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Commercialization of Emergent Nanomanufacturing Platforms: Establishing Synergies and Roadmaps

Written by: 
Jeff Morse, Ph.D

Road to Success
A critical dimension of nanomanufacturing is how to address the numerous technological, economic, and regulatory challenges for scaling nanoscience developments in the research laboratory into commercializable,  value-added market products. Various approaches have proven effective in fostering such transitions, including corporate and venture investments, industry consortia collaborations, private-public partnerships, and technology transfer collaborations wherein academic institutions or small businesses work with large companies to expedite the transition of technologies to mainstream applications. Although several successful prototype products and demonstrations of advanced processes exist, the outcomes for many have yet to be adopted by main stream markets and manufacturing infrastructure.

A significant barrier to wide-spread adoption is the cost and difficulty of supplanting existing manufacturing capabilities and platforms, thereby limiting investment in the manufacture of nanotechnology-enabled products to high value products having no alternative pathways. Consequently, many emerging nano-enabled products, tools, and materials are achieving pilot scale commercialization. A crucial next step for nanomanufacturing is to overcome the hurdles to mass production for sustainable markets.

While scaled nanomanufacturing can be addressed through innovative engineering and design to maintain manufacturing performance, drive down costs, and increase production efficiency, unforeseen challenges may be encountered throughout this process. These include materials and supply chain homogeneity, tool sets, online metrology, process control, and regulation of new materials and chemicals. These challenges have engendered new models for commercial scale-up wherein industrial stakeholders (materials suppliers, manufacturers, application producers, and distributors) work hand-in-hand to develop solutions, industrial competitors work through consortium to establish standards for tool sets, materials, and substrates, or cross-industry collaborations are formed to share the cost and resources necessary to expedite the evolution of specific infrastructure for future roadmap requirements.

To achieve success in any of these scenarios, access to information regarding the state of technologies is key. One effective approach to provide the open exchange of information is through sponsored workshops where researchers, industry, and supply chain stakeholders discuss the state-of-the-art in specific fields, identify critical challenges facing the community, and prioritize follow-on actions to address these challenges through focused or collaborative research approaches. Two recent examples of this kind of inter-sector engagement include the NSF Workshop on Sensing and Prognostics for Scalability of Nanomanufacturing, held November 2-4, 2009 at the Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing at Northeastern University, and the NSF Workshop on Synergies in NanoScale Manufacturing and Research held January 28-29, 2010 at Cornell University. Both of these events brought together leading academic researchers in their respective fields and select industry representatives to discuss roadmap components for meeting present and future challenges in nanomanufacturing. Specifically, issues related to bringing emergent tools, processes, and materials into commercialization were presented and discussed in a working group format to better understand and prioritize the challenges.

As an outcome of these workshops, final reports will provide recommendations to the National Science Foundation and other interested agencies for follow-on funding and program development. Additionally, as part of the NNN charter, these reports will be openly published on A growing trend in these workshops is the quality and increased openness of contributions by participants in candidly discussing problems and challenges being faced in contrast to promoting the excellent research being conducted. This evolving paradigm is crucial to better understanding the challenges at hand, identifying the synergies between various stakeholders, and establishing a consensus for the best path forward to provide solutions. These outcomes ultimately may contribute to critical roadmaps for different industries and stakeholders considering emerging nanomanufacturing platforms.

The NNN sponsors, organizes, and participates in many of these events, and further solicits ideas for future topical workshops addressing critical and emerging areas of nanomanufacturing. If you would like to be involved in any NNN workshops or would like to organize a topical conference with the NNN, please contact Jeff Morse.