Nanotechnology on the precipice of a giant surge

Managing editor Ken Schnepf reports that nanotechnology is on the precipice of a gigantic surge.

By Ken Schnepf, managing editor

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MES is coming of age and there will be a tremendous surge in the applications of nanotechnology, according to two keynote speakers at the recent ISA Expo 2005 in Chicago. These advancements will affect everything and everyone.

Market trends and customer expectations are driving the future of MES, says Kevin Roach, chairman of MESA and vice president of Rockwell Automation. Customers expect more and more quality, and accurate, reliable actionable information.

Additionally, Jeff Harrow, principal of the Harrow Group and author of the Web-based multimedia technology journal, “The Harrow Report,” predicts exponential growth in technologies, nanotechnology in particular. “We are talking about double-exponential growth,” he says. So, if it would take a plant five years to reach full capacity, it would reach twice its capacity in a five-year span at such a rate.  

“In the next 20 years, we will experience the same amount of progress as we did in the entire 20th Century,” says Harrow.

Manufacturing is realizing outstanding GDP growth and is really very healthy in the U.S., says Roach. Factory orders are trending up and growth is putting pressure on raw materials and capacity. Seventy percent of companies are at or above 80% capacity.

“If you don’t have a China strategy yet, you really should,” says Roach.

Capital spending has rebounded. Fifty-three percent of U.S. plants are planning to expand compared to 72% in China. U.S. manufacturing is producing more goods than it ever has, says Roach.
“You need to have a global strategy,” Roach says. “You need to have a balanced view of globalization and understand the logistics of local markets.”

The trouble is that most companies don’t have the systems in place to capture the information they need. This is where MES comes in. Manufacturing operations have recently become the second highest investors in MES, according to Roach. Using MES, they are realizing 400% gains in profitability and 70% to 630% increases in productivity.

If those numbers aren’t mind-boggling enough, try these from Harrow. In 1960, there were 43,000 transistors made in a day. Today, there are 100 trillion produced each day. That is nine orders of magnitude of growth.

In 1984, a megabyte of computer storage cost $60. Last year a gigabyte of storage cost 45 cents and a month ago, a gigabyte of storage cost just 32 cents, says Harrow. The cost of a terabyte of memory was $300,000 in 1994. By 2002, the same amount of memory cost only $2,833, in 2005 it was down to $450, and by 2010, it will cost a mere $21.

End user bandwidth has been growing exponentially and doubling in price, performance and capacity every year. The Worldwide Web started in 1990 with one Website and as of 2004 had more than 25 million, Harrow says. These advancements are going to change the way work is done and the products that are produced.

“A new convergence is happening and we are just at the beginning of that convergence,” says Harrow. That convergence is nanotechnology. It’s bits, atoms, neurons, and genes. It’s the “Little Bang Theory,” and it will change everything such as the biology of medicine, information sciences and cognitive sciences.

By 2014, 15% of all products will contain nanotechnology and it will be a $2.6 trillion industry. It will be the size of the information and telecommunications industries combined in just nine years.
Consider the possibilities of a nanotube transistor that would replace relay control systems. Or nano cars and nano trucks that could be used to deliver a poison to cancer cells in the human body, not that much unlike the film and book, “Fantastic Voyage,” where humans are shrunken down to a microscopic size and injected sent inside an important executive’s body to cure his maladies. Nanotechnology is already used in sunscreen.

“All of these science fiction things are right at our doorstep,” says Harrow.

Some of the realities are stranger than the fiction. For instance, you can purchase a hypoallergenic cat, genetically altered to deactivate its dandruff that causes an allergic reaction in humans, but it will cost you $3,500, says Harrow. Or Genetic Savings and Clone would be happy to clone your dog for you at a cost of $50,000.

These early examples of putting technology to work are just two ways to use the technology of The Little Bang to make a buck. How to put it to work for you is the challenge ahead.
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