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Nanites -- The Next Big Thing In Molding

July 21, 1998

2 Min Read
Nanites -- The Next Big Thing In Molding

Imagine a robot that is small enough to be injected into a patient's bloodstream and guided by a physician with a remotcontroller to gather information about the patient's DNA or tissue structure. Imagine intelligent dust particles that could be used in covert operations to spy on an enemy. Or imagine submicron-sized sensors blended into pellets and shot into the melt stream to truly determine processing conditions in real time from the resin's point of view. Experts say miniaturization will have as big of an effect on society in the 21st century as the "bigger is better" influence of the Industrial Revolution has had on our lives to date. And injection molding is poised to play a key role in shaping this small new world.

"Nano" means a one-billionth part of something. In the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" science-fiction TV series, submicron robots were called "Nanites." However, here in the real world, the tiny devices in the coming nanotechnological revolution are called Mems, rather "micro-electro-mechanical systems." Powered by electronic or chemical means, Mems conceivably can be used to perform functions unattainable by conventional means. Nanotechnology may not necessarily require that the finished product be of a sub-micron size. For example, work is progressing in polymer chemistry that involves the formulation of nanocomposites, incorporating submicron particles that impart extra-ordinary performance properties to finished goods. The uses of exotic sounding materials additives such as montmorillonite, fullerenes, zeolites, organic crystals, and shape-changing alloys are now being investigated.

Much of the Mems development work is cloaked in secrecy, but the market for miniaturization is estimated to grow to a level of $14 billion in sales by the dawn of the next millennium. Japan is financing a 10-year, $225-million microsystem technology project involving 26 companies. The German government is contributing $65 million per annum to microsystem research. And here at home, we've budgeted more than $35 million in grants through the Defense Dept. Advanced Research Projects Agency. The U.S. Commerce Dept., through its Advanced Research Technology Program, is funding development of nanocomposites.

"The Role of Polymers in the Global Development of Miniaturization" is an upcoming multiclient study assessing the role that polymeric materials and processes like injection molding will play in the development of microsystems and nanotechnology. The Repton Group LLC (New York) is heading up the study, scheduled for completion in 3Q 1998. Its objectives include a technology overview, current and for the future, and future applications. It also will analyze all classes of polymeric materials and evaluate their potential applicability for submicron parts and components. Primary and auxiliary equipment requirements and manufacturing techniques will be addressed, as will market opportunities and funding sources. Subscriptions cost $9500.

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