The properties of nanofibers and nanomaterials are perfect across a huge range of manufacturing processes and a wide range of sectors. The micro-sized particles are being seen across everything from the creation and manufacturing of filters to the creation of pharmaceuticals and applications in medicine. And the process of electrospinning helps give this technology an even wider potential.

Electrospinning is the process by which nano and micro-structures are manufactured, and has a great deal of versatility. By tweaking the specifications of the electrospinning machine it is possible to cater for every type of material and purpose.

What is electrospinning and how does it work?

For those new to the concept of electrospinning the theory behind it is really quite simple. It just needs specialist equipment to be able to produce the materials successfully.

A solution is prepared of the raw materials, usually polymers and solvents in a solution or melt. The correct mix causes molecular entanglement to occur. Following this the solution is fed through capillaries which a high electric voltage is applied.

This causes the materials to form a jet which is whipped and stretched into fibers, while the solvent evaporates.

Finally the dry fiber is formed into a membrane or material, depending on the intended use. This can be quite wide ranging, and so although the science behind it all remains exactly the same, the electrospinning machines must be correct for the type of usage as defined by the manufacturer.

How are nanofibers used in practice

There are a huge range of uses across many sectors. In biomedicine for example it is now possible to completely manufacture artificial human skin that can allow real skin to grow around it thanks to the molecular nature of nanomaterials. It can also be used in surgery as a protective barrier for internal organs.

It is also being used for medical implants that allow the slow release of prescribed drugs into the body.

The other more typical application is in the production of fabric. In fact that is where the use of nanomaterials originated, where there was need to be able to create lightweight and breathable material and clothing, and in some instances be able to prevent the transfer of toxic materials.

Nano materials are also used in furniture production as coatings around the core materials.  The process helps give products protection from the environment around it but also maintain the quality of the interior product within.

Nano materials bring to humanity technological advances that revolutionize industries, such as medicine, that greatly benefit the health of human beings. At the forefront of modern technology and its development and production, the potential for vastly improving human quality of life is huge. Even the current uses are just the tip of the iceberg as to what could be achieved in the future.

Why are nanomaterials beneficial in manufacturing?

There are many benefits to electrospinning processes to produce nanomaterials. For example the surface area to volume ratio of nanofiber, due to the nanodimension of the fibers, is very high. Different materials, such as polymers, metals and ceramics can be spun together to give excellent results.

There is also a huge cost saving benefit. Although at the forefront of modern technology, setting up a lab or a clean room to carry out electrospinning is very cheap when compared with the set up of other industrial processes. Several companies have even scaled up the production of the nanofibrous membrane, to enable mass production at low cost. And setting up is surprisingly simple, as staff can be upskilled quickly and efficiently to manage the process.