, and even a novel type of semiconductor.

This development has been ongoing for over 10 years.  Like carbon nanotubes, the applications seem almost infinite, but the actual release of products based on the materials is very slowly moving forward.  You could ask why.  For the researcher, the development of novel ideas is what get papers published or patents issued.  Moving a product into production is a totally different story.  The concerns include customer acceptance, the ability to have a sufficient quantity of quality material required for the products, a distribution channel, and a guaranty of a quality product.

As the iPhone is approaching its 110 anniversary, it is hard to remember what it was like before the iPhone.  One of the more advanced phones was produced by Blackberry.  It had an actual keyboard, albeit small, that could be used for entering data.  The competition had the 12 keypad that required multiple taps to go from a number, to an underlying capital letter and finally to a small letter.  Since each key had at least three letters along with a number, it was a task.  The keyboards took approximately ½ of the phone face.

Apple took a huge bet to create a phone with a larger screen and incorporated the keyboard onto the screen through the touch display.  That with the addition of additional functions for the phone enabled the sales to skyrocket.  Other companies had to change their models to compete and stay viable.  Apple had gambled and it paid off.  What if it failed?  Apple would not be the household word it is today and it might not have survived.

Manufacturing of a product also has risks.  Someone comes along and has a process or material that will take 10% off the cost of the final product, yet companies are reluctant to try it.  Why?  A 10% or 15% cost reduction sounds like something that should be done immediately.  The issue is that no new material or new process is introduced and immediately starts providing dividends.  Typically, when a new process is introduced, there is a slow done in production due to working our process bugs or material issues.  Yields normally decline until the bugs are worked out.  All of this is lost sales/revenue.  If the modification can not be implemented to the level desired, there is more lost product with the corresponding losses.  Sometimes even a 50% improvement might not be sufficient to try introducing a novel change.

So how does this impact 2-D materials?  One of the greatest problems with 2-D materials is getting sufficient quantities of the quality product needed.  I know of a significant stride in measuring pressure that employed a 2-D material.  This effort crashed when there was an attempt to make more than a few laboratory samples.  The quality, quantity, and size required were not capable of being obtained.

2-D materials need to progress further in development so the quality of the materials can  be relied on.  After that is achieved, the size and volume of material needs to be developed.  All of this happens after the applications are first proven in the lab.  This takes time, although all would like it to happen faster.  It is coming but it is coming slowly.   Without any question, more effort is needed to address the manufacturing challenges.

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.

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