December 4, 2015

Over the past few decades, advances in science and technology have enabled manufacturers to smash the limitations they previously faced. Historically, manufacturing has been limited to the things we could physically see and touch, but thanks to nanotechnology, this is no longer the case. Jonathan Wilkins examines the potential of nanotechnology for manufacturing

Historically, manufacturing has been limited to the things we could physically see and touch. However, over the last few decades advances in science and technology have smashed these limitations. Now, consumer goods are lighter than ever, sportswear and equipment is more aerodynamic and flexible and advanced packaging enables food and drinks stay fresher for longer. Even your evening lager will now keep itself carbonated right through to the end of Corrie. All of this is possible through nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology describes the branch of technology that deals with modelling, measuring, manipulating or creating matter on a minute scale – between one and 100 nanometres in fact. For manufacturers, nanotechnology is predicted to be a main driver for business in this century, impacting almost every manufacturing sector, from food packaging to consumer goods. But the potential of nanotechnology moves far beyond keeping your Carlsberg fizzy.

Talking about food packaging, some manufacturers have introduced nano scale polymers designed to prevent oxygen from leaking through food packaging and spoiling the product inside. This technology is now being widely used to prolong the shelf life of fresh food.

In the US, a plastic beer bottle was recently introduced that uses nano-particles of clay to fill up space in the walls of the bottle. These nano-particles make it harder for carbon dioxide to escape from the beer, keeping the fizz in the beverage. While these innovations are impressive, nanotechnology goes far beyond fixing lifeless lager.

Nanomanufacturing describes manufacturing at the nanoscale of between one and 100 nanometres. To put that into perspective, the thickness of a sheet of paper is around 100,000 nanometres. This tiny scale has enabled what’s known as atomically precise manufacturing (APM). APM has already opened doors to innovation in design and manufacturing, but while this unlocks a world of potential for manufacturers, what does this mean for the manufacturing process?

APM, ultra-precise automation and robotics have already proven capable of achieving incredibly accurate results for manufacturers, but there are possibilities even beyond this. The fact that food packaging and material goods have been fabricated atom-by-atom leads to speculation that tiny nanoscale machines could be a possibility in the near future. These nanoscale machines could be used to manufacture materials on an atom-by-atom scale, therefore facilitating an endless amount of possibilities.

But for now, this is all speculation. There are a number of factors which will influence whether nanotechnologies will be integrated into standard industry process. In fact, economic, social or technical issues will all have an impact.

APM is leading the way and is impacting everything from consumer goods to medicine. What’s not to like about technology that can improve even beer?

Jonathan Wilkins is marketing director of European Automation.


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