Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials Invisibly Creeping Into Industry
Category: Manufacturing Technology • Jul 2, 2021
Nanotechnology and nanomaterials have crept into our lives and into everyday products in more ways than most people realize. To name just a few examples, nanotechnology helps tennis balls keep their bounce longer and makes tennis rackets stronger; sunscreen is both lighter and more effective today due to the addition of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide; silver nanoparticles are added to clothing for their antimicrobial properties and resulting odor prevention; and carbon and silica nanofibers are added to textiles to provide liquid, stain, and fire resistance.
But what is nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology is production and use of materials on a scale so small that they are measured on a near atomic scale — ranging between one and 100 nanometers. What makes nanomaterials so unique compared to regular materials? It’s that at this extremely small size, materials begin to exhibit properties that change their physical, chemical, and biological behavior. For instance, opaque substances can become transparent, stable materials can turn combustible, and insoluble materials may become soluble.
The reason properties change is because at a micro scale the ratio of a material’s surface area to its volume increases dramatically, and more chemical reactions take place on surfaces – something pretty easy to understand intuitively – so when more of a material’s surface area is exposed it is much more reactive.
There are two main approaches to nanofabrication: top-down and bottom-up. Bottom-up manufacturing starts with individual molecules or compounds and uses a combination of chemical and physical processes to join them together into nanoscopic materials – similar to their assembling themselves chemically through the principles of molecular recognition. Top-down nanofabrication starts with larger materials and uses chemical and physical processes to break them down into nanoscopic elements.
Nanotechnology in Industry and Manufacturing
Nanomaterials provide many very useful properties in industrial processes and manufacturing (as well as in healthcare and medicine), and research on new applications is ongoing. Some of the most widely used nanomaterials in manufacturing are carbon nanotubes, which provide high wear resistance and break strength at a light weight, and are used for bike frames, bulletproof vests, industrial robot arms, and aerospace components.
Carbon nanoparticles are also used with heavy, non-nano materials, such as steel. When distributed throughout steel, the nanoparticles increase steel’s strength, reducing the amount of steel needed, and creating lighter weight parts. Additionally, more effective and stable lubricants are being created with nanomaterials for use in a variety of industrial applications. At the nanoscale, materials act similar to ball bearings in petroleum-based lubricants, increasing the smoothness of flow, ensuring even distribution, and limiting aggregation, even in the case of rapid changes in temperature or pressure.
Automotive products today produced with nanomaterials include rechargeable batteries, fuel additives, fuel cells, and improved catalytic converters. High-end tires also include polymer nanocomposites to increase their durability and wear resistance.
Carbon nanotubes are slowly replacing silicon for making smaller, faster, and more efficient microchips and devices, as well as lighter, more conductive, and stronger quantum nanowires. Many appliances including TVs, phones, and iPads now incorporate nanostructured polymer films – known as organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) – to produce brighter and lighter screens with higher-quality pictures.