Industryweek 1730 Nanotechnanotechupdate

Taking The NanoPulse -- Welcome To A Very Small World

Sept. 29, 2005
It's time to think about how your products, and future profits, will be affected by nanotechnology.

Editor's Note: Welcome to the first installment of this monthly column that will explore all aspects of this exciting technology.

You're not out of time. Not yet. But the clock is ticking. If you're not already seriously studying the ways nanotechnology will change your business, starting with your products -- you're falling behind. Nanotechnology is here and now in mainstream products. It's time to get on board.

Need proof? Companies like yours, whose livelihoods depends on bottom-line results, are investing in nanotechnology. According to a recent study by Lux Research, North American companies spent $1.7 billion on nanotech research in 2004 and budget numbers in 2005 are on track to be higher. Even more impressive, 30% of the companies among the Dow Jones Industrial Average have announced nanotechnology partnerships, including names like DuPont, Volkswagen, Merck, and General Electric. 3M, renowned for product innovation, is on record as considering nanotechnology as having the biggest potential for their next blockbuster products. A major automotive R&D leader recently said that 30% of his R&D budget goes into manipulation of materials at the nanoscale. At some nano-application conferences, automotive products now constitute and entire program tracks. In fact, Nanofilm will be on the presentation docket of the Midwest NanoApp Conference in October with leaders from Ford and General Motors.

Now let's take a look at actual products. Nanotex, the leading company in nano-enabled fabrics, is adding to their sales force to handle the growing demand their R&D has created. Boeing has convened summits with leading nanotechnology companies, including Nanofilm, for guidance in shaping their nanotechnology strategy. On the drugstore shelf, you'll find adhesive bandages imbedded with nanoparticles to aid healing. Your tennis racket and tennis balls may include nanomaterials. I have first-hand information that in major brands from paint companies to cookware makers to home cleaning companies; the product development engine is running.

So, how do you best take advantage of nanotechnology? First, recognize that nanotechnology is a big science, but you don't need to understand everything about it to make it work for you. Even though nanotechnology stretches from nano-biology's cancer cures to next wave computer chips to waterproof paper, you can focus on the particular aspect of nanotechnology "news you can use" that mirrors your current product expertise. I can virtually guarantee you that whatever your market, whether you make brake-pads, build greenhouses, or formulate cosmetics, there's a role nanotechnology can play.

See manufacturing101 for other nanotechnology updates, including John Teresko's report that flat R&D spending could jeopardize the race for the most innovative opportunities in nanotechnology.Second, find a partner that's already knowledgeable in nanotechnology; starting from scratch can be very inefficient. For example, I did an internet search of something as arcane as "ice cream" and "nanotechnology" and found 21,000 responses. Even "fly fishing" and "nanotechnology" turned up over 4000 entries. A knowledgeable partner or two will get you up the learning curve faster and help you focus on immediate opportunities. Potential partners may be among your current suppliers or customers, but even if they're not, it's worth the search.

Wherever you are on the learning curve, you can continually increase your nano IQ by simply expanding your network -- and let me offer you mine through this column. Each month, I will highlight aspects of nanotechnology that may have escaped your radar, and expand on some that you may know quite well. I will surprise you sometimes, but always try not to bore you. Any new technology has some hype associated with it, but as is usually true in such cases, there is very real substance behind the hype -- when you know where to look. Permit me to help you in the upcoming months become more informed about what is really happening in the nanotech world, and, perhaps, provide information that may be valuable to your business. At the very least, it should expand your thinking on possibilities for the future. Send your questions and I'll do my best to provide answers here, oftentimes with the assistance of "guest lecturers" with the particular expertise you need. Simply email your questions to [email protected].

But hurry, the clock is ticking.

Scott E. Rickert is chief executive of Nanofilm, Ltd, located in Valley View, Ohio.

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