Chris Skipper, Cerion EVP of Sales
If you’re here, then it’s likely you are interested in using or are actively working to leverage nanomaterials for your product. You need your products to have a competitive edge, especially in crowded markets, and nanomaterials offer a way to gain this advantage.
However, most companies do not have in-house access to the nanomaterial expertise required to successfully develop them for integration into products. In a world where nanomaterials are providing new and exciting performance benefits, more and more companies are outsourcing their nanomaterial design to specialists; there are four keys capabilities that are essential to look out for when searching for a service provider.
Nanomaterial Design Capabilities
The first thing that you need to check when outsourcing is that the development provider has an extensive array of design capabilities at their disposal. This should include an in-depth knowledge of different nanomaterial synthesis methods, expertise in precisely optimizing the design as well as extensive analytical capabilities to provide an effective solution that can meet your unique requirements.
Often companies opt for a catalogue nanomaterial provider first and attempt to integrate an off-the-shelf material into their product without help, which is almost always unsuccessful. This approach typically does not work because nanomaterials need to be designed, or at least customized, to meet the performance and integration requirements that are unique to each product it is intended to be used for.
Integrating nanomaterials requires special care as the material behaviour can be inhibited by, or interact with, other components in your product — so the best approach is a customized one. You need a nanomaterial design partner who will work with you to understand the technical ins and outs of your product to ensure the material will perform as required. Moreover, your service provider should be able to devise ways to ensure integrating the nanomaterial will not change any of the existing functionality of your product, just add the desired benefits / performance enhancements that you require.
Your design provider should also tailor the nanoparticle design, its formulation and the properties of the finished material to your exact technical needs. Make sure your service provider can leverage a wide range of synthetic pathways — from precipitation, hydrothermal, solvothermal, high temperature and many more in between. Each approach has pro’s and con’s, and you will need a provider who has the flexibility to develop a material using the synthetic method that meets your technical and cost requirements.
Scale-Up Know How
It’s no good getting your product optimized to use a nanomaterial at the lab scale if you or your service provider can’t produce it at manufacturing scale. Not only do you need to find a service provider who can deliver the technical solution, they should be able to transition the nanomaterial to the desired manufacturing scale, regardless of whether this is a few hundred kilograms or hundreds of metric tons.
The scalability of nanomaterials has historically been a challenge, with many companies successfully developing a working material in the lab, however, were unable to scale it for manufacturing. Over the years, the tricky nature of nanomaterials has meant that many service providers have been unable to preserve the technical specifications of a material when scaling up. In other instances, scale-up may be possible, however the cost to manufacture the nanomaterial is expensive due to the synthetic pathway and / or raw materials chosen to make the material. This is not true of every nanomaterial producer (if it were, there would be no industry left!), but there has been enough of these issues over the years that it has created some hesitation by companies to utilize nanomaterials.
Any potential service provider should be able to make use cases or statistics available on their success rate for scalability, as well as an overview of their manufacturing process, facilities and capacity.
Find out more about Cerion’s scale-up abilities.
Many companies find that cost is one of the main reasons that the commercialization of nanomaterials fails.
Outsourcing your R&D is going to come at a cost, but you also get what you pay for. Many companies opt to work with a university or a national laboratory because it is cost effective (read: inexpensive!). However, in these situations, the work takes a long time and the result is usually an experimental synthetic method that may not be scalable or cost effective.
On the other hand, you may have limited in-house expertise which could mean an extended design cycle in the lab, along with the scale up issues discussed above. This cost is further compounded by engineering, building, de-bugging and accrediting bench, pilot and manufacturing scale systems -most of which can be blind purchases (sometimes leading to the wrong purchases). If you don’t have advanced knowledge of nanomaterial design and manufacturing, this can quickly become the money pit.
However, if you’re serious about using nanomaterials and you do not want to waste time and money, then you need to find a service provider who is well established, with a process that can provide a timely and cost-effective solution.
During product development, the best way to achieve this is to find a nanomaterial service provider who uses a phased development approach, where only the initial materials, labor and analytical tests are paid for. This way, you can quickly determine if using nanomaterials is the right option for you. If it’s not, then you can leave the project without spending excessive amounts. In the event that it is, you can then start to look at moving forward with additional phases of nanomaterial customization, scale up and eventually manufacturing.
Approach to Intellectual Property
The final thing you need to consider is how your nanomaterial service provider approaches intellectual property (IP). If you’re investing both time and money, you want to make sure that your provider doesn’t have a vested interest in the nanomaterial composition of matter that gives you the strategic differentiation you want in the marketplace. Make sure to discuss with your provider who will own the IP of the final product.
Find out more about Cerion’s approach to IP and Confidentiality
Performing due diligence on the nanomaterial service provider you will rely on for design, scale up and manufacturing is essential if you are to successfully integrate nanomaterials into your product and bring it up to commercial volumes without losing any existing properties. Ask the questions – any company that you select to handle your nanomaterial needs should be competitive in all four keys areas and they should be clear and honest in their abilities to fulfil these requirements.
At Cerion, our customers are our priority. We work with you to quickly create proof-of-concept materials so they can be tested in your lab for fitness and use in your product. We iterate with you as required, to maximize the performance of the nanomaterial and ensure integration into your system. We work in phases, requiring no long-term commitments. At every step of the program, you have the ability to change the scope or discontinue further efforts. This allows our customers to maintain maximum flexibility with their budget and direction of their product development roadmap.
Further, from the very beginning, we work to ensure that any nanomaterial made in the lab, can be produced at-scale using our dedicated manufacturing systems. Our dedicated facility has 150 metric tons of dry weight capacity with plans to expand to 500 metric tons.
We also understand how important IP is to you and your business strategy. Our policy is to ensure that there is no conflict with our customers. Any nanomaterial ‘composition of matter’ invented during our work for a customer is theirs to file as patents or hold as trade secrets. Cerion’s sole focus is designing, scaling and manufacturing the nanomaterial you need for your product to be a success.
At Cerion, we understand that developing the advanced expertise in nanomaterials in-house is expensive and time intensive – but that shouldn’t keep you from using them to enhance and differentiate your products. We can help!