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Handling the Invisible

Posted on December 14th, 2015 by in Chemical Manufacturing Excellence

How do you manufacture something that you can’t even see? One of the challenges in manufacturing – at any scale – is material handling. Not just the moving of the raw material between the variety of operations on the shop floor, but the placement and fixturing of the work in process during each manufacturing step.

Now just think of how you would do that when your raw material is one ten-thousandth the diameter of a typical human hair.

While reading this article on a on how researchers at University of Chicago’s Institute for Molecular Engineering teamed with experts in nanophotonics at the Air Force Research Laboratory and Florida State University to precisely place and produce nano particles, I struggled to even comprehend the minute size of this accomplishment. The method uses a combination of chemical and lithographic techniques to overcome the limitations of each to successfully produce a nanolens – something proposed by theorists nearly a decade ago.

Although the article did have an associated picture, I still could not visualize the scale of the particles being described and the magnitude of the placement issue being described. Fortunately, the team over at NanoNerds put together a fascinating video entitled From Lab to Fab: Pioneers in Nano-Manufacturing that put it into perspective and describes how two inventors and entrepreneurs have taken different approaches to successfully manufacturing using carbon nanotubes.

It’s remarkable to think something so small – imperceptible to the human eye – can offer such amazing opportunity to fundamentally change materials we have used for decades. What’s even more incredible to me is that innovators could have the vision and determination to empower unprecedented knowledge to not only discover the what of carbon nanotubes but the how to successfully and safely manufacture revolutionary products from raw material you can’t even see.

Using nanomaterials in your company’s products? How have you overcome any materials handling challenges in your manufacturing processes? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.

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