In industry, innovations and new products are considered a continuation of the past technology. But nanotechnology cannot be typecast as any other industrial innovation. This is not merely a continuation of miniaturization from the micro to nano scale. In fact this is a huge discontinuity. The transition is quite disruptive with respect to analytics, material properties and in concepts. While nanotechnology holds lot of promises and is already impacting lot of industries (from healthcare to consumer goods, etc.) there exists lot of challenges ahead before it reaches its full potential. Some of the challenges that lie in the road ahead of nanotechnology are briefly discussed below:
Costly Commercialization Cycle:
Due to the cost of development and the expertise of the human resources required in this field, there are issues surrounding scalability and long lab to market lead times. Due to this nanotechnology products are largely demand-driven. Sometimes this has caused almost nil development in other areas of nanotechnology that have the potential of solving many societal problems.
The costs associated with Intellectual Property Rights (IPR’s) have increased the burden on universities and companies making an effort in this area. This is due to the broad scope of the nature of the products developed.
With many applications developed, there are also Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) issues that inhibit progress.
Public Dissent of Invasive Technology:
In a study conducted by Fujita in 2006 about awareness of nanotechnology, only 29 % in UK and 48 % in US knew about nanotechnology. This is an indication of a poorly informed population to the opportunities, risks and challenges of this new technology.
In the past there has been public protest of the invasive nature of nanotechnology similar to biotechnology raising many ethical, environmental and health concerns. The usage of nano enhanced products in agriculture, food industry, cosmetics and other consumer goods industry has met with some criticism but these concerns were proven wrong in the recent past.
Inadequate educational processes:
Nanotechnology is a complex and interdisciplinary area with some areas being seriously underdeveloped due to barriers such as limited human resources, poor process scalability and manufacturability. The universities play a crucial role in the development of this highly skilled labour that can effectively innovate with co-workers from different fields. But there has been very little progress in developing this interest. The main reasons for this disconnect are:
- Lack of commercial awareness
- Lack of basic research orientation
- Underdevelopment of manufacturing skills
- Inability to work with industries.
For a company or university innovating in nanotechnology there is a need for a highly inter disciplinary approach with emphasis on a sound understanding of device physics, chemistry, material science, general manufacturing knowledge, and metrology, often with hands-on, in-line SEM (scanning electron microscopes) and TEM (transmission electron microscope) experience. The current university education has many specialized courses which has become a bottleneck for the present industry.
Cost and technical barriers for new players:
Many predictions have been made about this technology, but for them to be become true we have to find ways to mass produce nano size products like transistors and nanowires, which have mostly been limited to lab experiments. While we can build carbon nanotube based tennis rackets and wrinkle free fabric, we still cannot really make complex microprocessors. But this technology seems to be undertaken only by large companies due to their critical mass and equipment availability.
Due to the broad scope of many innovations the issue of costly “patent tickets” has become a serious barrier for company entry. The cost of navigating the patent tickets may sometimes outweigh the benefits.
Barriers to adoption:
There are many compatibility issues that have to be considered for integration and incorporation of the new nano devices into the present generation of devices. This can stifle the rate of deployment of new products in the nanoscale range.