Mark Hughes explores the future of nanotechnology, the benefits it holds for the manufacturing sector, and the barriers that must be overcome to unlock its potential.
Nanotechnology, commonly referred to as the ‘sixth revolutionary technology’ to have made its mark on the modern world, is being increasingly viewed as a key driver for transformation in the manufacturing industry.
In fact, nanotechnology is already reaching advancements in various fields, including biotech, consumer electronics, clothing, and cosmetics.
Working with nanoparticles – between a scale of just 1-100 nanometres – enables manufacturers to unlock enhanced or unique, physical, chemical, or biological properties, making it possible to produce superior products more economically.
The use cases for operating at nanoscale
From fully recyclable crisp packets to targeted medicines with minimised side-effects, and car engines that produce cleaner exhaust fumes, several industrial sectors – including healthcare, automotive, packaging, and food production – are already taking advantage of nanotechnology.
By introducing improved mechanical properties within existing materials, nanomaterials will enable manufacturers to raise future developments and innovation to a new level, making products faster, lighter, cheaper, and easier to manufacture.
In aerospace, for example, materials with increased stiffness and reduced weight will be favoured over heavier but weaker structures.
Future developments in nanotechnology will help manufacturers improve efficiency in a number of operations, from design, processing, and packaging, through to transportation of goods.
As climate change remains a top concern, it could also help manufacturers reduce their environmental impact by saving raw materials, energy, and water, while reducing greenhouse gases and hazardous wastes.
It will also help push manufacturing firms ahead of the competition—while providing a more sustainable future.
Embracing nanotechnology manufacturing successfully
While industry will continue to see huge developments when it comes to nanotechnology, the technology itself is currently very much in its infancy.
Despite its many use cases, there remains a lot to learn about the long-term impact of manipulating materials at nanoscale.
As it’s easily inhaled, concerns about the health effects of nanoparticles and nanofibers, for example, mean that calls for the tighter regulation of nanotechnology are growing.
Similarly, knowledge gaps relating to the long-term environmental side effects of exposure to engineered nanomaterials means current regulatory regimes are set to intensify around the globe.
One example of this is the bacteriostatic silver nanoparticles used in socks to reduce foot odour. When washed, these particles can enter the waste water stream and have the potential to destroy beneficial bacteria that is essential to natural ecosystems, farms, and waste treatment processes.
To combat this and ensure nanotechnology can be embraced successfully and safely, traceability will be crucial. Manufacturers need to be able to quickly identify any issues that may arise where the use of nanotechnology has the potential to cause a negative impact.
This should be done with the support of fully-integrated computer systems and robust standard procedures, making sure that products have full traceability.
As this nanotechnology revolution continues to grow, enterprise resource planning software (ERP) will be essential to ensure the traceability and quality control of products.
By implementing a modern industry-specific ERP system within the base of the factory, businesses will be able to have control over all operations, ensuring consumer and workforce safety alike.
With easier data retrieval and accuracy, businesses will be able to keep up with regulatory compliance, while transforming the manufacturing of goods within the industry.
Mark Hughes is Regional Vice President for UK & Ireland at Epicor
*Image courtesy of Depositphotos