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Digital Nanomanufacturing Agenda Fosters Grass Roots Collaborations

Written by: 
Jeff Morse, Ph.D.

Digital manufacturing and design has experienced significant visibility lately as a means to establish a broad-based infrastructure linking materials properties, supply chain, process, and manufacturing platform technologies for the design and innovation of advanced products. The concept connects the knowledge and information base via a digital thread to enable rapid, “push button” design and production of advanced products of the future, and is expected to impact a range of industries and manufacturing platforms, most notably, additive manufacturing. Present directives in digital manufacturing are targeting well-established manufacturing platforms in which significant benefits will be realized through a reduction in design and prototyping iterations for advanced products thereby enabling acceleration of innovative product design cycles. Future innovations extending to emerging industries must first build up appropriate materials and process information databases to be incorporated within the digital thread. The latter describes the status of digital nanomanufacturing, where the materials can be radically modified through multivariable parameters dictating properties, performance, and environmental implications for a broad range of applications. The challenge faced by the nanomanufacturing community and stakeholders is to coordinate and integrate a diverse range of activities to enable new and unique functionality for digital design at the nanoscale.

The NNN continues to advocate an agenda for digital nanomanufacturing through our activities in nanoinformatics, manufacturing innovation, and materials and process database development. In collaboration with the Working Group on Nanoinformatics, the discussion between numerous stakeholders working on database development, such Nanomaterials Registry and the NSF Centers for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEIN), as well as numerous other academic and government institutions, is now evolving beyond logistical assessment of database formation and coordination towards establishing the connections to stakeholders involved in data mining, materials models, process modeling and control, and process database development. These components provide the cornerstone of a digital nanomanufacturing infrastructure that must employ a range of emerging tools and techniques including data and metadata mining, multiscale, multifunctional materials models, process models, process control, and manufacturing scale-up models. The key challenge faced by the nanomanufacturing community is that all of these elements are still research projects, therefore validation becomes a critical issue in order to utilize these capabilities and tools in practical implementations.

While this challenge is rather daunting due to the nature of nanotechnology, the encouraging aspect is that the stakeholders are communicating, and even collaborating between the various camps, and are further engaging in dialogue regarding the bigger picture in order to identify early stage demonstrations and target milestones and objectives for validating tools and approaches. Examples of this include recent publications modeling the properties of nanoparticle-polymer composites with experimental validation, as well as process modeling and control for different nanomanufacturing approaches. Several of these examples were highlighted during discussions at the recent Nanoinformatics Workshop, which focused on the topic of Informatics for Nanomanufacturing. From the discussions, it was apparent that while significant research remains to solidify our understanding and knowledge-base in this topic, the time is appropriate to bring together key components extending the design for manufacturing concept to the next level. Several collaborative activities combining database development, data mining, and materials/process modeling and validation are presently in progress, with several new opportunities being discussed at the workshop. The NNN looks forward to reporting on these activities, collaborations and outcomes in the future, as well the establishment of a roadmap in digital nanomanufacturing supporting the broader activities to establish the digital manufacturing thread.