Mechnano is a startup company specializing in Carbon Nano Tubes (CNTs). They are pioneering a technology that solves a long-term problem with CNTs and changes the properties of some materials to open a new range of advanced resins and other materials.
Trevor Galbraith interviewed Mechnano’s CEO Dave Torp at IPC APEX Expo.
Mechnano is one of these companies that’s involved in working with CNTs. And that technology has been around for about 30 years now. How does the technology from Mechnano differ?
Well, Mechnano is a nanotube engineering company. Carbon nanotube technology got a tough start because nanotubes tend to conglomerate or get entangled with each other. It is import- ant to keep the nanotubes discrete. We achieve that though specialized processing of the nanotubes. So, the intellectual property that Mechnano owns is related to keeping nanotubes discrete. This is fundamental in enhancing material properties by distributing the discrete nanotubes uniformly throughout a polymeric matrix leading to enhancing the physical and electrical properties of the materials.
In addition to that, Mechnano functionalizes the nanotubes. We make them unique and well suited for the end use applications. An example of this is putting an iron atom on the sides of the nanotubes. What does the iron do? It produces materials with magnetic properties. Where would an end user use magnetic nanotubes? In applications that require magnetic shielding. In magnetic shielding applications, magnetic fields are redirected.
Aerospace and defense companies are very interested in magnetic shielding properties and Mechnano can design functionalized carbon nanotubes for those applications.
Right. So, this structure here (Figure 1) has been made from CNTs?
Yes, that structure fundamental material within is fabricated from a photopolymer that has been embedded with CNTs using a 3D Printer.
However, the really interesting part of the nanotube engineering technology is when we functionalize the nanotubes. We can put iron atoms on the edges of the nanotubes and create a material with enhanced magnetic properties.
So, there are many reasons to functionalize the nanotubes to enhance not only physical properties but also the mechanical properties. One of the fundamental questions to ask is: what do you want to join the nanotubes to?
If you want to join it to glass or silicon, we can functionally put a silicon atom on the edges of the nanotubes and bond a silicon lattice structure. If you want to electroplate the nanotubes, we can put functional groups on the ends of nanotube to facilitate electroplating. There are quite a lot of things that we do to functionalize the nanotubes. Our first entry into the market was in the ESD materials market. ESD is very important to the electronics industry.
The current methodologies used for ESD parts use a nozzle to pick up small parts up or miniature grippers for parts with very small features. With surface mount equipment, as seen on the entire APEX show floor, they need pick up nozzles and machine parts to pick up very small components, like 01005 chip resistors and capacitors. Imagine what a small static charge does to those small components that are about the size of a piece of pepper. If there is an attractive electric charge that build up while the equipment is moving around, the part will cling to the pick-up tool and not place properly. If there is a repulsive electric charge the tool will fail to pick up the part.
As miniaturization has driven the electronics industry to small parts, smaller lines and spaces, you need to make sure the pickup tools meet the precision needs of the equipment manufacturers.
Elimination of localized static charges in pickup tools provides a competitive advantage that carbon nanotubes give to the equipment manufacturers. The quick turnaround time provides them a
competitive advantage for manufacturing prototype pick up nozzles. EMS companies appreciate the uniform static dissipative properties that carbon nanotubes produce in ESD trays, component carriers and tape and reels. As dies get thinner, lower power they become more sensitive to localized static events that occur within the ESD trays. So, carbon nanotubes basically give end users a much more uniform material through- out the entire tray. So, when you look at a large tray, you want to have uniform electrical properties. You want 107 ohms in every part of the tray. That’s the realization part produced by manufacturing carbon nanotubes in ESD applications for highly precise environments.
That’s a great description, Dave. So, you can coat the side of these tubes with ESD materials or thermally conductive materials.
Well, fundamentally, the carbon nanotubes are electrically conductive. It’s a question of how many carbon nanotubes need to be placed into a polymeric matrix and how the carbon nanotubes are aligned in the polymer matrix to achieve the desired electrical, mechanical or thermal physical properties. Functionalizing the nanotubes allows end user requirements to be achieved. However, as you increase the loading of carbon nanotubes into polymers, you can achieve greater material properties, greater strengths, tensile strength, greater tear resistance, and greater fracture tough- ness. So, the mechanical properties are
enhanced by the carbon nanotubes. The physical properties, the electrical properties, and the chemical properties are all enhanced by the carbon nanotubes. The engineering aspect is how we understand the end user’s need and functionalize the carbon nanotubes to meet those needs.
Yes. Can the carbon nanotubes help with EMI and RFI shielding applications?
Radiation is constantly happening around us. It creates things like feedback and microphones in what I’ll call your world. So, if we can make a microphone that has EMI and RFI shielding, you
can go into environments with lots of electronic noise and have a clear and clean conversation without interference. This type of EMI/RFI radiation typically interferes in not only the communication sector, but also the aerospace and military sector, where advanced communication is taking place. This is where the majority of engineered carbon nanotubes have a great advantage over what the current state of art is in the industry. We do see the future as being bright with respect to where can we use the nanotubes and what decades-old industry problems we can solve.
It’s really a product realization. Nanotubes have come of age and step of the laboratory into mainstream products and applications. The strength of discrete carbon nanotubes is that they make it real. They are placed into real products, doing real things, and solving real problems. So, it’s exciting.
It is exciting. Would you agree that the future of a lot of our industry relies on material science and the ability to be able to change that?
And we’re pretty much at the limits of a lot of the materials that we’ve got on the periodic table. But by using some of these technologies in carbon nanotubes, we’re expanding way beyond that capability, which I think is where the excitement comes in.
Yes, absolutely. CNTs allow for the creation of new materials that go beyond what the engineering community is constrained by the existing materials set. CNTs when combined with new technology of 3D printing produces faster time to market.
We can 3D print a part much faster than we can design an injection mold for the part. In one day, you can get a quick turn part, which cannot be done with traditional injection molding. It takes a long time to make the mold, and it’s a relatively expensive process. However, prototypes completed with quick turn- around times, you can move forward with part designs for high volume production with confidence.
3D Printing produces parts with extremely high resolution. Precision parts can be manufactured over with function- alized nanotubes inside.
It’s incredible. The immediacy is definitely a big benefit.
The immediacy of it combined with the improved physical, mechanical, and electrical properties that nanotubes bring to the material make it a game changer.
Very exciting technology, David. And I can’t wait to see what else you’re going to do with this going forward.
Thank you, Trevor.