7th March 2016
Nanotechnology encompasses physics, chemistry, biology and technology on an atomic and molecular scale from 1 to 100 nanometres (nm) and involves the study and manipulation of materials and their properties based on their nanoscale compositions. The science studies the potential for nano-scale structures and machines influence the material world which can have significant implications to engineers who can create new, unique materials which are designed at the nano level to meet specific design challenges.
Nanotubes are single layers of graphite (one atom thick sheets of carbon commonly called ‘graphene’) that are rolled to form a cylindrical tube. Depending on their use, the walls of the tube can be multiple layers thick with the atoms ordered differently to produce the required characteristics.
Nanotubes have a wide variety of electrical properties which makes them useful for nano-scale conductors, semi-conductors or insulators. In addition, nanotubes have extremely high strength and are the strongest and stiffest materials discovered to date in terms of tensile strength. They are many times higher than steel but at much lighter weight making them a useful material technology for product weight reduction.
CURRENT USE IN INDUSTRY
Nanotechnology is already used widely in industry but the full potential for the technology is still to be explored. Current uses of nanotechnology include:
• Sporting goods use nanotechnology to become more durable and last longer
• Clothing is manufactured with unique properties such as keeping the wearer cool, contain anti-bacterial agents, become more water resistant or give better protection from UV radiation
• Medical bandages use nanotechnology to include silver to speed up the healing process
• Some sunscreens contain nanoparticles of zinc oxide or titanium oxide. Smaller particles are less visible so don’t produce the white residue that other sunscreens can
• Adding aluminum silicate nanoparticles to scratch-resistant polymer coatings can make the coatings more effective, thus giving better protection to cars and other products
FUTURE OF NANOTECHNOLOGY
The future of nanotechnology is largely unknown but it has the potential to significantly impact the engineering and manufacturing world. The technology has the potential to allow products to be produced as and when they are needed by individuals with the use of personal ‘nanofactories’ rather than on a mass scale via traditional factories. This process is often referred to as ‘molecular manufacturing’ where, like additive manufacturing, products are built up layer by layer to form the final design. However, as the name suggests, in molecular manufacturing, this is done at the molecular or even atomic level.
Although futuristic, this illustrates the impact that nanotechnology could have on traditional manufacturing processes and distribution models.